Ernest Gimson, 'a very English genius'
Described by his contemporary W.R Lethaby as “a thinker, an explorer, a teacher” Ernest Gimson became one of the most inspiring and influential architect-designers of the British Arts and Crafts Movement.
He was one of a large local family who moved to New Walk, Leicestershire when he was a young child. His father, Josiah Gimson, founded and ran the engineering firm at the Vulcan Works, adjoining the Midland Railway.
Destined for design
The family were very prominent in the Leicester Secular Society. It was following one of their meetings, at which William Morris had spoken, that the 19-year-old Ernest met and greatly impressed Morris; it was Morris that steered Gimson to his subsequent career. Ernest decided to move to London to continue his architectural training, whilst his brother, Sydney, followed their father into the family business.
However, he returned regularly to Leicester, even after his move to the Cotswolds in 1893. It was there, at Sapperton, he collaborated a great deal with the Barnsley brothers who, like him, designed and made some of Stoneywell cottage’s furniture.
An Arts & Crafts creative genius
As well as producing furniture, he continued his architectural work, including, of course, designing Stoneywell for his brother in 1898. All the time, however, he and his workers remained true to William Morris’s ideal that:
Nothing should be made by man’s labour which is not worth making, or must be made by labour degrading to the makers.
F.L Griggs, a celebrated etcher and collaborator with the Sapperton craftsmen, stated that “There can be no doubt, I think, that Ernest Gimson was a great creative genius, and in temperament and in all he did a very English genius”.