Craftsmanship in the countryside

Students can learn to make their own Windsor chair
Students can learn to make their own Windsor chair

Contributed by James Mursell

Tucked away in the Sussex countryside, woodworking craftsman James Mursell has been running courses on how to make Windsor chairs for the past nine years.

At the Windsor Workshop on Churchfield Farm in West Chiltington, which many locals will remember for the excellent ‘Pick Your Own’ fruits, James has recently changed his introductory course. Students will now be able to make and take home their own Windsor arm chair on their first five day course.

New courses have a maximum number of six students so that James is able to teach the same techniques that he uses in making individually commissioned chairs. Hand tools are central to his methods meaning that having taken a course a student can immediately use the general skills that he or she has learned to make new chairs at home.

Great emphasis is put on creating an elegant chair and developing an appreciation of the finer points of Windsor chair design. The history of Windsor furniture is discussed and after a course students will look at Windsor chairs in a new light, understanding the work that has gone into their construction and able to judge the quality of both the making and design.

Is this for anyone, or do you need to be a skilled woodworker to create such a beautiful and functional object?

“Absolutely not,” says James. “Many of my pupils are completely new to woodworking when they come to The Windsor Workshop. Over the last 9 years everyone that has attended a course has gone home with a beautifully handcrafted chair of their own making.”

At the same time many students return to make further chairs and now have a choice of making other armchairs or a pair of side chairs or bar stools. Also on offer are two day weekend courses to make a four leg stool. On each new course further skills and techniques are introduced.

Students come from a wide variety of locations and backgrounds. Over the excellent lunch which is provided as part of the course, there is plenty of opportunity to share experiences and interests. As James says, this makes for a very interesting and convivial week: “On each course I am always pleased what diverse and interesting people come to the Windsor Workshop. We all share an interest in Windsor chairs but there is much more besides.”

So, not only do you go home at the end of the week with your own beautiful chair but most likely you will have met some great new friends too.