13 Apr 2021
November 25, 2012 - Filed under: Peter Waals — Mandy

Following Gimson’s death in August 1919 Peter Waals continued to run the Daneway Workshops. By December 1919 he was writing to potential clients in his own name on Daneway headed paper. He wrote to the Leicester architect Albert Herbert to promote the workshops. He emphasised the continuation of quality of design and construction while hoping to ensure low prices, ‘by careful organisation & the judicious use of machinery’. Early in 1920 he moved out of Daneway and along the valley to the village of Chalford. With the support of clients such as Alfred James of Edgeworth, W A Evans from Leicester and Arthur Mitchell from Cheltenham, he was able to set up a workshop.

His relationship with Gimson’s widow and his family were not easy.  They were fiercely protective of Gimson’s memory and concerned that Waals would set up in business reproducing his designs. Waals promised not to reproduce any of Gimson’s inlaid designs or experimental pieces. He could not to the same for the plainer domestic items of furniture. He wrote:
‘If I received orders for similar pieces and set myself to design these, after my 20 years experience at Daneway, the results would never exclude the impression that they were not copies. It will also be realized, that I do not feel myself in the position of a designer copying a dead man’s work, but in that of a foreman continuing his master’s workshop.’
Gimson’s friend, F L Griggs acted as a go-between and tried to impress on Waals the need to establish his own reputation as a designer. He provided recommendations as well as commissions describing him as ‘a good and efficient designer – more, as a man who does work as excellent as ever, and certainly designed with great charm’. Following one visit, Waals wrote to Sydney Gimson saying:

‘We have had enough work since I started to keep the old men busy and at present I have orders to give work to nearly twice their number. It is mostly church work and joinery to architects’ designs’.
At Chalford, Waals had easy access to the railway network. He also installed some basic machinery into the workshop – a band-saw, planer and mortiser – which enabled him to price his furniture more competitively.
The furniture historian and commentator on design, John Gloag, rated Waals very highly as a craftsman. He described him as, ‘an enormous bulky great Dutchman with shoulders like a gorilla and a deep voice. He loved to contradict people which he did all the time.’ He was strongly built with a heavy accent which he never lost. Some of the craftsmen at Chalford nicknamed him ‘Duchy’.

In 1935 Frank Pick, chair of the Council for Art and Industry, suggested that Waals should be invited to Loughborough College to act as consultant in design. The college was the main centre for the training of handicraft teachers and Waals’s work did a huge amount to disseminate the approach and standards of furniture making established by Gimson and the Barnsleys. As well as working with the students Waals designed all the furniture for Hazelrigg Hall as well as other fittings throughout the college

Waals died suddenly in May 1937. His widow and Leo Waals, his son, battled to keep the workshop going. They moved to new premises, Cotswold Works, until a fire destroyed the building, design, work in progress and the tool boxes of the cabinet-makers in 1938. The workshop finally closed in 1939 when Leo Waals was called up following the outbreak of World War Two

1 Comment »

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