Edward Barnsley (1900-1987) was one of the leading 20th century furniture designers. Son of the Cotswold Arts & Crafts furniture craftsman Sidney Barnsley, he was heavily influenced by his father’s design methods. However, his antique dining tables and cabinets are lighter, using imported hardwoods, electric machining methods and a team of craftsmen. Today, an Educational Trust ensures that furniture of the quality of Edward Barnsley’s antique cabinets continues to be made.
Edward Barnsley grew up in the Cotswolds, influenced by the work of the Barnsley Brothers and Ernest Gimson, who founded the Cotswold School. In 1910 he went to the progressive school of Bedales, in Hampshire, which encouraged the learning of crafts and other practical skills. In 1920 he took up an apprenticeship with the designer Geoffrey Lupton, making furniture as well as working on a new library at Bedales, designed by Gimson.
In 1923 Edward took over Lupton’s workshop and workforce. His antique dining tables and chairs from this period clearly reflect his father’s Arts and Crafts style, while making adjustments towards a more modern movement. The workshop remained buoyant during the depression and war years, inheriting many clients after Sidney Barnsley died.
During Edward’s lifetime, his workshop produced around 7,000 individually crafted pieces. He aimed to keep the spirit of Arts & Crafts furniture alive, combining his father’s craftsmanship with the elegant lines and fine inlays of 18th century court furniture. He imported timbers such as blackbean and rosewood, to complement the English oak and walnut of the Arts and Crafts movement. Edward was always wary of mechanisation. Electricity did not arrive at the workshop until 1955 – and even then, only to do the more mundane tasks like sawing.
Awarded the CBE in 1945, Edward was instrumental in the founding of the Crafts Council. The Edward Barnsley Educational Trust was set up in 1980 to secure the future of the workshop, and ensure that the chairs being hand-crafted today will become sought-after antique dining chairs tomorrow.