Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson blanket chest based on a 16th century oak original in the Victoria and Albert Museum made for John Brunton and Alice Kathleen Rycroft to commemorate their wedding in 1928 and carved with their initials, £8000 at Tennants.

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The joined and carved oak furniture of the Yorkshire cabinetmaker Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson (1876- 1955) has a growing attraction for collectors that extends far beyond his home county.

Like the furniture of the Cotswold School makers, this kind of 20th century hand-crafted furniture by known makers and workshops has an appeal that outstrips anonymous vernacular furniture of an earlier era.

In the case of Thompson there is a premium attached to the earlier pieces made during his lifetime (the Thompson workshop continues to produce Mouseman pieces to this day).


Mouseman Monk’s chair with the armorial of Ampleforth College which was given by Paul Herrick Kelly to his son Philip, a former Ampleforth pupil, as a wedding present, £7800 at Tennants.

Increasing bidder reach 

The local, North Yorkshire auction firm Tennants (24/20% buyer’s premium) of Leyburn has a tradition of selling Mouseman pieces and the sale of Decorative Arts held on March 2 was no exception.

Around 180 of the 296 lots were given over to either pieces by him or his workshop or to pieces by other 20th century ‘Yorkshire critter carvers’ in this same vernacular tradition.

“Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson furniture continues to dominate, with increasing numbers of bidders from outside the region seeking out the iconic Yorkshire ware”, noted the auction firm of this latest sale. The 85 lots of Mouseman contributed £133,790 towards the overall hammer total of £233,840.

Provenance bonus

As with any other category of art and antiques, provenance adds an extra historical and commercial bonus and a number of best-selling items here were not only early Thompson pieces but also came with the direct family history of their original purchasers.

These included three of his distinctive Monk’s chairs, one of them with the Ampleforth Abbey arms, the other two commissioned by the Horlicks family. A group of pieces made for his secretary and a blanket chest made to celebrate a marriage were also on offer.

Topping the bill at £8000 was the 3ft 6in (1.08m) wide oak blanket chest (pictured above), a traditional centuries-old form based in this instance on a 16th century example in the Victoria and Albert Museum featuring a hinged top and three chip carved panels to the front.

It was made to celebrate the marriage of John Brunton and Alice Kathleen Rycroft in 1928 at St Matthew’s church Halifax and was carved to the centre panel with the date and initials 1928 JKB and the inscription FERE GOD LOVE GOD above as well as the Thompson trademark mouse carving.


Mouseman partners’ desk also given to Captain Phillip Kelly by his father which realised £6000 at Tennants.

Not far behind was one of the Monk’s chairs, the example carved with the Ampleforth amorial, and an oak partners’ desk, both c.1932. Both desk and chair were given by the American Paul Herrick Kelly to his eldest son Captain Philip Paul Kelly, who was a pupil at Ampleforth College from 1919-23, on the occasion of his marriage to Mary Haselwood Porter in April 1932.

Captain Kelly (1906-43), who was mentioned in despatches, was in the 2nd Bn Durham Light Infantry, He died in Burma and was buried at Tankkyan war cemetery.

The chair realised £7800 and the desk, which measured 4ft 11in (1.5m) in width, went for £6000.

The two other Monks’ chairs in the sale were made c.1930 for the Horlicks family and featured the initial H to the shield shaped escutcheon on the seat back and a Yorkshire rose to the sides. These sold for £5000 and £3500.


This double wardrobe was the most expensive one of five pieces of 1930s Mouseman furniture given by Robert Thompson to his secretary Kate Elwell, £5000 at Tennants.

Five lots made in the 1930s for Kate Elwell, who was Robert Thompson’s secretary until her marriage in 1938, comprised a large double wardrobe and smaller wardrobe both with burr oak panelled doors, a panelled oak bedstead and two oak fenders.

The larger 4ft (1.22m) wide wardrobe realised £5000, the smaller £4800 and the bed £2000, while the fenders made £320 and £400.

Quantities of other later Thompson Workshop Mouseman in the sale dated from the period after Thompson’s death. This era does not generally make as much money as the early material but there were one or two substantial sums recorded.


Robert Thompson workshop writing desk, £4000 at Tennants.

Two oak 3ft (91cm) wide chests fitted with two short and four long graduated drawers realised £4200 and £4000, and an oak writing desk constructed with a foldover top with two pull rests set over two drawers and a cupboard enclosed by panelled doors fitted with wrought iron hinges also took £4000.


Model of a cougar by Woodpeckerman (Sam Dodds), £4000 at Tennants.

The work of those who followed in Thompson’s wake – former employees at the Kilburn workshop who later branched out on their own like Beaverman and Lizardman – also has a keen following these days and is collectable in its own right.

Tennants’ latest sale, for example, included an example by Woodpeckerman – Stan Dodds (1928-2012) – who began working as an apprentice for Thompson in 1942. A small 5in (13cm) high carved oak figure of a cougar crouched on a rocky base unmarked but with a provenance to Dodds’ estate realised £4000.

Wedding gift


Mouseman refectory dining table and eight chairs that were part of a dining suite ordered as a wedding present in 1955. They were the most expensive element when the group came up for sale at Bourne End Auctions, making £5500.

More Mouseman wedding gifts featured in the sale held by Bourne End Auction Rooms (17.5% buyer’s premium) in Buckinghamshire.

As detailed in News, ATG No 2632, Tom Smith and his wife Hilda ordered a set of Mouseman dining room furniture from Thompson in 1954 as a present for their daughter Patricia. The group was delivered a year later and it had remained with the family ever since.

In the March 6 auction in Buckinghamshire this furniture was offered as part of a group comprising nine lots (further elements from the 1970s-80s were added over the years).


This pair of 1978 matched oak bookcases sold for £4000 at Bourne End Auctions.

Topping the price list at £5500 was a lot made up of a 6ft (1.8m) long dining table and eight chairs, followed at £4000 by one of the later purchases – a pair of Thompson workshop matched oak open bookcases from c.1978, 3ft 11in (1.2m) high x 2ft 8in (83cm) wide.

The cheapest piece at £220 was an adzed octagonal shaped breadboard from c.1984.


An earlier piece of oak cabinetmaking that also performed strongly in Tennants’ auction was this 3ft 3in (1m) wide writing desk with open work upper section and four drawers below. It was work of Arthur W Simpson (1857-1922) of Kendal furniture workshop The Handicrafts. Simpson was a member of the Art Workers Guild and a friend of the architect Charles FA Voysey, for whom he produced a number of pieces as well as other members of the Arts & Crafts movement. The desk, which was labelled Arthur W Simpson The Handicrafts, Kendal, sold for £3800 against an £800-1200 guide.