The Work of a Master Craftsman

On 16th November at a well attended meeting, the Civic Society were treated to an excellent presentation by Michael Painter. Many members will know Michael for he has previously spoken to the Society and welcomed Civic Society visitors to the Linford Bridgman Works, where they have had an opportunity to see him work.

Michael has previously spoken to the Society about the work of Michaelangelo and Grindling Gibbons. On this occasion, Michael drew on much of his own work over the last 25 years, to explain to Society members how wood carvers and stonemasons plied their craft.

The firm of Bridgmans was established in Lichfield in 1877 and was responsible for much of the renovation work to the western front of the cathedral. No less than 79 of the stone carvings out of a total of 113 figures were executed by Bridgman's staff. In 1967, the family firm of Bridgmans was taken over by another family firm - Linfords. Today, as members will know, the firm of Linford Bridgman has a national and indeed international reputation for the renovation and conservation work that it undertakes on buildings of architectural and historic importance.

Michael took us through the evolution of the company from its early times up to its occupation of modern premises on its existing site in 1991. We were then treated to an exploration of the Grand Reception Room, the Green Drawing Room and the Crimson Room at Windsor Castle, the renovation of which Michael and his colleagues were involved in, following the disastrous fire at Windsor Castle. It is a salutary reminder that at one stage the wood and stone restoration work was to be done by carvers from Eastern Europe, the assumption of the authorities being that there were insufficient carvers with the requisite skill in Great Britain. In the event, no less than 43 British carvers were involved in the work and we can safely assume that they comprise almost all the British expertise in these skills.

From Windsor Castle, we moved to an explanation of restoration work at Aston Hall, Stowe Gardens, Whittington Barracks, and the south transept of Westminster Abbey. Linford Bridgmans have a particularly long relationship with Little Moreton Hall and renovation of this beautiful building by them has been taking place slowly over the last 25 years.

The work of Michael and his colleagues is not of course restricted to the renovation or restoration of major public buildings. Commissions are undertaken for private clients involving both building renovation and portraiture.

Michael's talk was packed with interesting information. Few of us realised that, perversely, wood carving was much more difficult than stone carving. That a stone carver could do with a mere 30 chisels, whilst a wood carver may need well over 300! In addition, Michael explained to us that all carvers have their own marks, as do companies. Look for the 'flying bee' on stone work and you have found work undertaken by Linford Bridgman!

The skills exhibited by Michael and his colleagues are certainly formidable. That they continue to exist in the commercial atmosphere of the 20th century is a source of relief. Long may they continue and in doing so provide endless pleasure to us all.

Roger Hockney
November 1999