How did you start your career in Timber Framing?
My first taste of vernacular building came when I was at primary school. We had a trip to the nearby Weald & Downland Museum, where they had recently finished the frame of the now iconic Bayleaf Farmhouse, and were working on the wattle & daub infill panels. We got to work on the daub, which was, of course, delightful and exciting for us 8-year olds!
But it was a few years later, just after Christmas in 1980, when as a former pupil and neighbour of Bedales School in Hampshire, I was contacted by my old woodwork teacher to ask if I would help out with a project they were working on at the school.
The school had developed an ‘Outdoor Work’ department – a small-holding – to give the pupils opportunities to work with plants and animals. The had been given a Victorian timber framed barn, which had been dismantled and was awaiting re-erecting on the school grounds. I was called in to help with the foundations. It was freezing and wet, but great fun, barrowing loads of concrete into collapsing trenches! It so happened that the carpenter in charge of the project was one Charley Brentnall. We got on, and I loved the work, so asked Charley if I could help him in the school holidays. So I got to work on some of Charley’s earliest barn projects. When I finished my A-levels, I went to work with Charley full-time in my gap year.
At the end of my gap year, I went to York to study Psychology. This led me away from timber-framing for a few years, but by a very circuitous route, I came back to Charley in 1989, and was introduced to Carpenter Oak (which I thought was a nickname for Charley, as he hadn’t told me about the business!).
Charley was looking to develop the ‘Woodland’ part of Carpenter Oak & Woodland, and I enjoyed making shingles & pegs, so took on the development of ‘Woodland Products’. I enjoyed running this for 15 years, until in 2004, I left to start my own little company, Greenwood Direct.
One of our first framing jobs turned out to be a roof frame for a burned-out cottage in the New Forest, which was featured on Grand Designs! I got to meet Kevin McCloud a few times during the filming, and invited him to speak at Frame, to which he agreed!
What is the biggest challenge within the Timber Framing world?
The ageing workforce – framing is a hard physical job, and most people I know have been doing it a long time. The OFTF is doing a great job to help develop new framers through its Special Apprentice Programme, but our culture needs to rebuild respect in craft skills.
The availability of good quality oak. It seems we are all relying on oak from the continent, as UK forestry doesn’t seem to be producing enough suitable quality timber. This makes us vulnerable in terms of supply and costs.
The economy – the crash of 2008 caused long-term damage to the building industry, and Brexit could do the same.
What is the most inspiring project you have worked on?
I’ve often wondered if my love of timber buildings came from the experience of working on the Bayleaf as an 8-year old. I’ve certainly always found the Weald and Downland Museum an inspiring, almost spiritual place to visit.
But I’d have to say that the Gardener’s Shelter at Cressing Temple answers this. Partly because of Laurie Smith’s beguilingly beautiful daisy-wheel design, with its geometrical echoes of the magnificent 12th century Barley Barn, just a few yards away, but mostly because of the experience of its creation. Hewing oak beams from the round, converting them all by hand and scribing the frame, all with no tape measures or power tools, with a group of superbly enthusiastic and fun people was not just a great pleasure, but a genuine inspiration.
Where/what is your dream home and why (feel free to send us some pics!)
I consider myself extremely fortunate to live in a house I love, in a beautiful part of the world, but in a fantasy world, I would love to live in mediaeval splendour in the aforementioned Bayleaf, preferably with modern hygiene and medicines!