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Army of National Trust volunteers builds new home for fascinating Essex collection

A magnificent collection of woodworking tools once belonging to a master craftsman from Essex will be unveiled in their new home on Wednesday (April 4) – thanks to an army of dedicated volunteers from the National Trust who worked tirelessly to renovate a dilapidated building.

The Saunders Tools Collection contains nearly 650 items once belonging to Bryan Saunders, a renowned woodcarver who spent his entire career in Coggeshall, near Colchester.

His daughter Janet donated the tools to the National Trust and they have been housed in a temporary display at Coggeshall Grange Barn. Now, volunteers working for the Trust have converted an old cow byre at Grange Barn into a dedicated museum space.

Stuart Banks, the National Trust’s warden at Coggeshall Grange Barn, said:

“The Saunders Tools Collection is an unusual and fascinating glimpse into the life’s work of a master craftsman. Many of our local visitors can remember Bryan Saunders and his workshop, so they appreciate the importance of this exhibition being housed at the heart of the local community.”

Mr Saunders was a well-known figure in the village and worked in the trade for more than 60 years after becoming an apprentice in 1907, at the age of 14.

The inside of the cow barn has been completely redesigned and refurbished to showcase the collection in a contemporary way, while maintaining the feel of a traditional woodcarver’s workshop.

Mr Banks added: “Almost all of the work was undertaken by volunteers - they completed all of the joinery and built the internal walls, the ceiling and a replica door. The National Trust is a charity and their efforts meant we could complete the project at a fraction of the cost, so we are very grateful. The professionalism of the finished exhibition does justice to this fascinating collection and brilliantly highlights the life and skill of a prominent local figure.”

Volunteer Jeff Andrews, of Tolleshunt D’Arcy, said: “It was a real pleasure to be part of a great team of volunteers, working together for nearly four years, and I learned a lot about the unique and specialised craft of wood carving. I also gained a lot of knowledge from the training provided by the National Trust, such as the principles of conservation, the creation of a database for eventual upload on to the internet, photographic techniques and new IT skills.”

Jeff grew up in Coggeshall and knew both Bryan and Janet Saunders when they were alive, so the completion of the project held special poignancy for him.

He added: “It was also a personal pleasure of mine to meet a promise I gave to Janet Saunders, that the gift of her father’s tools would be fully documented for posterity and properly displayed as a tribute to his work.”

2 April 2012