Book reviews - John Green - 18th Century York Planemaker - The Rise and Fall of a Business Empire

Friday 30 October 2015

There seems to be a flurry of extremely well-researched books on the subject of old woodworking tools of late. This latest one from Peter Young sits comfortably near the top of the list of good reads for books in that genre. That's not to say that some of the others aren't informative, it's just that Peter Young has an eye for a story.

I had the good fortune to meet Peter briefly a few months ago at a David Stanley tool auction in Leicester. He explained that the book represents about 20 years of collecting and studying the planes of a single maker. For most of us, I guess that amounts to quite an obsession, that is until you realise that the story of this family business could have been written about any aspiring entrepreneur of the 18th century. This is a story packed to the rafters with social history and personal highs and lows, opening a window onto our not always glorious past. Aside from the technical aspects of the tools, Peter has documented his paper trail, apparently leaving no stone unturned. In itself this is a fascinating part of the book and would serve as a great source of reference to anyone thinking of tracing their personal ancestry.

When we get all nostalgic about old tools it's usually about the people who used them. In this instance, however, we are treated to a whole new experience - that of the toolmaker and his endeavours. Before reading this book, there was nothing to suggest that a plane with the name 'John Green' stamped on the heel was anything special: Matthieson, Hield and Holtzapfel are equally good marks to look out for. But afterwards, I'd go so far as to say that it's pretty remarkable that there are any planes with that name at all.

There are so many fascinating details captured within the text of this book that, once read, you could probably go out and produce a fairly accurate replica. If that's not a hook, then you will at least be able to spot a 'wrong-un' in the future. In short, this fantastic book by Peter Young is a valuable contribution to the history of a craft and the people who made it. And for £18, that's less than £1 a year for his time. You can buy this book direct from the author at


Price: £18