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W. & S. Butcher


   
 

English Hand Tools with Jim Hendricks


 
  At the Sign of the Three Plains 1 of 4  

The Awakening

From the first day I opened the wonderful book by Bill Goodman: “British Planemakers from 1700” at the first page, I was struck by the trade card of JOHN JENNION, 1732-57. The wonderful “cartouche” depicting the tools they sold started me on a long and interesting journey of discovery of the fine British wooden plane… the tool that built an Empire!

In this, the first of a series of articles about key players in the making of these historical gems, I shall start at the beginning. Well, it’s the beginning for now, but discoveries are always coming to light, pushing back the boundaries of time before 1700 and it excites me to think of what is yet to be discovered.

I intend to follow the history of each maker, in detail where I have an example of their wares and in passing when I don’t. There are a number of roots to famous makers and this one starts, not with John Jennion at all but a few steps further back with his master, Robert Wooding and his master before him Thomas Granford.

A Brief Look at Companies or Guilds

Before I start with the makers, it might be helpful to briefly explain how trade operated in London at the time, the COMPANIES or GUILDS being the governing bodies. There were many such Companies covering a variety of trades operating within the City itself, defined by the old city walls. They regulated business and to trade within the walls required membership of one or another.

As will be seen, not all planemakers were members of the Joiners’ Guild, indeed a great many belonged to the Tallow Chandlers Guild as we will discover.

Don and Anne Wing in their wonderful book: “Early Planemakers of London”, cover the guilds in far more detail and so I will only mention them here to show that there were a number of branches of makers, some staying within one guild or another and others “turning over” or moving from one guild to another. This “turnover” is the source of much of the information we know today, as it was clearly documented.

The First Commercial English Planemaker

THOMAS GRANFORD: 1687-1713 – 3 Plane-Makers, Queen St. London

Thomas Granford is considered by most to be the earliest commercial English planemaker. He was admitted to the Joiners’ Company in 1687.

I don’t have an example of a Granford plane so I will end his history here. Suffice to say they are quite sought after tools!

Thomas Granford had a few apprentices, the most important of which was ROBERT WOODING… and this is where my collection starts.

ROBERT WOODING: 1706-1739 – Precinct of St. Thomas Apostle & Trinity then Queen St. “Three Plains”.

As can be seen from his address, Robert also worked under the “Sign of the Three Plains”. There appears to be a number of such establishments in this area and there is some discussion as to the spelling.

Was the old English for “plane” or a mere spelling error? We may never know. Certainly it is shown as such in the Jennion Trade Card which is meant to depict the sign over the workshop, and so one can only speculate as to the spelling.

The maker’s mark of Robert Wooding alongside many generations of owners.

Wooding originally apprenticed to Henry Shaw(e) in 1693 who was a member of the Joiners’ Guild. It is thought that he showed promise as a planemaker early on and so was “turned over” (as described above) to Granford in 1699 as recorded on the back of his indenture.

Robert was a prolific planemaker as evidenced by the large quantity of plane which still exist bearing his mark. They also vary hugely in size and other characteristics which leads to speculation that he may have been obtaining planes from other makers and marking them with his own stamp.

Robert took over the business from Thomas Granford in 1713 at 70 Queen St. which was within the City walls and therefore commanded a prime position for the flourishing trade.

In 1725, Wooding took on a number of apprentices amongst them, John Jennion and operated at “The Three Plane-Makers” until his death in May 1727.

His second wife, Ann Wooding appears to have taken on the business in January of 1728 taking Thomas Phillipson and Robert Fitkin as apprentices alongside Jennion.

None of Wooding’s original apprentices appear to have carried on in the trade as no examples of planes by them have been recorded. As Robert and Ann Wooding had no surviving sons, John Jennion eventually took over the business in 1738 and Robert Fitkin was turned over to him as his apprentice.


 
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