old book, new carving pattern

I received a book in the mail the other day from Robin Fawcett, a pole-lathe turner I have crossed paths with at http://www.bodgers.org.uk/bb/phpBB2/ a forum for pole lathe turners and green woodworkers. The book is an early-20th century book on English furniture. Title is Little Books about Old Furniture: Tudor to Stuart. First published in 1911, this edition is from 1919. Like most of the furniture books I have seen from that time, it’s somewhat quirky now. But it has some pictures I have never seen before, including this one, fig 98:

carved panel, London
carved panel, London

I really like the approximate symmetry of it; and layout done with a “pair of compasses”, the gouges, and by eye. A very involved pattern, first chance I get I’m going to carve something like it.

The little bit the book has to say about his illustration is that it is “strapwork from a room in the house formerly known as The Old Palace, Bromley-by-Bow. Which means London. Surviving work from London from this period is rare, so getting to see even an old picture of it is nice. Wikipedia then filled in some blanks for me:

“Bromley Old Palace A palace was built facing the line of St Leonard’s Street, in 1606 for James I, by John Thorpe. This was principally used as a hunting lodge; but was a grand residence of 24 rooms, including a State room, built along the lines of Hardwick Hall and Montacute House. Some of the stonework was quarried from the remains of the (now disused) priory. It remained in Royal use, and was refurbished in the reigns of Charles II and James II and stables were added. During the 18th century, the frontage of the building was renewed, and the palace was converted into two merchant houses. It went through a variety of uses, including a boarding school, and a colour works. The house was demolished at the end of the 19th century by the London School Board for construction of a new board school. Many of the original fittings remained in place and were said to be in fine condition. The house was sold piecemeal for £250 — with the State room, panelling and an oak doorway going to the Victoria and Albert Museum.”

So it might be that this panel does still exist at the V&A, but is just rarely seen or illustrated. I don’t think I’ve seen it published other than this book.

The carving style reminds me of some great work I saw with Victor Chinnery in Totnes, Devon. Here’s one of the panels from the church there:

carved panel, prob. Exeter
carved panel, prob. Exeter


I adapted this and other panels from that church into a box I made for our house…

PF box, oak & pine
PF box, oak & pine


PF box, side view
PF box, side view


Robin’s site is here: http://treewright.blogspot.com/

thanks for the book Robin.


9 thoughts on “old book, new carving pattern

  1. Peter: The Englih carving illustration is really something. The combination of the geometric and the floral is is well executed. I notice that your box was already doing this. On another point, you pointedly emphasized the tool-“pair of compasses.” I have been running through some inventories. This seems to be the common expression. Likewise we sometimes find a “pair of pincers.” Why did they use this rather laborious terminology?

  2. Very nice carving. I have noticed that generally speaking, the carving on english pieces from this period is much more detailed and refined than on similar american objects. I wonder why?

  3. OK, i think i have stumbled into the answer, heres an excerpt from a book george frederick wrote in 1936

    “The Puritans who came to America from England had little or no background in either the practice of the arts or their appreciation. Their austere religion forbade it, and it was a century or more before art could find any hold in the cold and hard nature of the Puritan. Even in furniture made by John Alden at Plymouth there was the most rigid severity, expressing the Puritan’s extreme reaction against the softness and the sensuousness regarding which he was so morally obsessed.”

  4. rfrancis
    thanks so much for going one step further than I did…I’ll claim fatigue as an excuse. The V&A text seems to indicate that it’s early 17th c, even late 16th…

    If you can get photos, I’d love to see them. thanks

  5. James
    first off, I have your stool all assembled & seated. just needs some painted highlights.

    re: carving on English v New England. there’s just a wider variety in old England, just because of the greater numbers there. some of the best, some of the worst as well…in N.E. just a smaller sample to work with, hence falls in the middle somewhere.

    The text you cite, I’m sorry to say, is rubbish. I’ll try to elucidate tonight…

  6. Hey Peter,
    The stool is gonna be GREAT, particularly the Devon Butterfly carving pattern, (lol,sorry, i couldnt resist).

    Yeah, as i am an early riser, i am glad to hear Frederick was full of it as it was a bit depressing to read @ 5 a.m. Now that i am fully awake, i am thinking that american pilgrims lived in a totally different world than their english countrymen, not to mention that there were very few of them.

  7. Hi Peter,

    I never get tired of seeing these carving, there exquisite. Love to catch one of your box making classes in the future…Aside from the week at country workshops, do you do any teaching in the Plymouth area?

    Joel T.

  8. I’m glad you got the book Peter and that you found something interesting in it which has sparked some discussion.
    The photos are pretty awful – kind of sepia – did you enhance that photo of the carving somehow ?

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