Chris Scaife “Robert Thompson –Mouseman of Kilburn‟.
Chris was for a number of years a teacher at the Friends School at Gt Ayton. After this he moved to Kilburn where he is now a freelance speaker for Robert Thompson‟s Craftsmen Ltd.
Robert Thompson was born in Kilburn in 1876 where his father ran a joinery business. After attending Kilburn school he became an apprentice engineer at Cleckheaton. On his travels to & from Cleckheaton he was so inspired by the magnificent woodcarving in Ripon cathedral that he asked to work with his father as a woodcarver. His father died shortly after, &, at the age of 19, he successfully ran his own joinery & woodcarving business.
From the start his emphasis was on beauty & quality rather than on price. His aim was to bring out the latent beauty in his chosen medium, English oak. He made his own tools, foremost of which was the adz. The adz is an ancient tool dating back millennia, unlike the plane or saw, it produces a scalloped ather than perfectly flat surface. If used by a skilful carver it can bring out not only the grain & colour of the oak but the medulla, the silver streaks between the fibres of the wood. To obtain the most pleasing effects the wood is carefully marked, at a 45˚angle to the grain, where each adz cut is to be taken. Each craftsman gives an individual & different result, the “signature” of that craftsman. Only mature oak is used, varying from 150 to 300 years old, and is grown slowly on estates in the Borders or in Northern Ireland, it is then weathered & dried for 5 years before carving commences. A number of characteristics are typical of pieces made by Robert Thompson; they are made of oak using an adz; fittings are in wrought iron, corners on tables incorporate a spiral; panels in chair backs & arms have a lattice pattern resembling interwoven cloth, and, after 1920, a carved mouse is integral to the carving. Unfortunately, owing to the high price authentic items can fetch, counterfeiting is lucrative & common. Happily, forgeries can often be spotted as they lack the weight, solidity & craftsmanship of the genuine article.
Many examples of his carving may be seen locally, for example at Ampleforth school & Lantern church in York. The business remains a family concern run by descendents of Robert Thompson, with a workforce of 30 skilled craftsmen & 6 apprentices producing commissioned items. At Low Kilburn there is the Mouseman Visitor Centre which has a shop, a viewing gallery where carvers may be seen at work and a cafe.,
Chris left leaflets describing the history of the Mouseman & the Visitor Centre