Wood from the poet’s tree

JUST one tree fell in the grounds of Rydal Mount when the winds of Storm Arwen tore through the Lake District at the end of last year.

Fields and woodland nearby are still scarred by fallen giants of many different species. That one tree, a giant Cedar, is thought to have been planted by William Wordsworth. It is now being put to use in a way that Wordsworth – an early environmentalist – would certainly approve.

Huge slices of the tree were given to wood turner Jonathan Leech who happened to visit Rydal Mount shortly after the storm, and he’s now turning them into works of art, which will be sold later this year.

Some of the larger pieces were cut into boards and stacked for drying earlier in the year. These will be used to make smaller designs, such as candle holders, key fobs, pens and pencils. Which conjures the image of a 21st century poet using a pencil from Wordsworth’s garden to create new work. Other, larger pieces, will be made into bowls.

Jonathan is also discussing with the Wordsworth family, who own Rydal Mount, the possibility of carving a chair from part of the remaining fallen tree which is a prominent feature in the gardens now.

Jonathan, who is based near Wigton, has spent most of his life in the Cumbrian countryside and combines his other interests – cycling and walking – with searching for beautiful and unusual pieces of timber. 

Turning the wood

“All my wood is locally-sourced and is obtained sustainably, from fallen or storm-damaged trees,” he says. The wood is then air- and kiln-dried before being shaped by hand into a bowl, dish or platter. The final stages include fine sanding and finishing with mineral oil, to give a perfectly smooth finish. These processes ensure his products are happy in any environment, including centrally-heated rooms.

Jonathan says that his relationship with wood began almost by chance, when working temporarily for top Cumbrian furniture-maker, Danny Frost. Since then, what started as a part-time job has become not only a full-time career, but also his passion.

Cedar bowls

“My preferred style is minimalist, using a simple design which allows the wood to express its own qualities. This often includes natural edges, knot-holes, burrs, spalting, and other naturally-occurring imperfections. Each piece is truly unique.”

He has a previous association with Wordsworth, after making bowls and other items from a large beech tree which had to be felled at Wordsworth House in Cockermouth after the floods in 2009. The poet is an inspiration, says Jonathan: “I love his work, and I share his love of the countryside.”

Working with cedar is different, he says, as it’s a much softer wood. “It’s a gorgeous orangey-red colour and the pieces I’m working with are starting to turn a darker shade now. They are going to look beautiful.”

Jonathan’s work can be seen in several Cumbrian galleries throughout the North of England, and at an open studio art trail to be staged around Kirkbride, west of Silloth, on the last two weekends in September. He also takes commissions, and can design and produce items from a client’s own timber. 

Spalted beech bowl

Leo Finighan, the curator at Rydal Mount, is excited by the project. “I think it’s wonderful to be using the tree in this way. The rest of it, which remains in the garden, does look rather lovely there, so we are still deciding what to do with it. But we think that Jonathan’s work is beautiful, and we are delighted to be working with him on this.”

The pieces will be ready for sale at the Rydal Mount Christmas fair, and possibly also online.

Yew bowl

More information: https://www.jonathanleech.co.uk/