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Posted Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Nigel Griffiths – Craftsman of Fine Hand Made Oak Furniture.
Ask the question, `What do you get if you cross an artist in wood like Nigel Griffiths with an old cheese factory”? and the answer is, `Fine Hand Made Oak Furniture’.
The old cheese factory at Grangemill on the fringes of the Peak District National Park may be only 17 miles away from the Ikea Factory on the road to Nottingham, but the traditional oak furniture made there by Nigel Griffiths is a million miles away!
`commissions from all over the world'
Indeed the exclusive oak furniture made by this Derbyshire craftsman in the traditional manner has received commissions from all over the world and has graced the showrooms of Harrods; and specially commissioned pieces have been supplied to the cathedrals, castles, monasteries and stately homes of England for over half a century.
Nigel’s father Rupert Griffiths was a time-served joiner who by the time he was 21 had five men working for him in the pre-war building trade. When war broke out Rupert Griffiths, a staunch methodist and conscientious objector was employed as a carpenter on defence maintenance and with a severe shortage of timber looming when war ended, and time on his hands began studying the history of furniture making and woodcarving. After the war he joined forces with Nigel’s uncle, a devout Roman Catholic, and together in 1946 this enterprising ecumenical duo launched `Monastic Woodcraft Ltd’ from premises on Nottingham Road in Derby.
The name `Monastic Woodcraft Ltd’ derived from the fact that their first commission was a contract to provide traditional oak furniture for a monastery; “which doubtless came about through my Uncle’s connections with the local Catholic Church”, smiles Nigel.
Early in the 1950’s the sheer quality of the furniture being produced earned lucrative orders from Kendal Milnes of Manchester and Harrods of London, and Rupert Griffiths’ name became synonymous with woodcarving craftsmanship and traditional fine oak furniture throughout the land.
By the mid 1950’s `Monastic Woodcraft Ltd’ had grown to employ a workforce of 15 , and for the next decade the firm worked almost exclusively on supplying traditional oak furniture for Harrods and Kendal Milnes.
Then came a double blow; early in the sixties Harrods was taken over and a change in policy meant the loss of the contract, - and then a compulsory purchase order to make way for the widening of the Derby ring road forced a change of premises.
In 1963 Rupert Griffiths moved his tools and timber to new premises in the village of Brailsford where an old coaching house provided an ideal workshop and showroom, and for the first time began selling directly to the public. Being on a main arterial route from the M1 into the Peak District, the showroom proved so successful that business boomed and the furniture was in such demand that a one year waiting list quickly developed. The young Nigel, then a schoolboy, often helped out in the workshop and quickly developed a skill for woodcarving and a passion for traditional oak furniture.
When Nigel left school he attended art college where he completed courses in sculpture, graphic design and furniture making before joining his father in what had become a well-established family business.
“My father was a dedicated craftsman, proud of his skill, and he would only employ other dedicated and skilled craftsmen. Of course with the advent of mass production and an increasingly consumer driven society whose arisans were mainly employed in modern factories, traditional craftsmen were becoming scarce, and at one time during the late sixties there was a standing joke that the average age of my father’s workforce was around 72”! “In fact, adds Nigel with a twinkle in his eye, `the workforce began to dwindle,- not because anyone left, but simply because most of them died from old age’!
Rupert Griffiths was finally persuaded to retire a few months short of his 80th birthday!
Having worked for his father for several years, Nigel Griffiths set up his own business from an old water-mill in Oxfordshire where he honed his woodcarving skills by making award winning oak furniture throughout the 1970’s.
His traditional hand made designs were exhibited at the prestigeous Art in Action Exhibition, at the London School of Economics, one of the largest craft fairs in Europe.
By 1980 and with the subsequent decline of his father’s business in Brailsford, Nigel found that a significant number of commissions were coming from his father’s old customers and thus decided to remove back to his native Derbyshire.
He purchased the Old Cheese Factory at Grangemill in 1982 and Nigel Griffiths Fine Hand Made Oak Furniture had finally come home to roost.
The Old Cheese Factory was built as a worker’s co-operative venture.
A foundation stone outside reveals that, `This stone was laid by Teresa C.Chandos Pole Gell, Hopton Hall, March 20, 1875.’, - and cheese was made here for over 70 years until the factory closed in 1946.
“This is a good location for three reasons, explains Nigel, - one,- because it stands at a road junction and thus gets passing traffic from four different directions, two - because it’s on a main tourist route, and three - because it’s opposite a pub, which gives tourists a double reason to stop and explore”
Since moving here Nigel has purchased land at the rear of the building and has provided a large car-park for visitors who come to see the evidence of his artistry in oak, of which there is a superb display at the showrooms adjoining his workshop. Visitors are also welcome at Nigel’s workshop where he is always prepared to answer any questions or give advice.
An acknowledged expert in his field, Nigel Griffiths has lectured extensively on the history of English oak furniture and it’s manufacture, and using only hand tools in the traditional manner, and the specially quarter-sawn finest English oak, has crafted some of the most exquisite pieces to grace even the most stately of homes.
Like his father before him, Nigel is `a chip off the old block’ and as meticulous as all craftsmen are; he says `Only the best craftsmanship and the best timber will do; you could say that from little acorns, the success of this business has grown because it’s been built on the old fashioned values of honesty and integrity, allied with traditional craftsmanship”. To which could well be added, - ` and world-wide recognition of quality, - and customer satisfaction’.
For an exhibition of traditional craftsmanship why not visit Nigel Griifiths at the Old Cheese Factory at Grangemill and see for yourself?