17 Aug 2017

Stanley Webb Davies (1894–1978) was one of the leading designers in the Cotswold School style, which helped to take the traditional handmade elements of Arts & Crafts furniture into the twentieth century. Like his associate, Robert “Mouse Man” Thompson, Davies had a trademark signature: a rectangular monogram containing his initials, the date of manufacture and initials of the craftsman who made the piece.

Stanley Davies was born in Darwen, Lancashire, to a Quaker mill-owning family. Having graduated from Oxford, he initially went into the family mill business, but decided to further his talent for woodworking with an apprenticeship under the acclaimed Cotswold School designer Romney Green.

In 1923, Davies started his own Arts & Crafts furniture company in Cumbria, building a house and workshop near Windermere, which he called “Gatesbield”, meaning a shelter for small animals. He married Emily Thomas, herself a skilled woodcarver, in the same year. Emily was a nature lover, and their house was, and still is, full of charming carvings of wildlife, country scenes and mottos crafted by her and her husband. Upon Davies’ death, the house was bequeathed to a Quaker housing association, and today offers sheltered accommodation for the elderly, the beautiful woodwork carefully preserved.

The majority of Davies’ antique chests, bookcases and other furniture was made at his Gatesbield workshop. Like William Morris and other Arts and Crafts artisans, he abhorred mechanisation, instead making each piece of furniture by hand. His aim was to produce simple, elegant functional furniture which reflected the beauty of the wood and the skill of the craftsman. In common with others of the Cotswold School, his antique chests and cabinets show a range of chamfering and jointing techniques, with exposed dovetails, dowels, wedged or double-wedged tenons and inset ebony details.

Trademarks of Davies antique dining tables and sideboards include alternating thumb nail chisels and rounded tops. An oak antique dining table , dated 1929, is a stunning example of his work. Made with extending leaves, it features a rectangular top with inset panels, further panelling on the leaves, an X-framed cross stretcher and detailed chamfered legs. The antique dining chairs which match it feature elegant tapering legs with H-stretchers and revealed tenons, interlaced leather seats, shaped upright backs with chamfered top rails and simple chip carving details. The ensemble was originally in a house not far from Davies’ Windermere workshop, and many of his antique dining chairs and tables are still doing service in private households in that area today.

Stanley Davies’ antique chests, cabinets and dining suites were made between 1923 and the 1960s, but adhered to the same principles of handmade craftsmanship and honesty of design as those of William Morris and the other Arts and Crafts pioneers. He employed a number of assistants who later opened shops of their own, the honesty and natural simplicity of the Cotswold School paving the way for the Modernist movement that was to follow.

The ideals of high craftsmanship and beauty with functionality were largely lost when the Cotswold period of Arts and Crafts furniture design came to an end. However, a number of Davies’ antique cabinets, chairs, chests and other pieces can be seen at the Abbott Hall Gallery and Blackwell House Arts and Crafts museum, both in Cumbria.

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