On my day off from teaching at David Savage’s shop, David and his wife, Carol, insisted on taking me over the border to Cornwall to see Cotehele, a fantastic family home on the Tamar River that has been remarkably unchanged for more than 400 years.
The house had some remarkable original furniture, including six collapsible tables that they suspect were made on-site. But I have only 15 minutes to write this so we’re going to look at the workbenches in the house’s workshops.
Cotehele House was built about 1300 and rebuilt by three generations of the Edgcumbe family between 1485 and 1560. The house is mostly Tudor, and is largely untouched since its last remodeling in the 1650s.
The workshops on display are recreations, as is typical in historic properties. So don’t make too much out of where the benches are sitting or what’s on them. In the saddler’s shop they had two workbenches. One was clearly a woodworker’s bench that looked very similar to Peter Nicholson’s drawing of one circa 1800.
The bench has had a hard life. One interesting aspect of the bench is that when you stand before it, you cannot easily see the rear apron, just like in Nicholson’s “Mechanic’s Companion.” But the apron is there.
But what isn’t there are the “bearers” under the top that Nicholson discusses. Still, the bench seemed sturdy enough to still work on. Some people might think it a bit low – my guess is that it’s 27” or 28” high. The benchtop was about 10’ long.
In the wheelwright’s shop they had a second Nicholson-pattern bench on display, this one is interesting because of the storage lockers built into either end. You access the lockers from doors at the ends. What’s interesting about this particular bench was the lack of holes for anything – pegs, holdfasts etc.
This bench was a bit taller than the one shown in the saddler’s shop. But it was also about 10’ long.
There was lots more to see in the house, but that will have to wait for another day. I’ve got a tool chest to finish.
— Christopher Schwarz