A workshop and gallery in Croxton Green where traditional skills are thriving

PUBLISHED: 20:48 31 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:16 20 February 2013

Bob Robertson and his son, Nick, in their workshop.

Bob Robertson and his son, Nick, in their workshop.

Take a trip back in time to a workshop and gallery in Croxton Green where traditional skills are thriving

Craftsmen like Bob Robertson are a rare breed. The 74-year-old runs The Cottage Gallery from his home on the Cholmondeley Estate. He has spent 50 years honing joinery skills he learned as a young man to make his exquisite furniture.

Bob, originally from Wythenshawe, set up the business in 1962. He studied joinery as a teenager but his father told him to stop as the wages barely covered his bus fare. It was while working on Scicley Farm on the Cholmondeley Estate, as part of the YMCAs post-war British Boys for British Farms scheme, that he studied joinery at night school at Broughel Secondary School in Whitchurch. He also worked part-time as an inseminator for the Milk Marketing Board and spent the rest of his time doing joinery.

But Bob, who by this time had moved to the cottage he now shares with his wife, Margaret, decided to strike out on his own and set up the gallery. He stuck to framing at first and gradually built up his furniture making business.

The workshop and gallery is tucked away down a pretty country lane in Croxton Green, in the heart of the Cholmondeley Estate. But the secluded location does not stop people coming to see him. His customers range from farmers and local residents to important county figures. He has created carvings for St Wenefredes Church in Bickley and for the Flint and Denbighshire Agricultural Society.

Bob can also count the Marchioness of Cholmondeley as one of his customers as well as members of the Barbour family of the Bolesworth Estate. Hes worked on fantastic pieces of furniture from these estates including a table he restored when the ceiling of Cholmondeley Castle dining room fell in.

Bob said: The Marchioness has bought items off me and I have repaired items for her as well. When the ceiling fell in this particular table was in a terrible state. It was in pieces. I put it all back together. It was a big job.
Her husband, Lord Hugh, was a wonderful man and he thought the gallery was wonderful. He got lots of people coming here. The Marchioness is a fabulous person. Im very proud to do work for the estate.

Bob uses traditional skills to create his pieces, which range from around 180 for a small table to 1,800 for a large round dining table. He works mostly in oak which is generally sourced using trees that have fallen down in the Cholmondeley Estate.

The talented craftsman has recently been working on a very special item commissioned by long-term customer and friend, Charles Nugent, an expert in watercolours who has worked at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. Bob made a traditional pole sofa with cushions made out of sail cloth and wood covered in 500 of gold leaf.

He said: Pole sofas were last made in 1860 for the artist Rossetti for an exhibition. The poles are covered in the golf leaf and the cushions have to be made by a sail maker from red sail cloth.

I found someone in Liverpool who could do that. We only had old pictures to work from and one or two drawings but they were the only measurements we had. It was an incredibly satisfying job and I am very proud of it. It was one of my most enjoyable commissions.

Although Bob is showing no signs of retiring he classes an almost 11 hour day in the workshop as slowing down son Nicholas will one day take over the business. Bob has taught the 50-year-old, who also constructs outdoor items, the skills needed to continue the family business and they both work together at the gallery. There is a very young member of the family, Bobs two-year-old great grandson, showing signs of wanting to become a joiner too.

Bob said: Ozzy absolutely loves it in the workshop. You can see it in him already. He will definitely be a joiner. I enjoy spending time with him in the workshop and he certainly has a lot of fun.

I get an immense amount of enjoyment from my job. I love talking to all the people who come to the gallery. We have very little machinery here, we do everything by hand and I love working with natural materials. I make the kind of furniture that will last forever. I find it a challenge. If it wasnt, then I wouldnt do it.

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