Thursday, 27 February 2020

Poor as a Church Mouse

Over the years Boldon Auction Galleries have sold many pieces of Robert "Mousey" Thompson hand crafted wooden items.  From ashtrays, tables, chairs, lamp bases, cheeseboards and stools.  

However we have to say this is a Boldon Auction Galleries first - a full size pulpit entered into the Antique and Interiors Sale on Wednesday 4th March.

A Robert "Mouseman" Thompson oak pulpit of carved panelled form, with integral steps, book shelf, seat and book rest, having signature carved mouse with long tail running up the front of the pulpit. 
137cm high, 123cm x 119cm wide

Estimate £800 - £1,200

Robert Thompson's firm has gone from strength to strength from humble beginnings in 1894 to the successful business it is today.  With a visitors centre, cafe and shop it is well worth making a trip to the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.

Before Robert Thompson took over the family business of carpenter, joiner and wheelwright he was employed by an engineering firm in the West Riding.  On his way home from work Robert would often stop at Ripon Cathedral and admire the medieval oak furnishings which later inspired him to study the qualities of the British oak and the tools that would have been used by Medieval craftsmen.

In 1919 Robert received his first commission from Father Paul Neville from Ampleforth College who was looking for someone to build a large oak memorial cross for the Catholic Cemetery at Ampleforth.  Robert made a large number of hand carved oak furniture and fittings for churches, schools and public buildings many of which can still be seen in situ.

There are two striking characteristics of Robert "Mousey" Thompson craftsmanship:

  1. The use of the adze, a hoe like tool which produces a ripple effect on the surface of the wood.
  2. The trademark mouse which is carved on all pieces. 
    Robert Thompson once explained the trademark: “The origin of the mouse as my mark was almost in the way of being an accident. I and another carver were carving a huge cornice for a screen and he happened to say something about being as poor as a church mouse. I said I will carve a mouse here and did so, and then it struck me, what a lovely trademark.”
Robert Thompson died on 8th December 1955 and is buried in the churchyard next to his workshop, in the grounds of Kilburn Parish Church. 

Please click on this link to see a delightful film made by husband and wife film makers Cyril and Betty Ramsden in 1948 from the Yorkshire Film Archive

Fascinatingly Cyril and Betty who lived near Kilburn had met Robert Thompson who agreed they could make the film on condition he did not appear in it and that he should see it first.  The film was shown in Kilburn village hall and Cyril and Betty received a large bowl of brown eggs, home cured ham and a collection of £5 for their efforts.

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