December 8th, 2016
Craftsmen of Britain: John Reed & Son Master Upholsterers
A little while ago, I was about to throw away a leather chair that was very old and in poor condition. When I say it was in poor condition, that’s an understatement – it was really only fit for the tip. We couldn’t have brought it into the house as, for all I know, it could have had all forms of wildlife, maybe even a few endangered species, living inside it – and it smelled a bit too.
But, it was over 100 years old and it used to belong to my grandfather, possibly even to his father too and, in its day, it had obviously been magnificent. So, we decided that we’d like to keep it.
In most towns it would be hard to find somebody to restore it, but here in Kettering we are very fortunate. There are two master upholsterers operating their businesses in the same street – and it’s only two streets away from our factory. So, I contacted Tom Reed at John Reed & Son, who took the chair into his workshop, helped me to choose some new leather and gave me a quote for the job.
The restoration was thorough. The chair, which Tom described as a “pillow-back”, was stripped right down to its frame, which was itself dismantled and reassembled. The rails on the frame were all dowelled and extra corner blocks were fitted to strengthen it in places. The first stuffings were a mixture of horsehair and fibre followed by cotton felt and the seat cushion was feather filled.
It would have been easier, and probably cheaper, to buy a new chair, but it would have been hard to find one as good. And, there are two extra features that I wouldn’t have got with a new chair: Firstly, I know exactly what’s inside this one and I’m confident to think that it’s probably set up for the next 100 years or so. But secondly, and for me more importantly, I’m sitting where my grandfather sat and I wonder if, one day, I might have grandchildren who carry the same thought.
But there’s one more thing to consider. It takes a long time for highly-skilled craftsmen to acquire their expertise and it can be very hard for the public to find such people. But when we do have the opportunity, we should use them and let artisans “do what they do” because, in doing so, they can pass their skills on to others. It’s worth it.
Andrew E Loake