Batheaston Furniture - the Yorkshire family business that has stood the test of time
PUBLISHED: 13:42 18 December 2012 | UPDATED: 22:33 20 February 2013
Furniture-maker Sam Gill explains how his family business has stood the test of time
The phrase chip off the old block could have been invented for the Gill family, as three generations of this creative clan have been making quality hardwood furniture in Yorkshire for more than 40 years.
It all began with Richard Gill, an odd-job man who quickly took his business to a whole new level.
Grandad started out doing odd jobs, as people did back then, said Sam, grandson of the founder of Batheaston Furniture. He was pretty much making anything, usually one-offs, for people so he could pay the bills when he needed to.
He did have a passion for horse-drawn vehicles though and kept horses himself. This dictated where the business was headed for a long time as people who owned horse-drawn vehicles or horses would know to contact him. My father (Miles), when he started to help in the business, would collect their vehicles for restoration or would commission new pieces. This means they became wheelwrights as well as specialist furniture-makers.
Richards fledgling business started in a single small workshop and blacksmiths room, but it soon began to grow, expanding and evolving into the string of workshops that now make up the Batheaston base in Norwood, between Harrogate and Skipton.
But were getting ahead of ourselves. First we need to know why a North Yorkshire business came to bear the name of a village on the outskirts of Bath.
My grandfather met a man called Tom Bentham on a furniture restoration course in Wimbledon, Sam explained. He made Windsor chairs in a little village called Batheaston and they quickly became firm friends.
As demand for Toms beautiful chairs began to flourish and the market started to grow, he needed a partner who could supply tables and cabinets to accompany them.
To be honest, Grandad wasnt particularly fond of the idea at first, partly because he was more old-fashioned and enjoyed concentrating on making specials now and then. But my father jumped at the opportunity and brought the Batheaston name to Yorkshire.
So one workshop became two: one in the south making chairs and one in the north making matching tables and cabinets. And business began to boom.
Batheaston really began to gather momentum and the world started to sit up and take notice, said Sam. We soon acquired a reputation for making the very highest quality furniture and began delivering to countries all over the globe including Scandinavia, Holland, Japan, Austria, North America and China.
Sam himself grew up just five minutes from the family workshop and, as a child, would often accompany his dad to work.
I was always fascinated with the place, said Sam, who studied graphic design and illustration at Bath Spa University. Ive also always enjoyed creating pieces of art, if you can call them that everyone has their own opinion of what art is. I think its a valuable form of expression, and if someone else likes it too then thats a bonus.
He worked part-time as a chair-maker in the southern workshop while at university, returning to Yorkshire six years later to join the northern team.
Now, Batheaston has a single workshop in the north and the team has been streamlined accordingly, but the focus of the business remains the same: to create quality chairs, tables and cabinets using native, sustainable hardwoods.
The time, effort and experience acquired over the years by our craftsmen and women is astounding, said Sam. They have all worked their way up from being apprentices to being masters of their trade.
They can steam-bend backhoops, lathe-turn legs and sand and distress to achieve an antique aesthetic like no other workforce. And their finishing is in a class of its own as they add layer upon layer to create a final immaculate product.
For more information about Batheaston Furniture Makers, visit batheaston.co.uk or call 01943 880622.