Charles Henry Simpson, Carver in Wood and Stone

From the Eastern Daily Press, September 1936:

By the death of Mr Charles Henry Simpson, of Norwich Road, North Walsham, which occurred at his home on Thursday, at the age of 80 years, Norfolk has lost one of the old-time craftsmen.

For 65 years, Charles Simpson worked for Cornish & Gaymer Ltd, a highly respected firm of ecclesiastical builders in North Walsham, Norfolk. Charles’s long career began with the carving of part of the alter table of North Walsham Parish Church, when he was just 16 years old. Simpson became widely renowned for his skilful working of wood and stone, and for his intricate and beautiful designs, depicting birds, mammals, and foliage.

In 1930, the EDP published an article about Simpson, in tribute to his 60 years of employment at Cornish & Gaymer Ltd.

One connoisseur told our representative: “Simpson is one of the old type of craftsman; you have great difficulty in finding men today to equal him.”

At this time, 74-year-old Charles Simpson, now foreman carver, was busy carving hundreds of bosses for the new roofs that Cornish & Gaymer were constructing for the nave and aisles of St Botolph’s Church in Boston, Lincolnshire. A generous contribution to the renovation fund was raised by the residents of Boston, Massachusetts, USA, at around the time Charles’s grandson, William (Billy) Simpson, was making a new life for himself in that very city.

The work being carried out on Boston Church was part of a restoration project led by the notable architect, Sir Charles Archibald Nicholson (1867-1949), many of whose designs had been brought to realisation by Simpson. The two men had a mutual respect for one another’s capabilities, and Sir Charles gave Simpson considerable leeway in his artistic interpretation. However, they sometimes had differing ideas as to what, for example, a camel or an elephant really looked like – to the point that, on one occasion, the pair made an excursion to London Zoo for reference. The architect then invited the carver to make some pertinent changes to certain images!

Charles Simpson’s work in wood can be seen all over Norfolk, and indeed the whole of the UK. He carved the Bishop’s Throne in Norwich Cathedral, a beautiful piece of work that depicts 365 individual heads – each one different from the others. He carved the war memorial screen in Durham Cathedral, and worked on pews, choir stalls, and panels in countless parish churches around the country.

Simpson’s work in stone is equally striking. For example, the elaborate stone carvings in the aisles of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Berkley Square, London. The excellent reputation of Cornish & Gaymer was in no small way due to the extraordinary artistic talent and steady diligence of their foreman carver.

Charles Simpson’s last task, before retiring, was to carve the headstone for the grave of John Frederick Gaymer, last head of Cornish & Gaymer Ltd. Charles retired in December 1935 and died less than a year later, in September 1936. He was my grandfather’s grandfather, and this photograph is one of my most treasured possessions.

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