Mention Turnbull and Asser or Fortnum & Mason and the names immediately conjure up images of quality, tradition and a distinct Englishness.

The same can be said for furniture maker Titchmarsh & Goodwin. With a history reaching back to around 1770, this Suffolk-based family company has stuck hard and fast with the practice it established nearly two and a half centuries ago.

The story started with Samuel Goodwin. A carpenter of Woodbridge, Suffolk, he sent his son George to join the workshops of a London cabinetmaker.

When George returned, complete with his London apprenticeship, he was fired with enthusiasm and new ideas. He turned his new-found skills to designing and creating fine furniture for the local landed gentry in East Suffolk.

As his reputation grew, so did the number of craftsmen associated with him, working as cabinet and clock-case makers in and around Ipswich.

In 1920, George’s descendant Gordon Goodwin joined forces with Lawrance Titchmarsh to found the company that still thrives at Trinity Works, Back Hamlet, Ipswich.

The company claims to be unique in Britain in that it employs some of the country’s most talented wood turners, carvers, cabinetmakers and French polishers, as well as a gilder, a glazier and a lacquer artist.

The reputation of Titchmarsh & Goodwin as one of the UK’s finest cabinetmakers stems from one very important aspect. It controls every stage of production from choosing trees before they are felled through to delivery of the finished product.

Standing timber is selected from mature British woodlands, mainly in East Anglia, working with landowners to high – and sustainable – forestry standards. The company uses about 35,000 hoppus ft³ of English hardwoods a year, predominantly nglish oak but also sweet chestnut, ash and some walnut.

Titchmarsh & Goodwin has its own sawmill on a five acre site at Witnesham. Director Peter Goodwin said: ‘We have a Forestor-150 horizontal band mill which was specially adapted for our needs. It replaced two Guilliet frame saws and doubled throughput in the yard.

‘They normally run outside on tracks, but we didn’t like that idea so we got the supplier to bolt the saw down inside, in the dry. We adapted a fantastic old log carriage we had from an old saw to drive the logs through.’

The timber is air dried in the open – and normally one summer’s drying is allowed for every inch of a plank’s thickness, plus one year – so a 2in plank will require three years’ standing.

To ensure the timber can resist the stresses imposed by modern air conditioning, it is placed in a low temperature vacuum kiln for anything up to six days.

The factory at Back Hamlet is very small – around 15,000ft². Here, the timber is roughly cut and prepared by machine – but from then on each piece is crafted by hand. Mr Goodwin said: ‘It is impossible to say what our output is as the business is so craft-oriented. One man makes a piece of furniture from start to finish – and a simple table without a lot of handcarving on it would take 30 hours to create.

‘We are on a different plane here with the whole thinking, and you have to see the place to believe it – it is unique.’

The library at Titchmarsh & Goodwin’s design studio holds more than 30,000 designs and the company’s three designers are constantly working on new ideas based on traditional English models.

Mr Goodwin said: ‘This can involve a lot of research on gilding details or special mouldings – but with 80 years’ knowledge we can do it with relative ease.

‘An increasing part of our business is “specials” – special sizes or special details. We do a lot of adaptations for televisions and computers which people want totally disguised within a piece of furniture.

‘Occasionally now we do batches of 10 on the more popular pieces of furniture, whereas 10-15 years ago we would be cutting 50 of one particular dresser.

‘Doing specials is the only way to fight cheaper labour and imports. We do something that other people cannot – and are probably not prepared to do.

‘We very seldom say no to any request as long as it has some bearing on the correct design and period, but sometimes we get sniffy and say that would not be the right way to do something.’

As a wholesale company, Titchmarsh & Goodwin’s furniture goes to top shops, such as Harrods. It relays clients’ requests for specials to the company, which has supplied homes, including palaces and country mansions, throughout the world.

Four to five apprentices are taken on by the company each year and most are sourced from its training and apprenticeship scheme, which is linked to Suffolk College’s furniture courses.

Mr Goodwin said: ‘We have a steady workforce so we cannot take on that many apprentices. A woodcarver takes up to five years to train, whereas for simple cabinet making or polishing, it would be more like two years.’

It is the finishing that sets Titchmarsh & Goodwin apart from other companies. Mr Goodwin explained: ‘It involves more than 33 processes, all of which are done by hand. That is something no-one else wants to get involved in and it is immensely complicated. It starts with the distressing process – softening and ageing the furniture which starts off all sharp and new. It has to be blended and made to look as though it has been in a country house for 300 years.

‘Then we do shading and colouring, and go on from there with scratching, bruising and general wear and tear, which somehow makes the piece look authentic.’

Most of the tools used in the workshop are antique. Mr Goodwin said: ‘There is something about the steel that is superior to anything made today.’

And he has no worries about ever running out. ‘Some years ago we had a break-in and all our tools were stolen. A story appeared in the local paper and we were inundated with offers, and I believe there is still a huge, untapped source out there. People have boxes of old tools in attics and sheds which they are happy to let us have.’

After the great storm of 1987, Titchmarsh & Goodwin started its own tree nursery. Mr Goodwin said: ‘We have 15 acres of prime oak woodland. This is a good year – unlike the last three – where we have some acorns on the ground. We select the best acorns from the best trees and take them to our polytunnel where we breed them.

‘When we are buying trees we can offer landowners our own Suffolk oak saplings to plant. This is all part of our attention to detail and our environmental thinking.’

Mr Goodwin said an oak tree is normally harvested when it is between 120-140 years old, but added: ‘The long wait has nothing to do with it – it is all about commitment and perpetuating everything.’

  • Titchmarsh & Goodwin would like to hear from any woodland owners, anywhere in Britain, who have oak, chestnut or walnut trees to sell.