22 Apr 2021

Sidney Barnsley (1865 – 1926) was, like his brother Ernest, an architect and furniture designer who helped found the Cotswold Arts and Crafts movement. Unlike his contemporaries, who employed craftsmen to execute their designs, Barnsley worked completely alone, making his Arts & Crafts furniture both rare and unique.

Sidney Barnsley was born in Birmingham, studying at the Royal Academy Architectural Department before becoming apprenticed to the revivalist architect Norman Shaw. He was encouraged to study Byzantine design in Greece, and upon returning to England undertook a number of commissions inspired by this experience. His only church, the Wisdom of God in Lower Kingswood, Surrey, is a total contrast to the Gothic Revival style of the period, superbly decorated with dressed marble columns and Art Nouveau mosaics.

In the 1890s Sidney Barnsley met the architect and designer Ernest Gimson, and decided to pursue a career in Arts and Crafts. After founding the short-lived furniture company of Kenton and Co, the group left London for the Cotswolds, with the idea of forming a Utopian craft community creating handmade furniture in the rural tradition. They settled upon Pinbury Park, developing the ‘Sapperton’ style of Arts & Crafts furniture which expressed itself through exposed joints and pins, decorative stringing, hardwood inlays and delicate chamfering.

Barnsley’s Byzantine work gave him a deep understanding of classical and vernacular design, developing a style that was more robust and less elaborate than his Cotswold contemporaries. His designs were led by the grain and colours of the wood, which included elm, ebony and fruitwood. Early designs were rustic and simple, but as time progressed he began doing commissions from wealthier clients. His antique marquetry furniture reflects this, though his gouged patterns, gesso work and ebony inlays always show restraint.

Buyers will have to search hard to find an original Barnsley antique desk or table. However, in his later life Barnsley again became involved in architecture, and helped rescue the mediaeval Owlpen Manor from dereliction. The manor now houses a fine collection of Barnsley’s Arts and Crafts furniture , including an early Shaker-style dresser and an ebony-inlaid antique cabinet.

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