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Ernest William Gimson (Leicester, 21 December 1864 - Sapperton, 12 August 1919) was an English furniture designer and architect. Gimson was described by the art critic Nikolaus Pevsner as "the greatest of the English architect-designers". Today his reputation is securely established as one of the most influential designers of the English Arts and Crafts movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Early career

118 New Walk, Leicester: Gimson's childhood home

Ernest Gimson was born in Leicestermarker, in the East Midlands of Englandmarker, in 1864, the son of Josiah Gimson, engineer and iron founder, owner of the Vulcan Works. Ernest was articled to the Leicester architect, Isaac Barradale. Aged 20, he attended a lecture on 'Art and Socialism' at the Leicester Secular Society given by the leader of the Arts and Crafts revival in Victorian England, William Morris.

Morris recommended him to the architectural practice of John Dando Sedding in Londonmarker. From Sedding, Gimson derived his interest in craft techniques, the stress on textures and surfaces, naturalistic detail of flowers, leaves and animals, always drawn from life, the close involvement of the architect in the simple processes of building and in the supervision of a team of craftsmen employed direct. He met Ernest Barnsley at Sedding’s studio, and soon learnt the crafts of traditional chairmaking and plasterwork.

In 1889 he joined Morris’s Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). In 1890, he was a founder member of the short-lived furniture company, Kenton and Co., with Sidney Barnsley, Alfred Hoare Powell, W.R. Lethaby, Mervyn Macartney, Col. Mallet and Reginald Blomfield. Here they acted as designers rather than craftsmen and explored inventive ways of articulating traditional crafts, “the common facts of traditional building”, as Philip Webb, “their particular prophet”, had taught.

Sapperton, Gloucestershire

Gimson and the Barnsley brothers moved to the rural region of the Cotswoldsmarker in Gloucestershiremarker in 1893 “to live near to nature”. They soon settled at Pinbury Park, near Sapperton, on the Cirencester estatemarker, under the patronage of the Bathurst family. In 1900, he set up a small furniture workshop in Cirencestermarker, moving to larger workshops at Daneway House, a small medieval manor house at Sapperton, where he stayed until his death in 1919. He strove to invigorate the village community and, encouraged by his success, planned to found a Utopian craft village. He concentrated on designing furniture, made by craftsmen, under his chief cabinet-maker, Peter van der Waals, whom he engaged in 1901.

Architectural work

Inglewood (1892), Ratcliffe Road, Leicester
The White House (1898), North Avenue, Leicester
His architectural commissions include a number of early works such as Inglewood (1892) and The White House (1898) in the prosperous Leicester suburb of Stoneygatemarker; Lea and Stoneywell Cottages (and others) near the Leicestershire village of Markfieldmarker (1897/8); his own cottage, The Leasowes, at Sapperton (1903, with a thatched roof, since burnt); alterations to Pinbury Park (with plasterwork) and Waterlane House (1908), both in Gloucestershire; cottages and the village hall (completed under Norman Jewson in 1933) at Kelmscottmarker, Oxfordshire; Coxen, at Budleigh Saltertonmarker, Devon, constructed in cob (rammed earth); and the window for Whaplode Church, Lincolnshire. His competition 'Design for the Federal Capital of Australia' (1908) is an original project in town planning for the city which was to become Canberramarker. His last major project was the Memorial Library (1918-1919) built next to the 1911 Lupton Hall at Bedales School, near Petersfieldmarker, Hampshire (built by Geoffrey Lupton under Sidney Barnsley’s supervision).


The Sapperton workshop was closed after Gimson's death, but many of the craftsmen went with Peter van der Waals to his new premises in Chalfordmarker.

His architectural style is “solid and lasting as the pyramids… yet gracious and homelike” (H. Wilson, 1899). Lethaby described him as an idealist individualist: “Work not words, things not designs, life not rewards were his aims.” Norman Jewson was his foremost student, who carried his design principles into the next generation and described his studio practices in his classic memoir By Chance I did Rove (1951).

Today his furniture and craft work is regarded as a supreme achievement of its period and is well represented in the principal collections of the decorative arts in Britain and the United States of Americamarker. Specialist collections of his work may be seen in England at the Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, and in Gloucestershire at the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museummarker, Rodmarton Manormarker and Owlpen Manormarker.



  • Nicholas Mander, Owlpen Manor, Gloucestershire: a short history and guide (Owlpen Press, current edition, 2006) ISBN 0-9546056-1-6

  • Alfred Powell, Ernest Gimson, his life and work (1919)

  • Norman Jewson, By Chance I did Rove (Cirencester, 1951 (reprinted))

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