Born in 1857, Simpson showed interests in carving from a very early age and at 14 was apprenticed to the Kendal Cabinet maker Robert Riggin. In 1875 he started work on an apprenticeship carving for Gillows and in 1879 worked for two years under Samuel Barfield in Leicester, before then returning home to Kendal to set up his own workshop in 1881, as an ‘Architectural and General Woodcarver’. Finding no local market he later returned to London in 1882, where he worked for quaite a number of firms before securing work with H. Faulkner Armitage in Altrincham., Cheshire. He made a number of notable contacts at this point in his career including William Simpson of Simpson and Goldee.
In 1885 he went back to Kendal to re-found his company, advertising ‘the entire fitting of houses in an artistic and economical manner’ and spent much of his time to the teaching of his craft. In 1887 he got married to Jane Davidson who herself became an accomplished embroiderer and leather worker. In 1889 a piece of Simpson’s carving was accepted by the Arts & Crafts Exhibition society and in 1901 he opened a new showroom in Windermere, which became known as ‘The Handicrafts’, also introducing many other crafts along side his cabinet making and wood carving, including pottery, metal work, needlework and fabrics. He was at the very heart of the Arts & Crafts movement in the Lake District, counting John Ruskin amongst his close friends. In 1886 he had held his first exhibition in Kendal, his woodcarving was exhibited along side drawings by Collingwood, the following year works also included pieces by The Keswick School of Industrial Art (KSIA).
Simpson’s first apprentice carver was Harold Stabler who stayed with him until 1896, ad then became a teacher at the KSIA before moving to work with Rathbone in Liverpool. Other trainees who worked with him included Arthur Dixon who went on became Foreman Cabinet maker of the Handicrafts in 1922. In 1899 Simpson was the joint secretary for the loan Exhibition at Abbott Hall, Kendal. Exhibitors included C.F.A.Voysey, Collingwood, Shrigley and Hunt, Rathbone, Mawson, Harold Stabler, Messrs Essex & Co and Messrs Morton & Co. This marked the beginning of a very close working relationship with Alexander Morton and his firm. It was Simpson who provided all the furniture for Alexander Morton on his marriage in 1900. From 1909 the Handicrafts introduced into their stock Sundour fabrics, Donegal carpets and Torfyn rugs. Simpson’s son, Ronald was to become one of Morton’s most highly acclaimed designers. During the 1912 Ideal Home Exhibition at Olympia, Simpson was awarded a stand between C F A Voysey and George Walton, the entire exhibit was sold to just one customer.