The ‘Brynmawr Experiment’ was an attempt by the Quakers to relieve the mass unemployment in the town of Brynmawr, south Wales in the early 1920s. They set up a small furniture-making enterprise that led to a major chapter in the social and artistic history of Wales.
The venture started in 1929, employing twelve local untrained men and later took on boys trained straight from school. Support came mainly from other successful Quaker companies – the first order was for 400 chairs for a Quaker school in York. Each chair cost £1 each (equivalent to £41 or today). New equipment and machinery was bought with the profits
The success of Brynmawr furniture was mainly due to the designer, Paul Matt. He had served his apprenticeship under his father, a skilled designer and cabinet-maker in London.
Paul Matt designed furniture that was simple to construct, taking into consideration that the workers were initially all unskilled. The main timber used was imported oak, finished with a coat of clear wax which gave the furniture an overall simple and minimal appearance, in line with the Quaker philosophy.
Glossy catalogues and promotional leaflets emphasised the high quality and design of the products whilst providing sustainable employment for the local community. These ideals appealed to the middle and professional classes of the 1930s and the company made the furniture affordable to such professions.