A year ago Storm Arwen tore through the north of England, and in just one corner of the Lake District, thousands of mature trees were uprooted. The scale of the devastation was unprecedented. Fields and woodland nearby are still scarred by fallen giants of many different species. But, fortunately, only one tree fell in the grounds of Rydal Mount, the former home of the poet William Wordsworth near Ambleside.
That one tree, a giant Cedar, is thought to have been planted by Wordsworth. It is now being put to use in a way that Wordsworth – an early environmentalist – would certainly approve. Huge slices of the tree were given to wood turner Jonathan Leech who happened to visit Rydal Mount shortly after the storm, and he’s been turning them into works of art, which are going to be sold at the house next month.
Some of the larger pieces were cut into boards and stacked for drying earlier in the year. These have been used to make smaller designs: candle holders, key fobs, pens and pencils. Which conjures the image of a 21st century poet using a pencil from Wordsworth’s garden to create new work. Other, larger pieces, have been made into bowls, and these unique pieces of craftsmanship will be on sale at the Rydal Mount Christmas Fair next month.
“We are thrilled that Jonathan will be selling these very special items,” said Christopher Wordsworth Andrew, the great great great great grandson of the poet. “It’s the most wonderful use of this magnificent tree, and it seems very appropriate to us.”
Christopher and his family, and staff at the house, are organising the fair which brings together some of the areas most talented crafts artists. There’s Lorna Singleton, one of the UK’s last remaining ‘swillers’, a specialist in weaving baskets using coppiced oak. There’s Letty Ashworth of the Lakeland Stitch, who makes bags and accessories from Herdwick wool, as well as cushions and other household items in dynamic fabrics. There’s a knitwear designer, a glass artist, a silversmith and many more, who will have stalls inside the house and in garden marquees. Indoors, musicians from Harps North West will be playing on the grand staircase, while the garden tearoom will be serving mulled wine and mince pies.
Jonathan Leech, who is based near Wigton, has spent most of his life in the Cumbrian countryside and combines his other interests – cycling and walking – with searching for beautiful and unusual pieces of timber. “All my wood is locally-sourced and is obtained sustainably, from fallen or storm-damaged trees,” he says.
The wood is then air-and kiln-dried before being shaped by hand into a bowl, dish or platter. The final stages include fine sanding and finishing with mineral oil, to give a perfectly smooth finish. These processes ensure his products are happy in any environment, including centrally-heated rooms.
Jonathan says that his relationship with wood began almost by chance, when working temporarily for top Cumbrian furniture-maker, Danny Frost. Since then, what started as a part-time job has become not only a full-time career, but also his passion. “My preferred style is minimalist, using a simple design which allows the wood to express its own qualities. This often includes natural edges, knot-holes, burrs, spalting, and other naturally-occurring imperfections. Each piece is truly unique.”
He has a previous association with Wordsworth, after making bowls and other items from a large beech tree which had to be felled at Wordsworth House in Cockermouth after the floods in 2009. The poet is an inspiration, says Jonathan: “I love his work, and I share his love of the countryside.”
Working with cedar is different, he says, as it’s a much softer wood. “It’s a gorgeous orangey-red colour and the pieces I’m working with are turning a darker shade now. They are going to look beautiful.”
The fair is on Saturday and Sunday December 10 and 11, and tickets can be booked in advance for just £4. Parking will be available in the grounds of Rydal Hall, and at Pelter Bridge. The fair will be open from 10.30 – 4pm each day. You can book by clicking HERE