Spinning an expert yarn

David and Val Bryant are the country’s accepted experts on spinning wheels but Barry Hook’s head is in a spin after learning that David is also an authority on traditional furniture, clock cases, is a very skilled woodworker and an author of four books

This month, the Jane Austen House Museum in Hampshire will welcome back its 200-year old John Planta spinning wheel.

For several months it has lived in the workshop of David Bryant at his home in Knutsford where the former mechanical engineer has been restoring it to working order.

David’s latest commission is to make a 40” spinning wheel for the Long Draw Spinners.

It is one of many similar assignments which David has on his books because David and his wife Val, are the country’s leading experts on vintage and antique spinning wheels.

“My mother was a member of the local Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers, so I grew-up surrounded by spinning wheels. I naturally absorbed a lot of knowledge, and inherited a wheel from my mother,” recalls Val.

It was that wheel which roused David’s interest. “I was feeling a bit miserable with a bout of flu and staring at the wheel I thought ‘I could make one of those’. From there, one thing led to another.”

With Val working at Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, as the textile co-ordinator, it wasn’t long before David was asked to build a Hargreaves spinning jenny which is still being used today.

After 27-years at Quarry Bank Mill, Val retired when she won a grant from the Pasold Research Fund and set about the mammoth task of recording all the spinning wheels held in National Trust properties.

“Of course, the task expanded because once we had catalogued, measured and photographed (David is also an amateur photography and member of Knutsford Photographic Club) the 60 wheels belonging to the National Trust, we widened the project, “says Val.

Their research took them all over the country, from the Scottish Highlands through stately homes to royal residences; from crofter’s wheels to those owned by QueenVictoria.

Val Bryant – an acknowledged expert on spinning wheels. She and David are much sought after by museums and country houses for advice on restoration and how best to display them.

At the last count, the Bryant’s record of wheels and their locations, including measurements, makers’ details, current condition and type of wheel, totals over 800. “And we are still searching for others,” says Val, who is also a trustee of the Knutsford Heritage Centre.

David is a true artist in wood. Although he is self-taught, a clue to his artistry can be gained from the fact that his grandfather was a boat builder and his great grandfather and great great grandfather were cabinet makers.

But it would be a disservice to categorise him as purely a wood worker, even though he did start the Cheshire Guild of Woodworkers.

His interests and ability go much further. Having written an article on the subject of making his first spinning wheel, he was contracted by publishers, Batsford, to write a definitive book, Wheels and Looms.

Other books followed – Traditional Furniture Maker, Wooden Clock Cases and Making Classic Country Chairs.

David points to the chair on which I am sitting. “That’s a Macclesfield bar-top chair. The one over there is a Morris armchair and that one is two-row spindle back chair.

“I made them all whilst writing the book, along with dozens of others which I have had to distribute around the family because of lack of room.”

One thing the Bryants have had to make room for, however, is their collection of 15 antique spinning wheels. Will they be adding to the collection? Well I wouldn’t bet against the experts.

If you know of the location of an antique spinning wheel, or would like to contact the couple – david@craftdesigns.co.uk


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