An enormous cot comes to Stoneywell... almost

A handcrafted wooden cot following traditional Arts and Crafts design

A wooden cot dominates the nursery at Stoneywell. A rare example of true Arts and Crafts carpentry, the very nature of its design meant that it nearly didn't make it into the cottage at all.

The National Trust’s Stoneywell in the Charnwood Forest, near Leicester, is a truly organic cottage. Its very stones were gathered from what became its garden.

And it has wonderful furniture to match – all perfectly crafted and made of English timbers by Stoneywell’s architect Ernest Gimson and his Arts & Crafts collaborators in the Cotswolds.

Ernest, however, was originally from Leicester, and the city’s museum owns a number of pieces by him, some of which it has generously offered to lend to Stoneywell.

The Trust’s Regional Curator Simon Chesters Thompson described the joyous task of going through what was on offer: ‘I wanted to take everything, but of course I couldn’t. There were, though, a couple of pieces that really stood out, especially an absolutely enormous cot.’

The cot was made for the baby daughter of a friend of Ernest. Although an exquisite piece of furniture, the head-size gaps and sliding side leave it well short of modern safety regulations. ‘You wouldn’t find one like this in Mothercare,’ remarked Simon.

Ernest wasn’t a father himself, so perhaps he can be excused any shortcomings in the cot’s design. But in spite of them it was much used, although its last inhabitant did recall how ‘knobbly it was to knock elbows on’!

" It was a must to borrow as we were recreating a nursery. It was only when it had arrived and we were unwrapping it that I began to fear my enthusiasm might just have got the better of my spatial awareness."
- Simon Chesters Thompson, National Trust curator

Visitors to Stoneywell often admire the tightly winding slate staircases - a little too tightly winding it transpired on this occasion. Try as they might, the team couldn’t manoeuvre the cot up to the nursery, and it wouldn’t dismantle either.

'At teatime it was back by the front door, surrounded by lots of torn packing. I certainly felt stupid, but I was really more disappointed,' said Simon.

It’s well known how the Trust relies on its volunteers, but none of Stoneywell’s staff could have predicted the amazing offer of retired engineer Chris Barrow, a gifted craftsman, to make a replica Gimson cot, but most importantly a dismantlable one that would fit up the stairs.

Upon its completion Simon went to meet Chris again at Stoneywell. He was already up in the nursery fitting together the final pieces of what was instantly recognizable as a perfect replica, down to the shaped details Chris had skilfully recreated with a spoke shave.

‘Now, if the cot ever needs to be moved’, Chris addressed the assembled members of staff, ‘you take these bits off, unscrew these ones, and then you…’