York, Centre for Carving and Heritage Crafts

From Grinling Gibbons and Dick Reid to Andy Thompson and today's crafts people, celebrating the work and influence of York’s woodcarvers, sculptors and heritage restoration specialists.

The restoration of De Grey Rooms and De Grey House has been a complex job, including the discovery, repair and conservation of the 1920’s inlaid linoleum to the entrance of De Grey House and the buildings’ extensive plaster and woodwork renovation. The Trust’s main contractor, Pinnacle Conservation’s carpenter and wood carver Andy Thompson is one of the team completing work on the tall sash windows on the street facing side of De Grey Rooms. At over four metres tall, with 40kg inbuilt weights, restoring the windows to their full glory and ensure they work as originally intended, is a skilled, labour intensive process.

Andy began whittling with his Grandad in the family garage and has always had a fascination for working with wood. An apprentice at Houghtons prior to working with Pinnacle, Andy is part of long tradition of York master craftspeople, notably the renowned architectural sculptor, stonemason and carver Dick Reid OBE. Andy met Dick during his Houghtons apprenticeship. Andy’s mentor at Houghtons, Andrew Martindale, was Dick’s apprentice and Dick took an active part in supporting the new recruits.

Born in the Northeast in 1934 and apprenticed to carver Roger Hedley, son of sculptor and realist painter Ralph Hedley, Dick came to York on National Service, quickly making a wide circle of friends, he also met his wife Buff. With Newcastle fast losing its attraction, Dick established his own York workshops on Grape Lane and later Fishergate, securing his first commission through Dean Milner-White at York Minster. An architectural wood and stone carver, he also took on clay sculpture commissions in York and throughout the UK.

Dick would go on to become a trustee and lecturer of the Prince’s Institute of Architecture and winner of the Duke of Gloucester Gold Medal, awarded by his peers the Worshipful Company of Masons and Stone Federation of Great Britain. He and Buff were also active supporters of the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies. An astonishingly gifted carver, Dick’s work is found in The Royal Opera House, Westminster Abbey, Carlisle Cathedral, Highgrove and Chatelherault in Scotland, where he restored a ceiling using part of an old Country Life photograph as his only source material. He reconstructed and repaired fireplaces at Spencer House and Althorp, also carving Diana’s memorial on the lake island at Althorp Estate. The only contractor who wasn’t required to tender for work on the restoration of Windsor Castle after the devastating fire of 1992, Dick’s work on the Carlton House Trophies is regarded as some of the finest relief carving in England.

Dick carved the four and a-half foot tall Queen Mother’s coat of arms for the Merchant Taylor’s Hall in Threadneedle Street, London and Andy Thompson worked on Dick’s last commission of the Princess of Wales’s coat of arms, again in Merchant Taylor’s. He also has memories of Dick’s insistence that all apprentices carve a single Yorkshire rose in under four hours. Happily Andy’s record was just under three! Dick’s exacting standards also focussed on lettering. A lettercutter of distinction, he also passed this passion on to Andy.

Dick’s thumb print and artistry is evident throughout York and around the world. His international reputation drew in apprentices and journeymen from around Europe and his workshop was the last to employ and train large numbers of sculptors and carvers. Eminent alumni include Francis Cape, Matthias Garn Jose Sarabia, Charles Gurrey, Andrian Melka and Nathan Hunt. Some former students remaining in York, whilst others now carry on their craft from Selby and San Francisco, New York and New Zealand. Passionate about sharing his skills, Dick’s wife Buff remembers, “While I ran the office, anyone who turned up and showed interest, Dick would invite them in, and so it grew!”

A collector of original edition source material from luminaries such as Chippendale, Dick worked on York Minster, St Sampson’s Church and York Art Gallery. Recreating 18th and 19th century designs, restoring staircases, busts, friezes and ceilings, Dick was an important contributor of the 1984 repair and renovation of Fairfax House, acquired by the Trust in 2008. Peter Brown, the then Director of York Civic Trust, has fond memories of being in Dick’s workshop and hearing how he and his team produced such diverse, high quality carving, commenting, “Dick simply said, ‘On Monday it’s Gothic, on Tuesday Medieval, on Thursday Georgian …’ such was their ability. York also gave them a wide canvass on which to practice!”

“Dick Reid was one of the world’s leading architectural artisans and restored numerous Medieval, Renaissance, and Enlightenment-era buildings.”  Institute of Classical Architecture and Art 

On Dick’s retirement his workshop closed but he remained active, advising and consulting and a wide range of projects. Dick also donated a series of plaster casts for visual teaching aids to the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art in New York. Today, they form the Dick Reid Teaching Collection, regarded as,“… rare, high artistry in the craft of mold making and casting, an invaluable part of an education in traditional architecture and allied arts.”

After Dick’s death at 86 in 2021, Andy Thompson acquired many of Dick’s sculpting tools. A large number were handmade by Dick for specific jobs, his name embossed neatly on the boxwood and rosewood handles. The majority are Pfeil, Swiss manufactured and much tougher than modern equivalents.

Many years before Dick Reid established his workshop, York’s heritage of high quality woodcarving, sculpting, masonry and craft skills includes the apprenticeship of Grinling Gibbons (1648 – 1721) to John Etty at his North Street workshop in the early 1660s. Gibbons renowned artistry can be found at Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace, Petworth House and St Paul’s Cathedral. His earliest surviving work, a small boxwood King David Panel created in York in c.1667-70 can be seen at Fairfax House.

Matthew Ward, whose long association with the wealthy Fairfax family saw him produce beautiful woodcarving at Gilling Castle and Fairfax House in 1740 - 60. Examples of which can be seen at the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle. He was also responsible for the staircase at Brandsby Hall.

In 1746 a workshop was set up by Richard Fisher ‘carver and statuary’ and his two sons John and Samuel in Minster Yard. John’s six sons followed their grandfather and father into the profession. Richard would have worked with Fairfax House architect John Carr and John Etty, architect of The Red House. With royal patronage gained from sales to the Prince of Wales and Duke of York, church and cemetery monuments played a large role in their work and art historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner wrote of his, “… inability to mention all the monuments carved by the Fishers.” Executed between 1784 and 1789, the monument to Sir George Savile in York Minster is a notable work by John Fisher, along with his work with John Carr at Wentworth Woodhouse between 1792 and 1794. With wealthy patrons, the family’s work is found at many of the flourishing grand Yorkshire houses, including Studley Royal, Temple Newsam and Nostel Priory.

Another master woodcarver, stonemason and sculptor George Walker Milburn (1844 – 1941) was born on Goodramgate in York in 1844. Apprenticed to piano maker William Waddington, George went on to establish a large workshop on St Leonard’s Place between Bootham Bar and the De Grey Rooms. Working from there for over 50 years, George’s work includes the statues of William Etty, Queen Victoria and George Leeman and commissions for York Minster, York Art Gallery and the organ case at Westminster Abbey. To be found in a least 20 counties around the UK, with a reputation for some of the finest Gothic sculpture in the country, many of his works remain uncredited or incorrectly ascribed to others. Dick Reid came by one of Milburn’s day books through an auction. Now in Buff’s possession, the breadth of Milburn’s contribution continues to be uncovered. Geoff Kaye, another renowned York sculptor was apprenticed to Milburn and had a workshop on the Shambles, where Dick spent a short time on his arrival in York.

Bringing us up to date, based in Beningborough just outside York, Charles Hesp is a heritage crafts specialist in interior decoration and restoration with an international reputation. Working on the restoration of Fairfax House and The Assembly Rooms in York, Charles Hesp’s work is found at Newby Hall, Alnwick Castle and St Paul’s Cathedral together with many other commissions of national importance.

Today, the York Consortium for Craft and Conservation (YCCC) is a membership organisation and collective of conservator bodies with the means to fund a range of bursaries awarded to trainees and students. The York Conservation Trust currently donates £5,000 a year to the YCCC bursary fund for heritage building craft trainees. Ruth Morrell, one of our Board of Trustees, sits on the YCCC Bursary Award Panel, and Jonathan Bryant, our CEO, is also a YCCC Trustee.

The threads connecting Gibbons, Ward, the Fisher family, George Milburn, Geoff Kaye, Dick Reid and Charles Hesp to Andy Thompson and today’s apprentices is set to strengthen with an ambitious new project. Within the precincts of York Minster, a five million pound campus is planned for the Minster stone-yard and deanery to create a centre of excellence, providing research, education and training in ancient craft skills. Alexander McCallion, Director of Works and Precinct at the Minster commenting, "This will be a unique facility in the cathedral world and provide York with a truly national and international centre of excellence … demonstrating that York is a world leader in heritage conservation."

Here at York Conservation Trust, we are committed to supporting the next generation of skilled craftspeople and conservation professions. Together with our annual bursaries of up to £5,000 to YCCC, we also fund dissertation prizes of up to £500 to students studying archaeology and buildings conservation at the University of York.

This year we are planning a programme of wider engagement with the community via the York Conservation Trust Summer School initiative, which will be a focussed series of activities aimed at different ages and interests. Part of our initiative is aimed at attracting people in existing building trades, such as brick laying or plastering, into the world of conservation. Run in partnership with specialist conservation contractors Pinnacle Conservation Ltd, we’re working on rolling out a series of projects across York, including about York Theatre Royal, De Grey Rooms and De Grey House.


With thanks to Andy Thompson, Buff Reid and Peter Brown.

Discover more from our sources:

Classicist.org - Dick Reid Collection

York Civic Trust - Ginling Gibbons 

York Civic Trust - George Walker Milburn 

York Consortium for Craft and Conservation (YCCC)

‘Matthew Ward at Gilling Castle’ Sarah Medlam pub. Furniture History Society, 1997

'Gilling Castle, the medieval stonghold and it's journey through the Baroque to the 20th century' Country Life Magazine, John Goodall 2021

‘The Fishers of York: A provincial carver’s workshop in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’ Volume 1 by Poppy Corita Myerscough, The University of York, 1996

Pinnacle Conservation Ltd.

York Mix - Plans for £5 million heritage crafts campus for York



Woodcarver Andy Thompson with former Director of York Civic Trust Peter Brown and Conservation Trust architect Guy Bowyer at De Grey House during 2023 renovations.

Dick Reid OBE in his York workshop surrounded by his tools, many handmade by Dick for specific jobs.

Table and candle stick for British Ambassador's residence, Oslo. The Country Life photograph of the Chatelherault ceiling and Dick Reid's full replicated version. A 'tour de force' of vision and skill.

Dick Reid's workshop in York and examples of their beautiful woodcarving and sculpting output.

The King David Panel carved by Grinling Gibbons, apprenticed to John Etty in York and now at Fairfax House.

Sir George Savile monument in York Minster, carved by John Fisher. Creative Commons Licence.

Andy Thompson at work at De Grey House during 2023 renovations and examples of his work from Sir John Soane's Museum and Merchant Taylor's Hall, London.

Back to top