A trove of timely treasures

A secretaire-chest built by Sidney Barnsley

Stoneywell is the epitome of William Morris' golden rule: 'have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.' From Arts and Crafts creations to treasures from a time fondly remembered, the items of Stoneywell's collection have rich and fascinating stories to tell. This month, we take a closer look at the walnut coffer, which stands proud in the master bedroom.

The walnut coffer at Stoneywell was made by George Sharman and carved by Joseph Armitage for Sydney and Jean Gimson and is dated 1912. The coffer was originally commissioned for the Gimson's home on Glebe Street in Leicester - it was then taken to Four Oaks before finally coming to Stoneywell, where it is now displayed in the master bedroom.

Why is the coffer so special for the National Trust?

In 1935 the National Trust announced a competition: 'to design a symbol representing the National Trust which would be suitable for placing on various signs, notice boards, and on their stationery... The adaptablity of the design for all types of material and surfaces was most important.' No other criteria was stipulated. A prize of £30 was offered for the winning design.

109 designs were submitted, but none were thought suitable. It was decided to hold the competition again, but to limit it to six designers who would be specially invited to submit their new designs - this time based on a lion, a rose or an oak tree, as these were thought to best represent national heritage.

The winning entry was designed by Armitage himself and incorporated the oak leaf that has gone on to become so iconic for the National Trust today.

What makes the coffer at Stoneywell so significant as it is in fact here that Armitage's oak leaf design first appears, clearly depicted on the extreme right of its right hand side. The oak leaf is one of eleven carvings that depict a tree, shrub or flower on the coffer - a befitting example of the Arts and Crafts Movement bringing the natural world inside.

The oak leaf detail can be clearly seen on the side carving of the coffer
The oak leaf detail on the walnut coffer at Stoneywell, Leicestershire
The oak leaf detail can be clearly seen on the side carving of the coffer

Who was Joseph Armitage?

Joseph Armitage (1880-1945) was an English wood carver, stone carver, architectural sculptor and teacher.

Whilst studying at the Leicester School of Art, Armitage was elected the first President of the Leicester School of Art Students Union, which was founded in 1901 and is now part of De Montfort Universtiy. Armitage went on to be listed in the school's propectus as a teacher of 'furniture, wood, carving, gilding, inlay and relief design' under B.J. Fletcher, and he taught here from 1906 until 1913.

Armitage was much travelled, and his early works include the carving and design of a coat of arms for the Earl Beachamp's library at Madresfield Court in Worcestershire. Other wood carvings for architectural works stretch across the corners of the country, and include oak pilasters for a dining room by the architect A.A. Givson at Knaresborough; wood carving for the Marquis of Brute at Old Place, Mochrum; at How Green, Hever, Kent; at the United Free Church in Gulane, as well as wood carvings and plaster work at the Ablemarle Club, London.

In later years Armitage was often commissioned by architects who were members of the Art Workers' Guild including George Jack for the craft work of a new chair for Westminster Abbey. By the 1920's hr had collaborated with architect Leslie Mansfield on the Mac Fisheries chain of shops, and with C.H.N Quennell on the carving of a World War I memorial.

Further works of Armitage inclue decorated carvings at St George's chapel at Windsor Castle, the Bank of England and South Africa House.

Today the coffer can be found in the master bedroom of the cottage
The walnut coffer in the master bedroom at Stoneywell, Leicestershire
Today the coffer can be found in the master bedroom of the cottage