A Fairy Story

Although every bit is true.

Once upon a time a young man began making picture frames.

The “young man” left teaching art at a school in “Swamp Land” after inheriting his grandfather’s work shop – the grandfather who had been the head of cabinet making at the South Kensington Science Museum, not the the other one who was apprenticed as a Vellum Book Binder and ended up a property developer in Hammersmith.

The inheritance included machinery and  jigs plus materials such as tortoiseshell, ivory, mother of pearl, ebony, etc.etc.

Despite his young age of 28, and the fact he lived in a remote farm house at the top of the second highest hill in Norfolk, the “young man” quickly learnt that precious and exotic materials were the items sought by discerning clients, not the least those in the art trade

So it came to pass that like Dick Whittington, the “young man” sallied forth to the great City to seek his fortune. A number of the early orders were placed by a person working from the 1st floor of a shop in Bond Street, who thought himself very important and who called himself “Frame Maker”.

Scarily, it transpired that in their youth, Mr. Framemaker and the “young man” had lived not a mile away from each other in Wembley although Mr. Framemaker called it Harrow, just like my mother when she wanted to impress – oooer!

Mr. Framemaker was very clever and had learnt all about art at University which involves lots of typing with long words and other ones on the slope and upside down commas. The “young man” was full of admiration but could not read Mr. Framemaker’s writing on the orders, which was as if a spider with a gammy back leg dipped in ink had crawled over the paper. In the opinion of the “young man”, Mr. framemaker was just an entrepreneur with little if no practical skills nor knowledge of woodwork, joinery or cabinet making. But then, the “young man” was just a framemaker, so what did he know, as he was dyslexic?

Notwithstanding, the “young man” made frames for Mr. Framemaker who on occasion had slightly strange requests entering the specification, namely that the backs of the reproduction frames should look as convincingly distressed as the face of the frame.

Tortoiseshell bolection frame

Another of the “young man’s” first Bond Street clients was the the “Madonna Queen” Ronald Cook, so called because of his love for paintings of…… the Madonna!

The first frame the “young man” made for Ron was a small mock tortoiseshell cabinet frame with a bowed door at the back – invoice cost of £15.

On receipt of the invoice Ronald Cook said “I will not pay you £15.”

It is recorded that the “young man” who had driven down in a 3 litre Wolsley 6/110 patched up with chicken wire and car body filler and which did 20miles to the gallon, didn’t know how he would get home if the wicked witch didn’t pay, as he needed to put petrol in the car.

Not to fear – Ron was no wicked witch but a fairy Queen. “I won’t pay you £15,” said Ron “I’ll pay you £50!”

The young man fired up the 3 litre automatic, twin-toned grey Wolsley 6/110 straight 6, twin SU carburettor ex-police car, and rocketed up the Roman road – Watling Street – with not a care in the world.

Turning off Whatling Street at Baldock to pass Lakenheath airport with USAF night fighters doing “bumps”, the “young man” entered Thetford Forest and smelt the cool fresh fragrance of the pine trees mixed with the smell of petrol, oil and leather in the car.


45 years ago, in swamp land, there were few cars on the road at 10.00 at night so with the double head lights on full beam they burnt through the darkness like searchlights lighting up the cat’s eyes a mile ahead.


One morning I visited Ron earlier than usual. He was on his knees on the floor with dustpan and brush, under a 10 inch wide ripple frame I had made for him some time back. “Young man you really must do something about the wood you use because I have to sweep this up every morning”. Such a shame because it was made from a particularly beautiful Brazillian Walnut with worm holes we didn’t have to make.

“I’ve been thinking” said Ron, “do you work for dealers in St James’s?” “No”, said I. I think you should go and see Thomas Brod” said he, and so I duly went.

I was met by sultry Sandra who left me to browse whilst Thomas finished off with a client.

Duly done, he enquired “can I help you young man?” and I explained I was just looking at some of the frames I had made.

“Oh no you didn’t!” said he – “Oh yes I did!” said I, when Sandra intervened saying it was true.

“Come downstairs,” said Tom, and I was ushered down a few steps to the inner sanctum of the Brod Gallery for a grilling.

And so it transpired that Mr. Framemaker had told Tom that he was very fortunate to have his frames whilst they lasted because they were made by a “very very old craftsman in Norfolk”.

Tom said I should meet Robert Noortman, who would be very pleased to see me, and who in turn said I should go and see…….who said…….

And the rest is history.

The End.

Copyright John Davies