The Worshipful Company of Turners

Supporting the Craft, City and Charity for over four hundred years

On the afternoon of June 24th, people walking past the Mansion House were astonished to see a lorry pull up and disgorge eight huge round containers each bearing a leafy tree five metres high.  With much heaving and groaning, members of the Lord Mayor’s staff carried them into the Mansion House, put them in a lift and installed them in the magnificent Egyptian Room.

The next day the trees set the theme forThe Lord Mayor’s Tree Party, a celebratory evening of champagne, canapés, music and theatre to raise money for Gifford Wood: a new extension of Epping Forest, named after the Lord Mayor, Alderman Roger Gifford. The £17,200 raised by the Tree Party will go towards planting 4,500 trees on the thirty-acre site.

Over 250 guests were welcomed by the Lord Mayor, and listened to a witty speech by Clive Anderson, who is Chairman of the Woodland Trust.  In the Egyptian Room they were entertained with singing, dancing and music by students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, City of London School, King Edward’s School Witley, and WHHS Epping Forest; and in the North and south Parlours, with fascinating displays of their crafts by the Liveries Wood Group.

The Liveries Wood Group is one of the City’s best-kept secrets.  Even people who have heard the name have no idea what the Group does.  At the Tree Party the secret was out: its five member Livery Companies displayed their crafts and revealed to guests what the LWG has done and is going to do.

This is the story they told:

The Liveries Wood Group was founded in 2003 by a group of Masters at the instigation of Furniture Maker Christopher Claxton Stevens.  It brought together five Livery Companies whose craft or trade relies on wood: the Carpenters, Turners, Furniture Makers, Upholders and Joiners & Ceilers.  The LWG promotes the protection and use of this most versatile natural material.  It also promotes links between the Livery Companies.

In the past ten years the LWG has visited Hampton Court, the Building Crafts College, factories making furniture and laminated boards, and the Chiltern Open Air Museum; and will soon go and see the Cutty Sark. The Group has taken part in exhibitions at Alexandra Palace and Waterperry (Art in Action). It organized a competition for an object combining the skills of all five member Companies – a tricky project, so one which has not been repeated (though a coffin  designed by an Upholder, made by a Carpenter, adorned with turned knobs, carved by a Joiner & Ceiler and placed on a Furniture Maker’s stand might fill the bill!)

In 2010 the Group’s Chairman, Furniture Maker Andrew Varah, launched Branching Out. For this extraordinarily ambitious project, small pieces of wood from trees growing in the Arboretum at Castle Howard were sent to craftspeople, designers and celebrities, who transformed their unprepossessing  bit of raw wood into a work of art.  The results revealed astonishing imagination and skill: a model of a vintage Bugatti racing car and driver on a flower-bordered road;  two woodsmen sawing a log (the saw moving back and forth); a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle;  a conceptual bird resting on a mushroom; a yacht at sea,  a gilded goblet; a pig’s trotter; a tree with  leaves of real emeralds; a vole drinking from a cup – sixty-nine creations, generously given by people both unknown and known, including Joanna Lumley. Sir Peter Blake, Jon Snow, Dame Janet Baker, Allen Jones, Sir Terence Conran, Tony Husband.

The Branching Out pieces were displayed first at Wild About Wood, a weekend  celebrating wood held at the Arboretum at Castle Howard; and then at Bonhams, Bond Street, where they were auctioned. Thanks to Turner Nic Somers and his wife Anne, the auction also took place on the internet, a riveting exercise as people bid for weeks beforehand.  The Arboretum put the resultant £20,000 towards their nursery and propagation facilities, and to their work in preserving new and rare species.  In return, the Arboretum planted a grove of sweet-smelling katsura trees, with a plaque dedicated to the Liveries Wood Group.

The LWG’s next special project was smaller in scope but of wide significance.  Upholder Steve Chapman was asked to make the two red velvet thrones plus banquettes on the royal barge for the Queen’s Jubilee river journey.  The commission came too late to involve the Carpenters; but the Turners provided six scarlet and gold turned finials.  The thrones were on display at the Tree Party, attracting great attention.

The Liveries Wood Group invite one another to events such as the Carpenters’ lecture and Wood Awards, the Upholders’ Flocke & Feather evening, the Turners’ Wizardry in Wood  exhibition.  Future events being considered are a new departure: lectures on the Diamond Jubilee Fenland Black (Bog) Oak project, and on the new droit de suite law.  Watch this space!

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