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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Legacy of the Mouseman

An Oak cross, and other important items.

According to James Herriot’s Yorkshire, Robert Thompson was working as a wheelwright when Father Nevill commissioned him to make a cross, along with a few other items.  The Priest was so taken by what the man delivered that he advised him to specialize in Oak furniture.  While the famous woodworker’s history may be more involved that Herriot suggests, this commission proved influential for young Robert, and it appears that he held great store by Father Nevill’s opinion.

In order to distinguish his work, he drew inspiration from the saying, “Poor as a church mouse.”  In time, most of what he made would not leave his shop until his unique trademark, a mouse, was carved somewhere in the finished product.  While the Mouseman himself has passed away, his descendants carry on this tradition.  No, you cannot buy just a carving of a mouse, but one can find a mouse on most of the larger items in the showroom.  Nor are all mice the same.  According to each item is personally overseen from beginning to end by one craftsman, who carves his own unique style of mouse into everything he makes.

An older mouse found in St. Mary's Church in Thirsk.

We spotted our first mouse in St. Mary’s Church in Thirsk, but they positively ran riot in Ampleforth Abbey, a nearby Benedictine monastery.  There's good reason for this.  While Herriot records Father Nevill as the local Parish Priest (presumably of Kilburn), Wikipedia and other sources name him as the Headmaster of the abbey’s college.  Might he have served in both capacities?  In any case, it seems that Robert Thompson never forgot the importance of the commission that got him started as the famous woodworker of Kilburn.  His little mouse has scurried into homes all over the world, and into churches all over Yorkshire.  Isn’t it ironic that the man chose one of the most diminutive animals for his trademark?  I wonder what it says about how Robert Thompson viewed himself, as well as how we ought best to see ourselves.

A Benedictine mouse in the visitor center
of Ampleforth Abbey.

I’m not sure how English churches can afford the firm’s prices, but the workshop’s furniture is certainly built to last.  For congregations that can trace their church's existence back not just hundreds of years, but in some cases over a thousand, perhaps they take the long view when investing in pews and other furnishings.  Considering the firm's heritage, maybe Robert Thompson’s Craftsmen Ltd offers a clerical or church discount.  I wonder how they would respond to a commission from Father Dave, the Rector (and blogging Bishop) of St. Dragon’s Parish in San Diego?

Just mousing around,
Dragon Dave

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