Robert 'Mouseman' Thompson
Furniture maker, Kilburn
Who was Robert Thompson?
Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson was born in 1876 and lived in Kilburn, North Yorkshire. He was the son of a local joiner and wheelwright.
Thompson training as an engineer but disliked the work. Instead he wanted to bring back traditional craftmanship, and was regularly inspired by carvings at places like Ripon cathedral. After completing his engineering apprenticeship, he became a furniture maker who used traditional methods and tools like the chisel and adze (an old cutting tool similar to an axe). He carved his pieces from English oak.
By the 1930s his work had become popular all over the country. By the time Thompson died in 1955, he was the owner of a successful business that still operates today.
How did the mouse come about?
The story goes that whilst carving a church screen one day, a fellow craftsmen remarked to Thompson that they were ‘as poor as church mouse’. This inspired Thompson to create his signature trademark.
Often hidden away in corners and crevices of his furniture, the mouse represents ‘industry in quiet places’.
Who donated the collection?
Craven Museum’s collection of Mouseman furniture once belonged to Kenneth Hodgson. Hodgson was an avid collector who went without holidays to fund his passion. He furnished every room in his Harrogate house with it.
By the time he died, Hodgson had gathered over 170 pieces. There was too much for it all to come to Craven Museum, so other museums, like the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, also received some pieces.
Where else can I see his work?
Skipton Urban District Council commissioned the Thompson company to create furniture for the entire council chamber (situated within Skipton Town Hall), which was opened in September 1962. It is fitted with carved panelling, desks and chairs, and there are thought to be at least 30 mice on display. The chamber can now be seen during open days.
Further examples in Craven can also be found at Holy Trinity Church, Skipton and Hubberholme Church.