Gabriel Olive, Farm and Cottage Furniture in the West Country

Published by The Regional Furniture Society

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The late Gabriel Olive joined the Regional Furniture Society (then the Regional Furniture Study Group) at its inception in 1984 and became one of its most lively members; his tall, gaunt figure crowned with its shock of white hair, being a familiar ornament at many a gathering. His enthusiasm was passionate, and his knowledge of vernacular furniture of the West Country, built up over many years of dealing in Somerset, was probably unequalled.

After war service, he completed a BA in classics and history at Cambridge, followed by a Diploma in Education. For three years he taught in secondary schools before discovering his real vocation. For some months he worked for an antique dealer in the Cotswolds, and in 1952 he opened a shop in Wincanton. Early on he established a reputation for early and regional furniture, pottery and unusual items, and found himself inspired, first by Ralph Edwards and later by Christopher Gilbert, to make a special study of regional furniture in the West Country. He retired from active dealing in 1978.

Some of us will remember visiting his shop in Wincanton and being drawn into his fascination with the material history of the region, sometimes beautiful, often quirky, but always instructive. Besides furniture, he had pottery, needlework, metalwork and pictures, and his knack – perhaps, quite unintentionally, his supreme marketing tool – was to tell each object’s story and bring it alive, as few dealers have the interest to do. A visit to Gabriel’s shop was an excursion: there was no question of ‘just popping in to have a quick look’ as is the usual way with the trade.

Gabriel’s writings, born of meticulous observation and terrier-like research but put together with disarming fluency, have appeared in many publications over the years, and most particularly Regional Furniture, which proved the perfect platform for his scholarly surveys. As a tribute to his tremendous contribution to regional furniture studies this publication is a collection of his articles, originally produced to coincide with the exhibition, West Country Furniture, that he curated in Winchester for the Society in September 2002.

Noel Riley


  • Introduction.
  • This Length from London.
  • Settles.
  • Dressers.
  • Chests, Coffers and Boxes.
  • Cupboards.
  • Tables and Forms.
  • Chairs in the South West.
  • Aldbourne Chairs.
  • The Glastonbury Chair.
  • A West Country Miscellany.
  • Some Conclusions.