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Smith, Ernest (1876-1967)

Smith, Ernest

London & Daneway, Gloucestershire; cabinet maker (b.1876-d.1967)

Son of a skilled cabinetmaker who had worked for Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle, Smith joined the workforce at the Daneway Workshop in 1904 as an experienced craftsman. He had worked in the London furniture trade in the 1890s, making wardrobes at piece rate, and he then answered an advertisement for cabinetmakers in the rural workshop. At 8d per day the wages were 1 ½ d less than in London but he soon learned that the quality of work at Daneway was far superior and living expenses less. Smith later claimed that while working in London he had only once been told to a job properly whereas ‘At Daneway, we had to have the time we wanted, but they were always anxious for us to do it a bit quicker if possible’. A china cabinet to Gimson design in mahogany, with inlays of ebony and holly, was made by Smith with the help of Harry Davoll and supervised by Peter Waals in 1916 (illus. Carruthers, Greensted, Roscoe (2019), p. 251). Making a cabinet for J. H. Thomas in 1917 with spiral-turned legs, Smith recalled how Waals and Gimson were astonished with his workmanship; ‘They didn’t know how it was going to be done any more than I did, they just left it to me. I was very proud of that one’ (the cabinet illus. Carruthers, Greensted, Roscoe (2019), p. 139 & Carruthers & Greensted (1994), p. 90).

After the First World War Smith, with other cabinetmakers in the workshops, negotiated a rise to 1s 8d per day. Smith recalled that Gimson ‘thought for a minute and said “I suppose you are right, I shall have to see – make the customers pay for it”. And that was that’. Smith continued working as a cabinet maker and became foreman when, after Gimson’s death in 1919, the business was taken over by Peter Waals and the workshops moved to Chalford. Sir George Trevelyan, who trained under Smith in these workshops from 1929-31, recalled in 1969 that Smith later ‘established a tiny workshop in his garden and for some ten years executed pieces to my design until he suddenly went blind. Calling on him I found to my surprise, a new little garden gate to his terraced Chalford house, with the fielded panels and chamfered edges of the tradition. In gallant defiance of his fate Ernest had made this gate, blind, as the closing of his great career of craftsmanship. He died at 90, still reminiscing of the days when they sawed the great logs by hand in a pit-saw at Sapperton, for a trivial wage, but with a joy and delight in great and manly workmanship which is characteristic of the Cotswold Tradition’. 

Sources: Trevelyan, The Workshop of Peter Waals.  A Tribute from a Pupil (1969); Carruthers & Greensted, Good Citizen’s Furniture (1994); Carruthers, Greensted, Roscoe, Ernest Gimson. Arts & Crafts Designer and Architect (2019).