The famous Yorkshire wood carver Robert Thompson once took his dog to the equally famous Yorkshire vet, where he spotted a sideboard of French Fumed Oak.
He bent down and stroked it respectfully, “beautiful”, he murmured, his face lit up as he peered over his moustache when confronted with the texure of the wonderful oak, material which was indeed one of the great passions of his life.
Robert Thompson was born in the small village of Kilburn in North Yorkshire, where he was working as a wheelwright when the parish priest asked him to make a cross and table for the local church. Astonished at the wheelwright’s talent, the priest advised him to specialise in making oak furniture and a legend was born.
When looking for a trademark symbol to distinguish his work, he immediately thought of the expression, ‘as poor as a church mouse’. And so it was that he chose the little creature as a symbol of his work.
As for the earlier mentioned vet, a certain James Herriot, he and his wife started a kind of piggy bank, ‘a Thompson Box’, with the aim of purchasing some of Thompson’s furniture. “We managed only a coffee table and a couple of ashtrays before nature took a hand and the box became our ‘baby box!”
Many people have heard about Mr Robert Thompson, especially since the plethora of antique shows on television have educated the public to his work and it is often the case that public houses and the like proudly anounce that they indeed have an example of the Mouseman’s work on one of their tables. But it is usually just a case of one or two of the little wooden rodents.
But how many South Yorkshire folk know that there is a church around Doncaster which boasts a positive crowd of the little wooden critters?
In fact there are lots of Mr Thompson’s trademark mouse carvings to be spotted by taking a short walk around St Mary’s Church at Kirk Bramwith where no fewer than twenty seven have been caught in mid scurry on fittings and furnishings, dark oak pews, altar, reredos, pulpit, hymn boards and even the lectern; all the work of the legendary Robert Thompson, mouseman of Kilburn.
The church itself is itself well known in its own right and of interest to local historians with its west tower, aisle-less nave and chancel, with examples of superb Norman ornamentation in the chancel arch and south doorway.
This small rural parish which is between the New Junction Canal and the River Don, stands in the flatlands north east of Doncaster where there is a slight Dutch feel to the landscape, this is not surprising as the land is criss crossed by drainage channels courtesy of the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden with some being below sea level in places.
In fact the atmospheric church yard boasts one of the largest and most symetrical yew trees in Yorkshire which is thought to be at least six centuries old.
But perhaps St Mary’s is most famous for the spectacular, much photographed annual carpet of snowdrops around which can be seen in February each year and which is the focal point of a local snowdrop festival.
Information provided courtesy of Doncaster Local History Society.