George Newton – Carpenter & Historian
Entering George Newton’s workshop is a hazardous experience: the sloping shed roof full of suspended tools, and for a tallish, clumsy bloke like myself, getting clocked by a bafflingly intricate bit of carpentry is a cert. Yet once in it’s fascinating: years of built up work, uncountable shelves, racks and drawers packed with everything woodwork.
Then there is a the work: the works in progress, the near completed, the ready to go. Painfully neat sketches of cars sit by their bought-to-life wooden realisations. Random lumps of wood sit around, yet to be shaped into something beautiful.
‘I’ve been into wood all my life: I think I was about eight when I first made something.I can’t help but tinker. I went on to work at Ericssons, in the wood mill, and got to work with wood full time’. His love of timber is evident: he seeks out rare cuts of wood, and carefully selects each piece he uses with skill ‘I had a sample box with 158 different types of wood, all unique in some way’. He shows me a model of a Bugatti he’s nearly completed: ‘It’s got maple, pitch pine, black walnut, ebony, US oak, beech and pink ivory elements’ he explains ‘I’ve always wanted to make this: I saw a Bugatti as a child outside the Nottingham Council House when I was a lad, and I was gobsmacked. Recently I saw the design on the internet, and decided to give it ago’. With the help of some CAD software, some detailed sketches and evidently many hours of crafting, it now looks resplendent and detailed, each element perfectly bringing the wood to life.
Since retiring in 1993, he’s devoted his spare time to the workshop ( ‘It’s two sheds, knocked together: this bit is from 1983, and this bit is from ’68’ ). He’s amassed a huge collection of tools, some seemingly brand new pieces that are works of art in themselves: svelte chisels, elegantly carved planes; as well as items he’s been gifted or bequeathed. Charmingly, some still have the names of the original owners engraved on them. I select one at random. ‘J BATMAN’, apparently.
George has made anything from furniture (‘about three Welsh dressers’, and his front room is full of his work), to memorial plaques (trip down to the Boathouse Café and you’ll see some of his work, finely crafted memorials to past friends, on display); and everything between. He’s just finished off a beautiful bowl from Purple Heart, a deep red- purple timber that will change colour over time (‘It’s the beauty of wood. It lives, it changes’). He rarely does commissions, keeping his work as a hobby with the occasional gift to friends.
His favourite wood?
‘English oak’ he answers ‘it’s difficult to work with, keeps you on your toes, but if you master it, the results are wonderful’ He’s also a fan of cherry, a tree that can be found in abundance round his Rylands home.
Before I leave, he tells me of his early life in Beeston. Moving here as a toddler in 1939, he hasn’t left, and is evidently in love with the place, telling me movingly about the floods of 1947, and how they shaped the landscape. It’s fascinating stuff, and before I go, he gives me a DVD of the Rylands fifty years ago, and copies of his own memories, which he has made into a series of gorgeously interesting books. I have a feeling we’ll be following up the stories within sometime soon in The Beestonian.
As I cycle home, I suddenly realise that George lives on Birch Avenue. For such a skilled craftsman, with such a deep knowledge of his former career and present hobby, it’s only fitting his address mentions a tree.