Film ID: YFA 3103 Video of YFA 3103 Craftsman of Kilburn 1948 CRAFTSMAN OF KILBURN 1948 Visitor TabsDescription Made by Betty and Cyril Ramsden, this film shows the workshop and products of 'Mousey Thompson- the Craftsman of Kilburn.' He was a famous furniture maker from North Yorkshire who owned a small business where many apprentices and craftsmen produced his designs using traditional carpentry methods. All his furniture had his personal signature of a mouse being carved on it. The film opens with the following intertitles all overlaying a picture of a carved mouse to set the scene for the film. Title - A Ramsden Film Forward In this Age of Mass Production, there is a quiet Yorkshire village where… the ancient craft of wood carving still flourishes. Here Skill and Oak blend producing the ANTIQUES of TOMORROW On Choir Stalls & Coffee Tables, Alters & Ash Trays, the sign of THE MOUSE proclaims their origin. To ROBERT THOMSON and his men acknowledgement is made for their help and co-operation. CRAFTSMEN of KILBURN The film begins with scenes of the small village of Kilburn and its surrounding countryside. Title – Home of Robert Thompson The old house of Thompson is shown outside and inside with pieces of his furniture, including tables and chairs, all with the distinctive carved mouse. He is then shown through a window at home drawing up plans. There is a large oak tree in a field. From this sort of tree, oak is cut up into planks. Outside by the workshop, wood is piled up ready to be turned into furniture of other household items. Several men carry a large piece of wood into the workshop where it is cut into smaller pieces. Intertitle: ‘Ecclesiastical work’ A workman marks out a drawing with a floral design on a small piece of wood, which he then carves out with various precision chisels. The finished product forms the top of what looks like a pulpit. Intertitle: ‘Reredos in the making’ A man is sanding down a finished carving which he then places on top of a reredos (the screen behind an alter). Intertitle: ‘Lettering’ A workman is carving text on a wooden plaque in memory of a former parishioner, which, having sanded it down, he then shows to the camera to be read. Intertitle: ‘Domestic Furniture - making a coffee table’ A workman, smoking a pipe, pieces together the tenon joints of the parts of the coffee table. He then makes one of the legs, onto which he carves the trademark mouse, and finally puts the whole table together using wooden pins. Intertitle: ‘Using the adze’ A workman sharpens his adze using a sharpening stone. He then uses it on the coffee table top that he has wedged under his feet and carves the distinctive Thompson rippled effect. This is then planed, worked on again with a fine metal plate, sanded down and attached to the legs with wooden pegs. Intertitle: ‘Polishing after fuming’ The workman then applies some polish to the table, rubs in the polish, and the finished product is shown. Intertitle: ‘Bookends’ A workman carves a mouse on the bookend he is making, polishes it, and displays the two finished bookends. Intertitle: ‘Wood turning’ A man turns a piece of wood on a lathe, shaping it into a bowl, and patterning it using various chisels. Once off the lathe he further shapes it using an electric saw. Intertitle: ‘Hand finishing’ He then finishes off the bowl again using various chisels. The film closes showing all the objects in the Ramsden’s living room. The finished bowl, complete with carved mouse, is put on a table by Betty Ramsden, and filled with fruit. The bookends are also shown in use, as is the coffee table by Cyril Ramsden who is sitting in an armchair drinking coffee, smoking, using a Thompson ashtray, and reading a book. The End Context This film was made by a husband and wife film team of filmmakers from Leeds, Betty and Cyril Ramsden. They made very many films of exceptional quality: the YFA holds 49 of them, some of which can also be viewed on YFA Online. Cyril worked as a dentist, and Betty was a teacher before working full time doing the administrative work for the dentistry practice. They both made films, together and individually. Although not professional filmmakers they took their hobby very seriously, and won many certificates for their films from the Leeds Camera Club – as this one did for Betty – which they helped found (for more information on the Ramsden’s see the Context for Humber Highway). They made several films featuring the village of Coxwold, which they visited often for days out, staying in the local pub. Given the proximity of Kilburn to Coxwold, and the obvious pleasure the Ramsdens took in making documentary type films, it is little wonder that they chose to make this film. Both during and after the war they would go cycling in the Dales, often making films for people in return for gifts-in-kind. They may have met ‘old man Thompson’, or ‘Bob’, as they called him, in the local pub in Coxwold which is seen in several of their films. Betty took some still photos for Thompson, and didn’t charge, saying that they were ‘only paper’. Not long after this Thompson presented Betty a mouse letter opener he made: ‘I can’t afford that!’ exclaimed Betty, no cost replied Thompson, ‘it’s only wood’. When they had talked Bob into making the film he made a condition that he should not be in it and that he should see it first (he is seen only briefly at the beginning). The film was shown in the Village Hall at Kilburn along with several others they had made in that area of local events. For their efforts they received a collection of £5, a large bowl of brown eggs and home cured ham. Some of these films, such as Coxwold Gymkhana (1951), can be viewed on YFA Online. Already having a reputation for making high quality hand-crafted wooden items back in the time the film was made, the Thompson firm has gone on to become even more successful, and is still thriving today. With much renovation, the establishment, on the same site, now has a visitor centre with Mouseman Museum, shop and café; and has 40 employees, including 25 craftsmen working to the same traditional practices. Their furniture is highly sought after, with old examples fetching high prices – although beware of imitations! In the age of mechanical reproduction, Thompson’s story is a heartening one for all those who value the making of things by hand. It all began in 1894 when Robert Thompson, born in the Old Hall Kilburn in 1876, took over from his father, John, the local village joiner, carpenter and wheelwright. In 1891, aged 15, Robert went to work for a firm of engineers at Cleckheaton in West Riding. But on his journeys home, stopping off at Ripon Cathedral, he discovered the craftsmanship of William Bromflet – or William Carver as he is later called – the head of the 15th century Ripon School of Carvers. Thompson was highly impressed by the medieval oak furnishings, especially of the misericords – these are like seats, half kneeling half standing, found in churches and cathedrals, which take the weight off the feet. This inspired him to study the qualities of the British oak (quercus robur), and the tools that these medieval craftsmen would use. However, he had to bide his time before he could put this new knowledge to use. He continued to carry on his father’s varied work – making gates, repairing wagons and so on – and it was not until 1919 that this began to change. In that year he was introduced by Kilburn local Sydney Mawe to Father Paul Neville of Ampleforth College, who was looking for someone to build a large oak memorial cross for the Catholic Cemetery at Ampleforth. Although not knowing where he would find the timber, Thompson took on the job, his first commission. From that time on Thompson made a vast number of hand-carved oak furniture and fittings for churches, cathedrals, stately homes, schools and public buildings across the country and overseas. A list of where much of this work can be found, along with trails, in Patricia Lennon’s and David Joy’s book (see Further Information). One of the defining features of his work was the use of the same hand tools that the medieval craftsmen used, such as the adze – a hoe-like tool that produces a ripple effect on the wood surface. Another is the natural seasoning and drying of the oak, which gives it a different quality to kiln dried oak. By the 1930s a workshop of some 30 craftsmen had been built up. As for the origins of the famous trademark mouse – carved on all products – Robert Thompson himself recounts that it was early on in his carving career when a fellow carver remarked something like, ‘we are as poor as church mice’, which inspired the first carving. Thompson observed that the mouse chews away at the hard wood unnoticed, and this became a fitting symbol for “industry in a quiet place”, as he put it in a letter from 1949 – remembering that for a long time ecclesiastical work was his main trade. The strength and durability of oak has long made it ideal as construction material for houses, churches, ships and in making furniture – as well as for fuel, with the bark used in tanning. So much so that in Elizabethan times a law was passed to protect it. Oak trees have also long been a major symbol for many cultures: one etymology of the word Druid derives it from "dru-wid", meaning "knower of oak trees". Slow growing and long living, up to 1,000 years, oaks cannot be replaced quickly. Hence the laws on the protection of forests, which go back at least to the Assize of Woodstock in 1184 – although these laws were for the benefit of the King, who owned the forests, and which were defined according to their potential for hunting. Since those early times, trees and woods have increasingly been seen from a commercial viewpoint, and as a result many ancient forests have disappeared. However, the establishment of the Forestry Commission, through the Forestry Act of 1919, helped to increase the area of woodland in the UK from around 5 per cent land cover to over 10 per cent. It is a bit scary to think of oak being used on any large scale, but its use as timber is regulated and it is protected in parks and other public spaces. Robert Thompson died on 8th December 1955 and is buried in the churchyard next to his workshop, in the grounds of Kilburn Parish Church. But he isn’t the only famous wood craftsman from Yorkshire. Thomas Chippendale was born in Otley, North Yorkshire, in 1718, and his father was also a carpenter. Using mahogany rather than oak, Chippendale has become synonymous with high quality 18th century furniture. Closer to Thompson’s time, the late nineteenth century Arts and Crafts Movement, coming out of the revival of Medieval and Gothic styles led by Ruskin and Pugin, is strikingly similar to Thompson’s work in certain respects. Morris, Marshall and Faulkner & Co, at the forefront of the movement, also specialised in hand-made furniture looking back to the medieval period, though having a different outlook. Even the ideal of all the craftsmen being on an equal footing is paralleled in Thompson’s workshop. It isn’t known, however, whether Thompson was aware of this movement, was influenced by it or shared its wider social vision. References A collection of material relating to the Ramsden’s is held with the YFA, including small extracts from Cyril Ramsden’s diary (courtesy of Dr Jonathan Fear, nephew of the Ramsgates). DVD/Video, The Mouseman of Kilburn, the life and work of Robert Thompson. Rosalind Blakesley, The arts and crafts movement, Phaidon, London, 2006. N D G James, A History of English Forestry, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1981. James Thompson, The Mouseman of Kilburn, Dalesman Books, Clapham, North Yorkshire, 1979. Robert Thompson’s Craftsmen Ltd The Misericords of Ripon Minster by Eric Webb Further Information Patricia Lennon and David Joy, Mouseman, The Legacy of Robert Thompson of Kilburn, Great Northern Books, 2008. This is an updated and expanded edition of Patricia Lennon's book on the Mouseman first published by Great Northern Books in 2000; it has much additional material, including developments in production methods, a comprehensive list of all work by Robert Thompson and his successors and dating information.