Reynolds of Ludlow was set up by Arthur Basil Reynolds in Ludlow between 1946 and 1980. The original name of this company being Reynolds Woodware Limited, this was changed to Reynolds of Ludlow in the early 1950s for marketing reasons, although the original name remained the official Limited name. Initially set up with four cabinetmakers, having equal shares, by the time his son Garth Reynolds took over in 1960, Arthur Reynolds had bought them out.
ARTHUR BASIL REYNOLDS
Arthur Reynolds was born in 1903 and raised as a Quaker. His cabinet making apprenticeship was served with Northover & Gilbert in Bridport Dorset. Following this he became a woodwork teacher for a year and then went on to work for Stanley Davis in Windmere who was a pupil of Ernest Gimson. With the depression in the 1920’s and 1930’s South Wales suffered greatly with the high unemployment in the coal fields, one particular area badly affected was Brynmawr. As relief, the Quakers or Society of Friends grouped together and started what was known as the Brynmawr Experiment to try to create employment and provide charity based welfare support. With this effort, a number of Quakers moved into the area to help with many companies being set up employing the local community. Arthur Reynolds went to work at the Paul Matt Furniture Company in South Wales in 1929, as assistant to Paul Matt the designer and manager who left in 1936. Whilst he did not receive any tuition as designer during this period, he was exposed to Paul Matt’s design ability for seven years as his assistant. He then ran this company as designer and manager until voluntary liquidation was declared due to the outbreak of World War II. He then joined the armed services during World War II being was assigned to the support unit for the eighth army battle group; he became a Major, received the M.B.E. for his services and was stationed in Italy for some of this time. Following the end of World War II Arthur Reynolds decided that he wanted to set up his own furniture making business. He travelled around the Midlands attempting to find a suitable location for his company in this area. There have been two given reasons by Garth Reynolds for the area choice, firstly his relation in Birmingham, Joseph Sykes who ran timber yards, secondly the central location for distribution to the country, which prompted Reynolds move from Dorset. Whenever any restrictions upon the control of timber were loosened, Joseph Sykes, Arthur Reynolds cousin would ring him straight away to inform him so he could obtain as much timber as legally possible. Initially he made furniture in Bromsgrove and Halesowen but finally found what he was looking for in Ludlow and set his business there. At the height of Reynolds of Ludlow’s production during the late 1950s and early 1960s, they employed 18 people in the company.
Arthur Reynolds exhibited in 1951 at the Festival of Britain Exhibition in the House and Garden Pavilion. His market aim was the middle to upper classes due to the cost of the furniture being produced. The firm also supplied some prestigious retailers like Heals, Dunns and won prestigious contracts e.g. GEC boardroom, Leicester University Hall and chairs for Southall Minster, all having the same market aim as their furniture. As the major driving force behind the firm, it was a major loss when Arthur Reynolds died suddenly after a short illness in 1960.
Garth Reynolds was born in 1933 and ran Reynolds of Ludlow from 1960 until it closed in 1980. He was apprenticed to his father in 1948 and learnt his cabinet making trade at Reynolds of Ludlow. Unlike his father, Garth Reynolds was not exposed to any design experience or formal training as a designer. Following his apprenticeship he served two years as a journeyman at Gordon Russell’s workshops in the Cotswolds between 1957 and 1959. After this period, he returned to Reynolds of Ludlow to work. His father’s death was sudden and unexpected and at the age of 26, he was thrust into the role of manager, designer and guiding spirit. Reynolds of Ludlow carried on exhibiting at trade fairs and acquiring business through sales representatives throughout the 1960s and 1970s. With the onset of more globalised retail and the rise of consumerism, the firm struggled because of the traditional craft product that they produced. During this period, the new material and production techniques were driven by manufacturing and market forces. Reynolds of Ludlow was dealt a major set back in 1977 when a major fire gutted a large part of the factory. This was the final blow for Reynolds of Ludlow as an independent company as they were under insured. The firm ceased trading as a private company at this point and were bought out by a hotel chain that ran it until its closure in 1980, producing hotel contract furniture for their own hotel refits.
APPROACH TO DESIGN
Reynolds of Ludlow’s approach to design was based around an unusual mix of influences and beliefs. It will be assumed in this thesis that a grasp of the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement and modernist movement attached to the Council of Industrial Design in the 1940s and 1950s is understood, which is essential to the appreciation of the firm’s development. Arthur Reynolds was taught his cabinet making skills in an environment influenced by the Arts and Crafts principles, which he chose to follow. Furniture design was never taught during Arthur Reynolds or Garth Reynolds’s cabinet making apprenticeships; more over the evolvement of existing designs being passed from master to apprentice in the craft tradition was the norm. However it is understood from Garth Reynolds that the thinking behind Arthur Reynolds’s design skills were learnt from Stanley Davis in Windmere and Paul Matt during the seven years he was his assistant between 1929 and 1936. Roger Smith wrote [of Paul Matt’s design style] “…the work is reminiscent of the Barnsley’s or early Gordon Russell…leaving the wood to speak for itself…associated with the latter day Arts and Crafts designers…”.
Arthur Reynolds ran the Paul Matt furniture company on his own between 1936 and 1939 as its designer as well as manager in an Arts and Crafts design style as did Paul Matt before him.
The Arts and Crafts influence and his Quaker beliefs came through in his approach. These Quaker beliefs manifested themselves in honesty, equality to the people they employed and quality. These principles and beliefs fitted in with the design and traditional craftsman approach that both Arthur Reynolds and his son adopted. Arthur Reynolds stuck rigidly to the Arts and Crafts beliefs in design and production of his furniture.
Under Garth Reynolds, the approach to design aimed at evolving Arts and Crafts traditions to produce new designs for the modern market place. In the immediate years following Arthur Reynolds’s death, many of his designs were continued on as a necessity until his son could produce new contemporary designs. In an ever increasingly difficult retail market with more and more imports and competition Garth Reynolds decided to try to create his own niche market as a survival strategy. The plan was to design produce and market the furniture as a single operation. The Arts and Crafts principles can clearly be seen in the grain of the wood as decoration, truth to materials in the use of the wood, the design being fit for its purpose without any inappropriate features or decoration. However there is a clear difference between Arthur Reynolds and Garth Reynolds in the market climate they were operating in, which affected Garth Reynolds’s style of design, which was moving away from strict adherence to the Arts and Crafts ideals through necessity.
Whilst Garth Reynolds and his father designed contemporary furniture to keep up with fashion there were a number of difficulties with this design led approach. The constant changing of taste stimulating the designer to satisfy the consumer was an issue for Garth Reynolds and was less apparent for his father with the pressures this created on production and distribution.
The Combination of Arts and Crafts Principles, Quaker beliefs in the honesty of his work and the continuing of a complete way of life were overriding factors in producing furniture Arthur Reynolds was passionate about. These factors were more important than profit in both Arthur Reynolds and his son. Garth Reynolds slackened these beliefs due to a combination of disparate forces within the furniture industry, which he had to cope with to help Reynolds of Ludlow survive financially.