Swiss Files

Brought to you by How + Print

Arcade Files


The History of Industries and Toolmaking in United Kingdom

  The Bryan Saunders Collection by Trevor Winter  

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. To 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 comprehensive presentation.

The collection, which represents a whole working life, comprises all of Bryan Saunders’ hand tools he appears not to have used machinery together 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 economic times. At 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 gained.

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).

My 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 entry.

© 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.)

Footnote 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 buildings and 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, Newsletter editor, to present this article to American readers.

This article is protected by all applicable Copyright Laws and owners specifically listed here: Copyright © Trevor Winter and Copyright © TATHS.  All Rights Reserved.

Woodworker's Guide to Wood Collection only $79.99 at Shop Woodworking


English Chisel



Copyright © 2005-2018, and Wiktor Kuc.  All Rights Reserved.  Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
No part of the content from this website can be reproduced by any means without specific permission of the publisher.
Valid CSS!