In September 2004 Gerald Cole telephone
with the information that the National Trust had contracted him
seeking the assistance of TATHS. A large collection of tools,
associated materials and documents had been donated to the NT by the
daughter of Bryan Saunders, a woodcrafter who had practiced selected
my name from the register of members as the person who lived closest
to Coggeshall. I am by no means an expert on woodcarving, my
background being cabinetmaking, but I agreed to meet representatives
of the NT at Coggeshall Grange Barn, a restored medieval barn owned
by the Trust.
The National Trust reps outlined their
plans for the conservation and display of the collection and
explained what assistance they were seeking from TATHS.
From the time of Bryan Saunders’ death
until early 2003 the workshop was organized as a private museum by
the Saunders family. A change of circumstances meant that
alternative arrangements for the preservation of the collection had
to be made. Miss Saunders, Bryan’s daughter, generously donated the
collection to The National Trust. The NT prepared a basic inventory,
photographed the collection and transported it into storage.
The long term aim of the NT is to
convert an existing building adjacent to Grange Barn in order to
house a new interpretation and display area. As well as explaining
more about the history of the barn and Coggeshall, there would be a
display of the Saunders Tool collection. The current intention is to
display the collection in the manner of the complete workshop,
together with details of Bryan’s life and work. In addition it is
hoped to show how Bryan lived within a community of woodcarvers
based in Coggeshall. The building work needed will require
considerable fun raising and will take some time to achieve.
enable Bryan’s work to be acknowledged more quickly the NT intend to
create a small, cabinet based, arrangement of tools, patterns and a
sample of carving, together with a graphical display, outlining some
biographical information and details of where his work may be seen
in the local area.
This display is to be situated in
Grange Barn and the NT hopes to have this installed by the late
spring 2005. The NT are seeking the assistance of TATHS in selecting
materials for this initial display and are hopeful of further help
in the long term in evaluating the collection for its future
The collection, which represents a
whole working life, comprises all of Bryan Saunders’ hand tools
appears not to have used machinery
with pattern books, patterns, drawings and a large number of
examples of his work. There are invoices, receipt books, estimate
books and other paperwork related the business, which when collated
will give a detailed insight into his life’s works.
Bryan Saunders began his
career in 1907, when at the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to
Samuel Marshall, a Master Carver of Bridge Street Coggeshall.
He completed his
apprenticeship in 1914 having impressed his master sufficiently for
him to write him a glowing reference. The First World War intervened
and he was unable to set up business until after it was over. He
volunteered for military service but was rejected on medical
grounds. He began trading after the war in what were very difficult
first he found it necessary to accept any woodwork-related work he
could obtain but as his reputation grew he received private
commissions, and a large amount of ecclesiastical work both locally
and further afield. The late nineteen thirties was the period of his
finest work, but then again war intervened and carving had to be set
aside in favor or work for the national effort. Fortunately his
skills were recognized by the Marconi Company and he was employed
making special boxes for secret documents. After the war Bryan
resumed his trade and prestigious commissions continued to be
His reputation and
craftsmanship traveled as far as America. During the sixties his
health declined and he increasingly was forced to undertake only
light work, but continued this until only weeks before his death in
1973. (I have obtained these brief bio details from the excellent
books "Bryan Saunders" by Dodo Rose, a copy of which, if still
available, I hope to obtain for the TATHS library).
purpose in writing this article is not to describe the life and work
of Bryan Saunders in any detail but hopefully to arouse the interest
of other members so that we may use the collective expertise of
TATHS to help research this very important collection.
The National Trust has
sought the assistance of the society and their aim to preserve the
collection, complete and in the town where it was used, is to be
applauded. They have provided me with a CD containing several
hundred images together with a cross-referenced basic inventory and
have given written permission for this information to be shared with
other members. The basic inventory contains very brief descriptions
of each item and the National Trust would be very grateful for
assistance with improving the level or detail for each inventory
© Trevor Winter,
All Rights Reserved.
4 Narvik Close
Maldon, Essex, CM9 6UX.
Tel 01621 855023
(please title any e-mail
Saunders Collection so that I can distinguish it from spam.)
For any member not familiar with this part of Essex. Also in the
town of Coggeshall is another
National Trust property, Paycockes, a
magnificent medieval timber framed wool merchant’s house, and within
a few miles are the
Temple Barns at Cressing. These are wonderful
cathedral-sized timber framed buildings, built by the Knights
Templar, and are superb examples of carpentry at its best. All these
Coggeshall Grange Barn are well worth a visit.
Above are some of the 500-odd illustrations on the CD of the Saunders
Collection. This will be placed in the TATHS Library for use by
members for research and non commercial use. Copyright to both the
pictures and inventory remain with the National Trust.
The article presented here is a re-print from
The Tools and Trades Historical Society - TATHS Newsletter.
We very much appreciate an agreement with Brian Read,
to present this article to American readers.
article is protected by all applicable Copyright Laws and
owners specifically listed here:
© TATHS. All Rights