What a lovely piece on the 40th anniversary of Geoff Jackson’s Langley Furniture Works, in this week’s Hexham Courant! Between this item, and the information at the firm’s delightful website, in particular the individual photographs of team members hard at work, the diary hardly needs add anything further. But such a surplus of information has never stopped us before!
Actually, we’ve known Geoff for nearly three decades, having met him at one or another of Burnlaw‘s celebrations, over the years. So it was to his expertise in creating bespoke work that fits with what’s there already, that I turned when Allendale Village Hall was developing its PPeP3 project nearly two decades ago. That’s ‘Participative Performance & Entertainment Project 2003‘ in case you were wondering. This LEADER-funded project, while removing the old heating duct obstacles thanks to incredible ‘houking-out’ work by the late Angus Tait, brought a new oak floor to the main hall and foyer, a new sound system, the first renovations of the stage lighting, and finally, the proscenium arch which is such a piece of the place that nobody ever notices it anymore.
But that’s the genius of the artisanship contributed by the Langley Furniture Works team: the brief was to create a permanent stage top that felt like it fit with the century old hall. Joan Robinson, in years past, had virtually single-handedly created a proper stage for pantomime productions, by sewing, and affixing, a huge blue static curtain top above the moving stage curtains, which did a salutary job for many years. We wanted to build on that new performance legacy, while being sympathetic to the hall’s history.
After a bit of architectural sleuthing, Geoff and I realised that the village hall was built on a standard Methodist chapel design (which fit, of course, with its original purpose, as a Temperance Hall). And there was no better comparable model than the Sparty Lea Methodist chapel, which has a dividing arch between the main worship room and the Sunday School/kitchen area. Geoff carefully considered the parameters of the ceiling divider, and brought in a quote that was feasible within the PPeP3 budget.
I remember so well the dusty day when the ragged blue curtain above the stage came down! Langley Furniture Works moved into place with their pre-fabricated beam that spread across the hall from wall to wall, and within hours, the pine cladding was installed and stained to match the ceiling. It looked so good that within months, nobody noticed it anymore, except for David Kinrade, lighting engineer, who was delighted that the stage could now be discretely illuminated from above, without interfering with the audience’s sensibilities. I’d be willing to bet ‘dollars to donuts’ that nobody now remembers (until they’re reminded) what the ‘stage’ was like before.
In another small anecdote, I recall dear friends commissioning a table from Langley Furniture Works, which duly appeared in their dining room some months later, a gem of a solid piece in elm. We’ve dined on that table many times, over the intervening years, and whenever we do, I always admire the craftsmanship. So we were not surprised when other neighbour friends, newly moved in to Sparty Lea, asked Geoff to create new windows for the house they were renovating. The resulting sash windows, in striking brown stain rather than the expected white, are still a startling rendition of loveliness on our side of the valley.
Geoff Jackson has imbued his team with a sense of the wonder of wood, and the shared enthusiasm for artistic craftsmanship shows through time and again in their work. The closest parallel I can come to, in an examination of his dedication, is to that of the Shakers, furniture crafters extraordinaire, who found holiness, or godliness, or perhaps today we would say ‘transcendence,’ in devoted craftsmanship of exquisite, functional cabinetry pieces.
Fortunately, Geoff’s avowed ambition is to train a new generation of talented wood-workers, so that these skills can be maintained, unlike the Shakers, whose communities in America’s north-east gradually faded away. So the talents imbued from Langley Furniture Works look likely to be a feature of life throughout our north-east for a long time to come.