The Rev. Woodfin Board


A personalised Christian board, crisply incised with a quotation from the Saint James Bible prominently filling the central roundel; ‘I have planted Apollos watered but God gave the increase 1Car. 9c. 6v.’ The inconvenient position of the Gothic lettering, lack of cut marks and 3 small nail holes on the reverse indicate it was a celebratory piece, used as a decorative stand. In the bible reference, ‘1Car.9c.6v.’, the carver has spelled the abbreviation of Corinthians ‘Car’, instead of ‘Cor’, and carved a 9 instead of a 3, a surprising oversight given that his work was to be presented to a man of the church. Around the border appears in manuscript-style, as if with a quill, ‘Rev R Woodfin’, and a bumpy bark effect, possibly a humorous reference to his surname. The ear of wheat echoes the ‘planting’ of a crop which is Paul’s agricultural metaphor for establishing a church. The choice of a presentational breadboard instead of a multitude of other commemorative items points to the popularity of breadboards and their connection with the religious symbolism of bread and Communion.

A Reverend Richard Woodfin shows up in various Wesleyan Methodist records. He studied at a Wesleyan Theological Institution in Manchester in 1844, ministered in Woodbridge, Suffolk in 1852-3 and Walsall, Birmingham in 1854. Coincidentally, on the reverse are a number of pencilled annotations, mostly illegible, except for ‘1854’ and possibly ‘Walsall’. Methodism in Walsall was flourishing during this period, to the extent that a large new chapel was build in 1859. The bible quotation refers to two ministers, Paul and Apollos, the former the founder of the Church in Corinth, the latter his successor. These lines may commemorate an official milestone in the Reverend’s career in Walsall or may be a token of appreciation from an adoring flock, comparing him to Apollos. He later appears on the Melbourne West circuit in 1856; Brompton, Kent in 1873 and finally Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire in 1874-5. His death is noted as 1878. Ancestry websites indicate a number of Methodist Woodfins in Alabama and it would be interesting to know if they are related.

Poetic Mouseman


An octagonal ‘Mouseman’ breadboard carved by the Robert Thompson workshop in Kilburn, Yorkshire, a well-known establishment which still produces them today.

This unusual example is inscribed with four lines from a mystical poem entitled Immanence (1917) by Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), reproduced below in its entirety. The carved snippet, indicated in bold, refers to small furry creatures, the Mouseman’s trademark.

Every carver at the workshop develops their own unique mouse design which becomes a subtle signature, as carvers traditionally never named their work. Courtesy of;

And Nicholson & Lee, eds. The Oxford Book of Mystical Verse. 1917

I COME in the little things,
Saith the Lord:
Not borne on morning wings
Of majesty, but I have set My Feet
Amidst the delicate and bladed wheat

That springs triumphant in the furrowed sod.
There do I dwell, in weakness and in power;
Not broken or divided, saith our God!
In your strait garden plot I come to flower:
About your porch My Vine

Meek, fruitful, doth entwine;
Waits, at the threshold, Love’s appointed hour.
I come in the little things,
Saith the Lord:
Yea! on the glancing wings

Of eager birds, the softly pattering feet
Of furred and gentle beasts, I come to meet
Your hard and wayward heart. In brown bright eyes
That peep from out the brake, I stand confest.
On every nest

Where feathery Patience is content to brood
And leaves her pleasure for the high emprize
Of motherhood—
There doth My Godhead rest.

I come in the little things,
Saith the Lord:
My starry wings
I do forsake,
Love’s highway of humility to take:
Meekly I fit My stature to your need.

In beggar’s part
About your gates I shall not cease to plead—
As man, to speak with man—
Till by such art
I shall achieve My Immemorial Plan,
Pass the low lintel of the human heart.

(Nicholson & Lee, eds. The Oxford Book of Mystical Verse. 1917)

Whole-wheat border

A deceptively simple harvest board with a continuous border of stylised wheat ears, the small dots being both decorative and functional as they provide essential reference points for the carver to maintain an even pattern and ensure a seamless join. The skill of carving in the round on a curved surface cannot be over-emphasised, and the collection contains several charming examples of more amateur attempts which have resulted in patterns toppling, bulging and bunching.


Punch cartoon


A Punch cartoon from 1880 depicting a middle-class mother and son discussing the carved Gothic lettering on a breadboard.
“Well Austin, can you read that?”
“No, Mama.”
“Well it is rather difficult! Those are Old English letters.”
“Are they? Then no wonder the Ancient Britons couldn’t read or write!”

Mr Andre Gailani of Punch kindly referred to the magazine’s archives and explains how the cartoon was probably referring to political efforts to solve mass illiteracy: 

‘The year the cartoon was published was 1880, and in that year a new version of the Education Act (first introduced in 1870) came into force, which henceforth made it compulsory for children to attend school from the age of 5 to 10. The cartoonist du Maurier often added social/ political commentary to his cartoons, specifically in the way it affected the middle classes.’

Jewish Challah Breadboard


A Jewish Challah board consisting of a silver-plated tray and cherry or olive wood insert, the lower Hebrew translating as ‘Jerusalem’ and the inscription along the top as: ‘Who brings forth bread from the earth’ (ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz) words which are part of the standard prayer said over bread: ‘Blessed are You, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth’ (baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melech ha-olam, ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz).

1900s, 12”. It is accompanied by a knife.

Translation courtesy of Ernest Rubinstein.