Ulverston Backstool

W.G. Collingwood/Harold Stabler
Nationality of Designer
M. Richardson
Manufacturers Location
Ulverston, Cumbria (U.K.)
96 x 38 x 44 cm


Carved oak Arts and Crafts backstool in a 16th century-style featuring a crown and wreath containing '1901' to commemorate the death of Queen Victoria. 



Why it's in the Collection

This stool is a high quality example of the type of carving executed by the network of Arts and Crafts guilds scattered across the Lake District around the turn of the century. A simple construction, it is a four-legged low stool with a high back based on the type of 'side chair' found in wealthy houses of 16th century England, which in turn originated from the Italian 'sgabello', a decorative chair usually placed in a hallway. Although this stool is functional, its size and the intensity of ornament implies its initial purpose was decorative.

It represents the revival of the (Italian) Gothic endorsed by Ruskin and carried out by the likes of A.W. N. Pugin (1812-1852) since the mid-19th century, as well as the profound, long-term impact this had on craftsfolk across Britain. The wreath, crown and date show it was almost certainly carved to commemorate the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. As such, it marks a shift from the Victorian to the Edwardian era, a time when florid ornamentation began to look increasingly out-of-date as fashion changed and a kind of Georgian simplicity returned. In particular,  C.F.A. Voysey's (1857-1941)designs steered the Arts and Crafts movement away from excessive ornamentation towards the twentieth century as the approach of what would later become known as modernism in art and design accelerated. The simplicity and clarity of later Arts and Crafts furniture is still more attractive to 21st century tastes than the heady mix of medievalism, Gothic form and Victoriana which preceded it.

This stool also embodies the connections between different groups of craftsfolk in Cumbria. Carved in Ulverston, the component parts were probably prepared by a more established furniture manufacturer such as Simpson's of Kendal and the designs applied to the components would be shared throughout regional craft schools having been supplied by artists based at Keswick School of Industiral Arts or similar institutions. 

About the Designer/Maker

The base of the stool is stamped with 'M. Richardson Maker Ulverston'. Although this stamping suggests a level of professionalism and the quality of the carving is high, Richardson has not been traced though he would have been local to Ulverston and a member of the Carving School in the town. Many of the designs carried out by the Carving School would not have been produced by the carvers themselves but rather by a limited number of artists who disseminated designs for others to use. W.G. Collingwood and Harold Stabler are the two most likely candidates for this stool's floral pattern. The components were also unlikely to have been cut and shaped in Ulverston but would have been bought in ready to be carved. 

W.G Collingwood (1854-1932) was educated at the University of Oxford. While studying there he met John Ruskin in 1872 and the following summer visited him at Brantwood near Coniston. Collingwood eventually dedicated most of his professional life to Ruskin, acting as his secretary and helping to promote his ideas while becoming greatly influenced by them. Upon Ruskin's death in 1900, Collingwood was named co-executor of his will and he remained a prominent presence in the Lake District as an artist and educator. He designed several local war memorials and he maintained an active relationship with local crafts guilds. 

Harold Stabler (1872-1945) was born in Levens and attended Kendal School of Art where he trained in metalwork, wood and stone carving. He was apprenticed to Arthur Simpson who ran his own Guild of Handicrafts in Kendal around 1886. Simpson was a prominent producer of Arts and Crafts furniture and would continue to play a central role, along with Stabler, in the Arts and Crafts Movement. In 1898 Edith Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust and a driving force behind the Keswick School of Industrial Art (KSIA), helped ensure Stabler was elected as the new permanent director of the KSIA. Stabler would provide creative direction to the school, supplying designs which subsequently may have travelled further afield to schools in Ulverston, Coniston, or Kendal. He would go on the found the Poole Potteries.