Robert (Mouseman) Thompson

Robert (Mouseman) Thompson

Robert (Mouseman) Thompson (7 May 1876 – 8 December 1955) was a British furniture maker. He lived in Kilburn, North Yorkshire, where he set up a business manufacturing oak furniture, which featured a carved mouse on almost every piece. It is claimed that the mouse motif came about accidentally in 1919 following a conversation about "being as poor as a church mouse", which took place between Thompson and one of his colleagues during the carving of a cornice for a screen. This chance remark led to him carving a mouse - remaining part of his work from this point onwards.

Mouseman was part of the 1920s revival of craftsmanship, inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement led by William Morris, John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle. More specific to furniture making in this genre and era include Stanley Webb Davies of Windermere.

The workshop, now being run by his descendants, includes a showroom and visitors' centre, and is located beside the Parish Church, which contains "Mouseman" pews, fittings and other furniture. The company is now known as "Robert Thompson's Craftsmen Ltd - The Mouseman of Kilburn."

Fr Paul Nevill, a former Headmaster of Ampleforth College, asked Thompson to make the Ampleforth Abbey's furniture; they liked it so much that Ampleforth kept asking Thompson for more works, including the library and most of the main building. Fr Gabriel Everitt, current Headmaster, has recently asked the Mouseman company for more work. Most of Ampleforth College houses are decorated with Robert Thompson's furniture.

Others who continue in his style working in Yorkshire oak have adopted similar identifying marks and nicknames, for example Thomas "Gnomeman" Whittaker (1910-1991), Colin "Beaverman" Almack, Wilf "Squirrelman" Hutchinson, "eagleman", "beaverman" et al.

How do you tell if it is a genuine Mouseman item? Firstly the trademarked mouse is very distintive and always has carved whiskers. Beware of  imported chinese imitations, and carved mice that have been used on cheeseboards originating from a manufacturer in the Cotswolds.

Secondly be suspicious of any item where the oak looks too new or oiled, and does not have the deep golden colour which develops on fumed oak over the years. Thirdly look for the characteristic adzing* and solid (single piece) oak design. 

* An adze (pronounced is a tool used for smoothing rough-cut wood in hand woodworking. Generally, the user stands astride a board or log and swings the adze downwards towards his feet, chipping off pieces of wood, moving backwards as he goes and leaving a relatively smooth surface behind. Adzes are most often used for squaring up logs, or for hollowing out timber.