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.

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.’

Happy Hollydays!


A rare holly breadboard with delicately carved berries, wheat and barley ears, perfect for gracing the Christmas dinner table. Noticeable is the luxurious deep patina and numerous knife marks on the under-side, either to spare the carving or while doubling as a kitchen chopping board.

1800s, Sycamore, 13″

The trencher, ancestor of the breadboard


A well-worn trencher or wooden plate, used on a daily basis by rich and poor alike from the 15th century until the arrival of chinaware. Trenchers began as flat pieces of wood, improved designs appearing later with indents, the larger to retain the juices and the smaller for salt. The latter would suggest it may have been used in a wealthy household as salt was a precious commodity. The town of Abingdon has a rare collection of over 100 trenchers, and the inventories to prove their date of purchase, 1556, for official dinners to entertain local dignitaries. The Mary Rose has dredged up 6 examples, one carved with a rough zig-zag pattern, possibly by one of the crew.

Interestingly they have made a come-back in gastro-pubs and restaurants serving traditional English food, the wood being sourced from South East Asia as England no longer has sycamores old enough to make a standard 12″ plate.