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William Simmonds, 1876 - 1968

William Simmonds, like other prominent figures in the Arts and Crafts movement, including Ernest Gimson and Sidney and Ernest Barnsley, trained initially as an architect. This early training is apparent in his concern for detail and may be recognised in some of the carefully measured drawings in the exhibition. Subsequently he studied at the Royal College of Art under Walter Crane, and at the Royal Academy schools, exhibiting at the Academy from 1903. A watercolour and a wood-carving exhibited in 1907 and 1937 respectively are in the collection of the Tate Gallery. During World War I he worked on tank and aircraft design, latterly with Sir Geoffery de Havilland.

In 1919 he settled in Gloucestershire, at Far Oakridge near Stroud. Already the area had become a centre for craftsmen. After the failure of Kenton and Company in 1892, Ernest Gimson and the Barnsleys came to the Cotswolds, finally establishing their workshops in Daneway House at Sapperton. In 1902 C.R. Ashbee and other members of the Guild and School of Handicrafts moved from London to Chipping Camden.

William Simmonds was an active member of the Guild of Gloucestershire Craftsmen and in 1968 (when an exhibition of his work was held at the Cheltenham Art Gallery) he was their oldest member.

Most of the drawings shown here were done in the 1920's and include visual notes made on journeys to Wales, France and elsewhere. They show the precise construction of various artefacts and one of the great delights of his work is that nothing was too small for his notice. Thus his drawings have considerable value for the rural historian, particularly as many are carefully located and dated. Simmonds worked with a variety of materials.

The 1968 exhibition at Cheltenham included carvings in ivory, wood and stone, sculptures and pottery as well as book designs, paintings and drawings. Another aspect of his talent appeared in the manufacture and manipulation of puppets. A collection of the puppets are now at Gloucester Folk Museum and examples of his carvings and sculpture can be seen at Gloucester City Museum.

In a catalogue of the 'Arts and Crafts Movement' exhibition organised by the Fine Arts Society, Lionel Lambourne writes that William Simmonds was one of the artist-craftsmen who represented the simplicity of 'the calm still centre of the movement'. These drawings and photographs are only a very small part of the artist but they reflect admirably his love and concern for the countryside and for country people and their work.

 

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The Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading, UK.
Email: merl@reading.ac.uk Telephone: 0118 378 8660