Stoneywell––Culture and quiet time

Part I

How can a gutter and downspout be more beautifully made than this? Go on, zoom in on it.
Perfected proportion for a child’s highchair made by an uncle for a nephew and niece. The chair matches the love of the maker for them.

Meditation and quiet time became important to me even though it is usually during my premium work time when I find myself needy of time alone or with friends or a friend. Some times one is more important than the other and sometimes, as it was when I went to Stoneywell, time to reflect becomes critical in a moment.

I do think that this is one of the loveliest sitting rooms I ever saw anywhere.

This time engaging the senses creates a point of time when reflection starts and separation from what we might consider reality  becomes all the more important. At different points last week I took time to meet the past, meet the present and then greet people and engage in my future as best I can. Hand tool woodworking may well seem archaic to many, especially those believing an evolution via industrialism was pure progress emerging to form a better way through mass making goods.  But then I look at a high chair for a baby made by an uncle for a nephew or nice and I sigh the sigh of relief. My methods of working have enabled me to engage the world of real woodworking in a different way than most might consider. I am more glad today than ever before that the call I made to shift my priority gave me more understanding of worklife in perhaps a less splintered or fractured way. There has never been an invasion of the silence we need more than today.  DSC_0715 The solution technology may be seen to bring brought with it in equal amount a solution we are often quite blind to. Today I must steer my way through crowds looking down at rectangular tablets of electro sensitised glass to prevent them from walking into me. This is a distortion not unlike getting into a car and then looking down at the pedals expecting everyone around you to make sure you don’t crash into them. Magnify this a thousand times and you get a picture of the crash course our wellbeing is sometimes on if we don’t take charge of our things and put the breaks on cultural pollutions.

This smallish window seems inadequate yet its meticulous positioning flooded the middle of the room with beautiful light.

Visiting Stoneywell this past week, thinking about my visit, brought the certainty of sanity to my soul. I began considering all the more about the influence the Arts and Crafts ‘Movement’ had and started wondering if it, well, simply stopped. I mean did the Arts and Crafts movement as a movement stop and the answer is I believe, yes, it did.

You cannot say that this small, simple, easy-to-do detail to a child’s high chair is not just lovely.

The Arts and Crafts Movement did indeed spread through the last decades of the 1800s when a handful of people made a decision to make change happen. Of course it wasn’t the only social move of the era, just one that set certain precedents to inspire people to get off the industrial conveyor belt of the era’s industrialisation and take charge of life in a more balanced way. The ideal was to turn the home, office and workplace into a living and vibrant way of life; to make the home artfully developed and lovely. Whereas we may adopt furnishings and decorative materials to enhance where we live, the real art was to follow a path of self discovery working quietly with our hands and finding that place where things felt well in the doing of it.

Consider this if you will. Just reflect on the words and ask yourself if this could not influence changes to the lifestyle you live:

“Nothing should be made by man’s labour which is not worth making, or must be made by labour degrading to the makers.”  William Morris February 17 1884

The rear elevation seems to emerge from the rock it was hewn from. A sympathetic work of Arts and Crafts.

There is no doubt that Stoneywell, now in the hands of Britain’s National Trust, was a lived belief. The home and its surrounding work, woodland and then other homes beyond are set in beauty and an intentional alternative to what was taking place just a few miles away in the industries of Britain’s inner heart as an industrial nation striving for dominance. Just as emerging nations striving hard for economic and political acceptance around the world are dying faster than at any other time in history from air pollution alone, so it was in the days of which I write now.

DSC_0754 It isn’t just the west that faces the new pollutions from technology but while we did export our industries from the past centuries to fuel the same fires and furnaces on other continents we once died from on our continents, they face the worst pollutions of both at once.  My trip to Stoneywell was a relief into hope that by changing lifestyles we can impact a future for families who see the past and learn from the good and the bad and the ugly of it and replace it with beauty. I’m not looking for some artificial utopia but just dismantling opinions (including mine) to rethink what the Arts and Crafts Movement had to offer an era in its day today. The movement I speak of is one that did not merely create a nice range of furniture and furnishings but a way of respectful living. The movement did indeed stop. The question now is how much of what was intended could still be valid with families today? I will explore this and see if such a thing can happen for us. DSC_0765

The cottage and its furnishings exude a belief if you will in that ‘movement’. From the ground up the structure seemed firmly settled on its own bedrock, the bedrock from which the stone was split and parted but not dressed to misfit nature as was the common effort of the Victorian era but fully intended to fit within the nature that gave it birth.

You can of course get a CNC copier out to produce what you see here, but it will never be the same craftsmanship. If there is craftsmanship it’s still in the one that made the machine, not the one that programmed or used it.

There can be no doubt that the originators, the Gimson brothers Sydney and Ernest were both influenced by that movement profoundly. Whereas some might eschew the title holiday home or summer house, and in many ways I agree, the home was indeed a summer house to which the family retreated during the warmer months each year to perhaps escape the humdrum of city business and pollution.

Culture by its very definition is influence. This influence goes beyond any other power to transform and shape the way we are, think, move, talk, what we eat, drink, where we go, how we go, communicate; culture in fact defines just about everything we do and are. Culture has a sort of empowered influence that we see and feel, experience if you will. As I walked around the home, the grounds and then the beautiful woodlands, the word that hit me was ’retreat’. Culture surrounds us in the everyday of life, yet we limit this power to more specifics than the whole. Such is the way of it. No one can ignore it or truly define it. It is the unfolding development of humanity transitioning through life as an unfolding evolvement of who we are yet to become on the journey. DSC_0738 It’s this culture that has redefined woodworking through the past centuries in that the tools we reach for have changed and we too have been more adapted to the machine rather than the hand tools we would have known in a past era. People in woodworking didn’t change become more skilled but less skilled. Workmanship was dumbed down to the rotary cut and what we can still take pride and fulfilment in is still readily available to us today if indeed we want it. This might explain just why I speak so much about the difference between hand working of wood and machining wood. Very far from one and the same.

When you find a day free of things visit Stoneywell. You must book in because of limited parking and access, but this place needs our support. You’ll love. Just love it! Give ’em a call.


  1. Anything that will be made to ease any burden will bring its own burden. The choice we make is in which burdens we will choose to bear. The problem is…few have realized the burdens we have accepted.

    I am personally sick to death of the background noise. It’s drowning out the signal.

      1. I’m rather guessing here, but as I see it:
        The valley between the main roof and the projecting dormer would normally have a continuous channel of something to keep out the weather. Usually on a building of this age it would be a wide strip of lead, overlapped by the slates at each side. On this building, the slate battens have been cleverly swept around the ‘V’ and the slates therefore continue across the valley, interlaced with each other. Hence a ” ‘laced valley.”
        Someone correct me if I’m wrong . . .

        1. That is a correct description of a laced valley.
          Only a very experienced roofer would carry out such work

  2. You’ve shared some truly beautiful works. I’ve found that the things I make bring me so much more joy than the things I’ve boughten.

    I made a set of toys for my 9 month old daughter with a scroll saw and hand tools, and get to enjoy seeing her play with them every day. She has many toys, but seems to prefer these simple colorful blocks.

    This afternoon I filed the teeth off a newish Stanley “Sharptooth” panel saw. Tomorrow I’ll create new teeth using the knowledge I’ve gleaned from your videos and article. It’s a pleasure to take something that would be a throwaway item to most and give it new life.

    Thanks for everything you do. Without your writings and videos I don’t think I would have discovered the joys of hand tools.

  3. “The movement did indeed stop. The question now is how much of what was intended could still be valid with families today?”
    Well, the most famous quote is “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
    ― William Morris
    I am certain that this is still valid today, and with the change of one word: _and_ believe to be beautiful; we can indeed pursue a continuation of the movement.
    Yes, I must visit Stoneywell this year.

  4. Today i glue more panels of walnut for my soon to be niece’s baby changing chest, with the final panels in clamps and before i sharpen my scrub to true the others, i consider the difficulty i had in the cedar panels i used for my joiners toolbox, and two times i sucked a towel into my belt sander.. i research an easier way and come to find an abundance of “router sleds” as an option using one inch bits to pass through over and over, watching cnc machine buzz around and around for the low price of so and so. I sit here and try to consider and justify, reflecting in my own view trying to have my own quite to think, im looking for something. I hear a little buzz on the workbench which leads me to this blog
    Thank you for sharing

  5. Thank you Paul, your blog sent me looking for William Morris quotes and led me to this:
    “A good way to rid one’s self of a sense of discomfort is to do something. That uneasy, dissatisfied feeling is actual force vibrating out of order; it may be turned to practical account by giving proper expression to its creative character.”
    ― William Morris
    I feel that you will particularly appreciate that one.

  6. Paul,
    Your comments reminded me of my pining thoughts of having lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. The simplicities and complexities of that era are very appealing when compared to this futuristic world we live in. And then it occurred to me that the hand tool wood-master such as yourself is having time off in an 18th century manner in the same way you approach woodworking. Simple, and yet complex.
    One of my heros in life is Sir Winston Churchill. Even at the height of his station, he loved to build fieldstone walls and hedges. He described his fondness of the smell of the earth, the tactile feel of the stones, and the feel of honesty that comes from the sweat of hard labor. You very much remind me of him. I wonder what Sir Churchill was thinking of during his times of reflection?
    I also wonder if the master of woodworking in the 18th century was pining for simpler and yet complex times from earlier days?
    Take care,
    Bill Sutherland, Mn, USA

  7. Ah, such a contrast to the grandiose, flamboyant and ultimately dehumanising architecture of Penrhyn Castle. I trust, Paul, that you will find these surrounding much more condusive to the work that you will be inspired to produce. Last year I visited Glasgow and the works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. He also was misunderstood, but what he did produce still stands as a testament how the pure spirit can still pass through the hands of the craftsman and produce lasting works of inspiration for
    future generations.

  8. What is the proper name for the joint in the final photo? It looks like a pegged, stopped double bridle joint. What is it called? It took courage to put that pin there, but it’s exactly where it needs to be to punctuate the arc next to it. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing your visit and thoughts with us.

  9. Paul, in California we very occasionally encounter redwood roof gutters. They were routed from very fine, old-growth redwood. Typically when I have seen them – only three times in the last 30 years – they were situated over doorways. Apparently the houses originally only had gutters protecting the porches and exterior doorways. The examples I have seen were all as carefully made as a well-made handrail, painted and mounted to fit late Victorian architecture.

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