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A very unusual table ...

Wednesday 19/10/2016

Debby Faulkner-Stevens

We found ourselves in Norfolk a couple of weeks ago.
Alan’s cousin was celebrating her 50th birthday with a party in her new home town of Swaffam and, after a great evening catching up with family (and me have a good old dance to age appropriate music), we woke up in a unique B and B  discovered on the internet – a beautifully converted potting shed in a very pretty garden. Consulting the map over a delicious full English brought to us in our ‘shed’, we decided that, as we were so close to the sea, it would be a shame not to make a quick detour and spend a peaceful hour or two by the coast before we returned home to the mayhem of Milton Keynes and work.

The nearest seaside town was Wells next the Sea – just a twenty minute drive away apparently but, as the sign post to the B road that should have lead us directly there seemed to have disappeared, we had an interesting trip around the Norfolk back roads until we finally came upon the coast road and ended up in Wells. After a very welcome coffee we began exploring the old town. Alan found a wonderful bookshop and I bravely resisted – our house has enough books to fill a library – and was also trying to ignore a gallery. I tend to avoid galleries on our days out – busman’s holiday and all that, but this one did look rather different from the usual seaside fare of canvases of beach huts, seagulls and seascapes so we went in.
At the rear of the gallery was a display of pieces made from salvaged timber and copper from HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship. We were intrigued and soon got chatting to the gallery owner, David Burton, who explained that the Ministry of Defence had sold off 34 tons of oak and 10 tons of copper from the Victory when it underwent a major refit and restoration. Rather than than it all disappearing in to private hands and with it the history and heritage, an ambitious project arose to create beautiful and collectable items from the wood and metal, referred to as ‘arisings’. The collection of artefacts made by highly skilled craftspeople, ranged from the very small, such as letter openers and shafts for fountain pens, to incredible suites of furniture sold to contemporary art collectors for many thousands of pounds.
Most the the major pieces had been sold – the collection was launched to celebrate the bicentenary of the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 – but none of the wood, metal or even the sawdust went to waste.
Alan was taken with a small table – David said it was in fact designed as a stool – which had a top made from the last few slivers of decking , David having used the larger and more stable pieces of planking for his stunning dining tables and chairs. The sawdust from the original wood had all been carefully saved and mixed with resin, allowing him to set the slivers of wood in to the table top and make a pleasing pattern. Some of the white paint from the deck was still visible along the edge of two of the pieces of wood and a copper roundel, stamped with an anchor  saying it was salvaged from HMS Victory was set in the centre. The legs of the stool were not from the Victory wood, it being far too unstable to take any weight, but were from the Georgian period and contemporary with the Victory, and the finishing touch was Nelson’s famous message, ‘England expects ...’ carved around the edge. ( This wasn’t the message Nelson wanted to send, but the signalling system did not have the necessary flags to spell out his intended message, so this most famous of quotes is a compromise. David had met a descendant of the signaller who had his original log detailing the discussion he had with Nelson )
Alan had been looking for a small antique or collectable item to purchase as a memento of his parents, both of whom had died recently, and this seemed the perfect thing. We both thought his dad would have appreciated the craftsmanship and the intriguing story surrounding it. Duly purchased and carefully stowed in the back of my Jeep, it made the journey safely back to Great Linford where it is in daily use and just the right height to place a much needed cup of tea after a hard days work. Sorry David, we know you made it as a stool but it makes a perfect small table! It also makes a perfect counter for small children when paying shops, so I do tuck it out of sight when the grandchildren visit, but I’m sure that when they are older they will be fascinated to hear it’s story and come to love it as much as we do.

A very unusual table ...from HMS Victory.A very unusual table ...from HMS Victory.

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