I was delighted to receive in the post yesterday a simple elm bowl made by George Lailey. For those that don’t know George Lailey was commonly known as “the last bowlturner”, he worked at Turners Green on Bucklebury Common near Reading until he died in 1958. Lailey was the last turner making bowls on a pole lathe and it was seeing his lathe and tools at the museum of English Rural Life that inspired me to learn the craft 15 years ago. Over the years I have met many people that visited Lailey and bought his bowls and several of them have been kind enough to give me bowls too. The bowl you see here is one which I first saw 5 years ago, it was bought by Jack Greene www.jackgreene.co.uk a friend who does historical costumed visits to schools. Anyway when I first saw it I recognized it as a Lailey and Jack promised to swap it for one of my bowls. We have met and talked about the bowl several times since but it was at the Re-enactors market last weekend when Jack finally chose a copy of my book in exchange for the bowl. We were both very happy.
Lailey always turned bowls from elm wood and the style is very distinctive, he did not make a range of different shapes and designs, one style of bowl varying in size from 3″ to 20″ diameter. There are a good collection of his bowls on display at the museum of English Rural Life in Reading. The picture below shows George turning a pair of bowls, the special thing about his method and the thing that initialy inspired me was that he saved the core out of the inside of a bowl to turn a smaller bowl. When starting from a large blank up to 5 bowls can be made one inside the other.
It took me several years to learn to make the special tools required for nesting bowls and to learn to use them efficiently, like Lailey I still make most of my bowls as nests but sell most of them individually. Ocasionally though I make special nesting sets with a matching design and with the grain of the wood running through the bowls. Here is one of my nesting sets.