Beyond Parnham InsightsInsights section icon

Inspiring a generation of young designers and furniture makers, the Beyond Parnham book tells the remarkable story of Parnham College. Here, Ian Styles takes a moment to reflect on our time with Parnham, depicting the early years when the students would visit our first shop in Axminster.


Our time with Parnham – As told by Ian Styles

‘They sought out tools from the very best suppliers we could find; a list that originated from the hand of Robert Ingham, the legendary tutor who would change the entire way of precision cabinet making for a lifetime and more.

The tools often needed considerable time spent on them. Planes, in particular, were checked in store by the students and then taken home, dismantled and treated to two days of intensive fettling before they were deemed acceptable to use in anger.

The shop stayed open until late on a Friday so that the students could come and collect their orders whilst also returning the tools they thought weren’t ideal. Many were as discerning about the boxes as they were the tools, as these would be used to store the tools for years to come.

The course was a two-year adventure. Demanding and beyond precise it would stretch and develop their skills and in turn, set a new higher standard for what was required of the industry.

“It not only shaped the furniture making industry but also us.”

Today many of those students are exceptionally successful makers, tutors and designers. Many of these past students we, at Axminster, have been fortunate enough to retain a relationship with. As they’ve matured over the years, as a business so have we; growing from that tiny store into what you see today. Indeed, the whole concept of Parnham as a centre of excellence helped us in those early years to quickly appreciate a need for quality and innovative tools. It not only shaped the furniture making industry but also us.

Beyond Parnham’ is a marvellous story of the student’s successes and where they are in their careers today. We owe John Makepeace and Robert Ingham a debt of gratitude for allowing us to be a very small part of the Parnham experience as a trusted tool supplier.

The book is a fitting tribute to the amazing skills of our craftsmen and women who have continued the traditions of Parnham and advanced the legacy that is fine furniture. If only we could find a way of retaining those youthful looks from our twenties that we would have had back then…it would be a fantastic way of thanking those students who helped us discover the beauty of fine tools!’

Ian Styles, Product Development Director
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  1. I was there in the main Ax store for the book signing by John Makepeace. Unfortunately it turned out to be a bit of a ‘non-event’ as it wasn’t sufficiently well advertised beforehand; I think John probably signed five books and for much of the day seemed to be at a loose end. However, it did mean that I had the privilege to meet and talk to him at length which was a real treat!

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