Fresh from my finishing a furniture-making apprenticeship and with intent shining in our eyes, my wife Celia and I went jobbing gardening. We saved enough to put down a deposit on a semi-detached wreck with a derelict garden.
With no dosh but a lot of love, ambition, resourcefulness and a tad of imagination, we cobbled together an 18’ x 18’ corrugated iron shed. Its improvised fabrication from gleaned materials a metaphor for our future survival. We grandly named it Albany Workshop.
Equipped with a pot-bellied stove, a skip-retrieved door as a workbench, no machinery but an astoundingly successful dust extraction system consisting of back door open, front door open and hey presto a through draught that blew the dust away. With little in our pockets save a penknife and tenacity, and peppered with a compulsive need to create, we embarked upon our furniture-making careers.
My designs and making, under the guidance of Celia’s administration, slowly attracted sufficient attention to realise one of our ambitions. In the mid 80s, ten years after first picking up a chisel, we took on our first apprentice. We were bringing employment to the Wylye Valley.
We danced with debt, rode our luck and grasped our opportunities. Our successes and workshop extensions grew along with our apprentices. One became two, then three, four, five and six. Recessions came and went; armed with the support of our clients we fought and managed to retain the other of our most precious resources: our makers.
I began to spend as much time at the drawing board as I did the workbench until the distinction between the two faded. Celia’s consummate grasp of the regulatory vagaries thrust upon all small business reflected, then complemented, the burgeoning skills of the makers and the designer.
It slowly dawned on us that the dreams that had, at the outset, inspired us were slowly coming true, albeit in a different way to that originally envisaged. We were keeping a tradition alive and doing so with a relevance and expression of our own culture and times.
Inadvertently we had, strangely, been following Marcel Duchamp’s advice: “an artist should change their workshop every decade”. We had listened and improvised on that advice with the workshop extensions and then eventually our garden could take no more.
It was time to say farewell to Albany Workshops. We moved to Lime Tree Workshops and Studio so as to provide a setting where we and our makers could see a future. It is an added bonus that it’s in the same village as our showroom.
We had sought a twenty-first century relevance for our eighteenth-century business model. We trusted ourselves, my designs and the handing on of the skills necessary to manifest them. We are doing so by being designers and makers of twenty-first century English furniture, designed in Wiltshire, made in Wiltshire from predominantly English timbers. At the core of what we do is you.