The Man Who Put the Stationery in Stations

17th October 2019

A stationery cabinet that belonged to a leading board director of WHSmith has sold at auction for £23,750.

The small ebony and macassar desktop cabinet was commissioned by Charles Harold St John Hornby from renowned Arts and Crafts cabinet maker, Peter Waals, and featured in the Design auction at Woolley and Wallis on Wednesday 16th October.

In 1891 Hornby was invited into a partnership with William Henry Smith’s grandson, Freddy, who had just inherited the business and with whom he was a good friend. As the firm’s key strategist Hornby was responsible for the firm establishing stalls, later to become the now ubiquitous shops, at railway stations across the UK.

Outside of his work with the major stationer he operated a private printing press, the Ashdene Press, which printed highly regarded limited editions in the Arts and Crafts manner in the first decades of the 20th century. His interest in the Arts and Crafts movement was exemplified by the number of commissions he made after the First World War when he bought Chantmarle in Dorset, a house that had started life as a home for the monks of Milton Abbas in the 13th century. Hornby decorated the house with furniture commissioned from the era’s top craftsmen including Ernest Gimson, Sidney Barnsley and Peter Waals. The house and some of its commissioned furniture featured in a Country Life article on 7th July 1950.  

Also included in the sale on 16th October was a large bookcase designed by Sidney Barnsley for Chantmarle, which sold for £21,250, and a two drawer stand, also by Barnsley, which sold for £3,500 and is believed to have been made for the stationery cabinet to sit on.

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