Stradling Collection volunteer Rosemary Silvester has been particularly excited by our current Bauhaus in Bristol exhibition. Her research in the 1980s into the activities of Bristol furniture manufacturers P E Gane Ltd has given her a real enthusiasm for the subject and she has been enjoying making visitors welcome.

Rosemary Silvester celebrating the opening of Glassworks, a recent show of experimental glass by researchers and students at the University of the West of England.

In 1982 I was working as a research technician in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol and studying for an Open University degree in my spare time. That year I signed up to A305 History of Architecture and Design 1890-1939’ which turned out to be a turning point in my life.

It was really exciting when each new package of units arrived; I was discovering Mackintosh, the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and the rest, for the very first time. This was an education which opened my eyes to the buildings around me, museums, exhibitions, history…

When it came to choosing a project for A305 I remembered a 1976 exhibition at Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery about furniture by E W Godwin and Marcel Breuer. Why Breuer was commissioned to design furniture for Crofton Gane, a Bristol furniture manufacturer and retailer, was an intriguing story and this 1930’s furniture was clearly part of the history of Modernism in the UK. As well as Breuer furniture in the collections at Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, I found more belonging to Mr Ken Stradling, then Managing Director of the Bristol Guild of Applied Arts, and that the Gane family still owned some. Curators at the Museum, Ken Stradling and Mrs Dorothy Gane all very kindly let me photograph and study their Breuer furniture for my A305 project. This was well before the internet so I sent a letter to the Bristol Evening Post and when it was published several people contacted me who had worked for P E Gane Ltd or bought their furniture.  It was fascinating to follow up as much as I could in Bristol and beyond.

Catalogue for Furniture by Godwin and Breuer, Bristol City Museum, 1976.

Crofton Gane and Marcel Breuer Furniture, Rosemary Silvester, Open University, 1985. P E Gane company history, A Swan Sings, 1954.

As I was grateful for the help Id received from the Museum I decided to join their friends group, then called Bristol Magpies.  So began my long association with this and other voluntary organisations. I edited the newsletter and annual journal of the British Association of Friends of Museums, was a trustee of the Architecture Centre in Bristol and helped the organiser of Bristols annual Doors Open Day, Penny Mellor.  In 2006 I started volunteering with a new charity, Kids in Museums, and ended up assisting with their social media.  All these activities were voluntary and unpaid  and Im a firm believer in the mutual benefits of volunteering.

In 2015 I retired from the School of Chemistry. By then Ken Stradling had set up a charitable trust so that the ceramics, glass, furniture and crafts hes been collecting since the 1940s are accessible to everyone. This remarkable collection of design and applied arts is housed in central Bristol so I joined the Friends of the Ken Stradling Collection and became a volunteer steward. This means I’m back with the Breuer furniture I studied all those years ago and the journey I started with A305 has come full circle.  Ken Stradling really appreciated Crofton Ganes design interests and educational aims and so the Stradling Collection contains the largest group of 1930’s Marcel Breuer furniture from the Gane house in Bristol held in a public collection.  Please do visit the free exhibition ‘The Bauhaus in Bristol’ which is open Wednesdays and Saturdays until 25 January 2020. 

Rosemary Silvester


For more on the Bauhaus in Bristol and the relationship between Marcel Breuer and Bristol furniture manufacturer Crofton Gane go to our Bauhaus in Bristol Resource pages.

If any of you are interested in volunteering or becoming a friend of the Stradling Collection see our Support Us webpage for more information and get in touch.

Images copyright Ken Stradling Collection and The Open University.