The History of Kent Woodturners
The History of Kent Woodturners
by Peter Martin
I joined, what was then the Kent Branch of the AWGB, in 2000 and we then met in a small workshop above Poolewood machinery in Stockbury. Poolewood was owned by Terry Davies who had a very active interest in woodturning and ran a shop on the lower level. The Chairman at that time was Dennis Gleadell with his wife, Pat, acting as Secretary. There are few existing members that shared the delights of the Club as it then was and Poolewood is no longer the force that it was in the woodturning world. Dennis is, unfortunately, no longer with us but Pat is still a member and was an award winning turner in her own right. Some of the older members will remember the superb fruit that she used to make.
It is now over 28 years since the Association of Woodturners of Great Britain was formed and that followed the first British seminar held at Loughborough College of Art and Design in August 1987. The seminar was held following an apparent rapid growth of interest in creative woodturning throughout the world and was sponsored by the Crafts Council, Robert Sorby Ltd and Craft Supplies. The list of contributors will still be recognised today: Albert Le Coff (USA) who organised the first symposium in America and founded The Woodturning Centre in Philadelphia , David Elsworth (USA) President of The American Association of Woodturners, Ray Key (UK) one of England’s best known turners at that time, and author of Woodturning and Design. At that time Ray specialised in boxes and work with exotic woods. Stephen Marchant (UK) who was the only fully trained turner in the team, having served a full apprenticeship in woodturning. He was working in the area of interior design making large scale columns and urns. Ed Moultrop (USA), an architect, engineer and studio artist who specialised in giant bowls and spheres from end grain, and developed polyethylene glycol for woodturners. Michael O’Donnell (UK) using Scottish Hardwoods to make delicate bowls. Jim Partridge (UK) trained at the School of Craftsmen in Wood and a designer and maker of individual furniture and bowls.
The organiser of the seminar was Ray Key, the Programme Advisor, Mick O’Donnell and the Administrator was Margaret Lester and the theme was something which is still discussed regularly today “From Craft to Art” – a matter still to be resolved. Following the seminar there seemed to be a great deal of correspondence regarding the setting up of an Association in the United Kingdom and, indeed there are letters from Margaret Lester to people in Kent who subsequently formed a nucleus of the infant Association and were also founder members of what is now known as Kent Woodturners. It was previously known as AWGB (Kent Branch) and before that The Kent Chapter of the Association. Amongst the early members was John Hunnex the author of a number of very relevant woodturning publications. This led to John Hunnex and Bill Carden holding the first regional seminar called “Practice and Pleasure of Woodturning” at the Chatham Secondary School in Kent where members of the newly formed Association of Woodturners of Great Britain inaugurated their first meeting in Kent for invited guests. John and Bill conducted demonstrations in the morning and Mr Jarvis, a director of British Gates and Timber at Biddenden, introduced the theme of “Turning for Pleasure”.
There were also demonstrations of Spinning, Lace Making, Pyrography and Fret Sawing with videos being shown of Dennis White, Richard Raffan and Del Stubbs. At the end of the day donated monies were given to the Association and forms were distributed requesting feedback for the Association on the day in general.
Following this seminar the Kent Chapter, as it was then known, was set up and held its inaugural meeting on 18th March 1989 at the home of David Crawford, a member of both the AWGB and the American Association of Woodturners. David was appointed Chairman of the Kent Chapter with John Hunnex as Secretary and Eileen Dawes as Treasurer. The initial subscription was £10 per member. And so it grew!! (Note that the subscription has not increased in line with inflation.)
To bring this up to date it would appear that: Albert Le Coff is now 65 years of age and is still active with American and international wood artists in the Wood Turning centre which he founded. David Elsworth is now 71. He was the President of the American Association of Woodturners from 1986 until 1991, author of over 50 books on the subject and operates a school in Buck’s County Pennsylvania. Ray Key is known to us all and still seems to be very busy. He has a workshop in Eversham, on the border of the Cotswolds. Stephen Marchant is still working in the Cheltenham area. Ed Moulthrop lived in Atlanta, Georgia and has work featured in many prestigious collections throughout the USA. He died in 2003 at the age of 87. He is succeeded by three generations of his family in the woodturning business.
Michael O’Donnell worked with his wife Liz developing unusual ways to add colour to native woods. He was running a Bed and Breakfast establishment at the most northerly point of the Scottish mainland. Jim Partridge has designed and made furniture for 25 years. He and Liz Walmsley completed an altar for Christ Church Cathedral and many other large outdoor projects.
As can be seen the history of the Association is littered with well-known craftsmen from around the world and they still attract the very best from the market when they put together the bi-annual seminar programme and attendance has been an opportunity to learn from the best since its inception in 1987.
The Kent Chapter has gone from strength to strength through a number of incarnations and the original half a dozen members can be very proud of what they passed on to future generations. Let us hope that the current membership of Kent Woodturners will do their bit to ensure that their successors get as much from woodturning as they have.