Our Students

We attract students from all over the world, from a variety of backgrounds. One thing that connects them all, their passion for making beautiful furniture.

The most rewarding aspects of our role is to witness their progress, success and enjoyment.

To illustrate this, below is a selection of current and past students. Including past experiences, personal reflections, achievements and final destinations!

Stuart Heath

 I came to Williams and Cleal after twenty-odd years working in the design and advertising world. I'd had enough of staring at a screen all day and wanted to do something completely different - and practical. My interest in cabinet-making probably stems from my dad - he's always made furniture as a hobby - but I didn't arrive with any hands-on experience. I chose this course because it seemed to have the balance of making and designing that I'm after. By the end of the 40 weeks, I want to have the skills to tackle anything from a complicated one-off piece of furniture to a kitchen unit. It can feel a long way off when you're struggling with your first set of dovetails, but seeing what other students are producing after just a few months shows that it's possible.

Having successfully completed his course with us, Stuart is now renting bench space at our fully equiped 'incubation' workshop 1 mile away from the school which has been set up to support students who wish to take the next step into self employment.



George Harding

Ater graduating with a degree in Graphic Design from Chelsea College of Art and Design, I chose to focus on my passion for furniture design and enrolled on the year-long course at Williams & Cleal Furniture School in Somerset. I love using traditional techniques and modern design to create furniture that’s made to the most exacting standards. I want everything I design to be a unique piece of functional art – something that’s a joy to look at and use and which gets people talking.

George has now successfully completed his course, and is working as a furniture designer for the very successful furniture company - Benchmark. You can also follow George on his Facebook page.

Neil Sutor

Neil joined us in September.

Follow his progress in the workshop.

Tom Jarrold

Through studying 3D Design at Kingston University, and having had a practical upbringing, my opportunity to learn the art of fine furniture making at was one which I jumped at. At my young age I feel as if I have the motivation and patience required to make a very solid mark in the furniture industry, and I look forward to seeing where it takes me. I love taking timber from its most basic, raw and rough state, and using traditional skills and tools to make things which invite people to explore them further. For me, it’s not simply about producing a piece of furniture; I want to create functional art which will be cherished for years to come.

Thomas went on to win the prestigious 'Alan Peters Award' at the Celebration of Craftsman and having successfully completed his course with us, after four job offers he is now working at Cimitree.

You can also follow Tom on his Facebook page or


Irene Banham

Having spent many years in the UK water industry, as a civil engineer/project manager/business change consultant, I felt it was time for a career change.  I am attracted to furniture making as I hope to be able to combine my ability to engineer solutions with my interest in artistic concepts and produce furniture designs which fuse art and engineering.  I have no previous woodworking experience and started the Williams & Cleal course as a total beginner and a newcomer to the world of furniture making.  I want to learn everything I possibly can about designing and making fine furniture, in order to pursue this as a career once I have completed the course. I have learnt a huge amount already and I am particularly looking forward to completing projects of my own design and seeing the concepts in my head, transformed into reality by my own hands.

Having successfully completed her course with us Irene has now set up on her own!


Craig Selman

I have been making furniture for family and friends for several years in my garage, but learning from books and you tube clips can only get you so far. Influenced by rich 18th century French Furniture and modern businesses such as Silver Lining, I wanted to learn to make the very finest furniture to the highest possible standards using the best available materials and techniques. I have learnt so much in my time here. I never realised that hand tools could do that! I have discovered the possibilities of veneering and laminating, and I am so pleased with the pieces I have produced and the new standard that I work to. My dusty garage seems like a world away now. I have just been offered a dream job where I can continue to learn and have the chance to make some really amazing furniture.Thank you to all at Williams and Cleal.

Having successfully completed his course with us and after a number of job offers Craig is working at


Peter Kindt

After graduating from university with a marketing degree and having spent six years in the industry Peter decided it was time for a change in career, and started on his journey to be a furniture designer and maker by enrolling on a course with us. 

While on his 40 week course, Peter made a wide variety of pieces, including a dovetail box, a cherry occassional table and an English Walnut & white concrete coffee table.

His more recent pieces, 'Raw' a Sycamore chest of drawers, and 'Arc' a plywood media unit were both exhibited at New Designers 2012.

Peter's furniture celebrates the raw, natural beauty of regionally grown timbers, while working in harmony with the clean lined designs of today’s modern home.  He enjoys combining contrasting natural and manmade materials in his own unique way.

Peter is now working for a furniture company in Devon.


Chris Sleigh

After several years as a research scientist, Chris decided to change direction and follow his passion for furniture design and making.  Whilst on his 40 week course with us, Chris made a wide variety of pieces, including a dovetailed box, a cherry occassional table and a wenge & cherry cabinet.

Chris's recent work employs visually simple pieces inspired by accessible design.  Both his dividable coffee table and 'Tesla' shelving allow the client to arrange pieces according to their requirements.  

His furniture has a contemporary style that emphasises the tactile nature of wood.  As someone with an analytical nature who pays careful attention to detail, he ensures each piece is to the highest quality and craftsmanship.

Chris has now set up on his own as a designer-maker in Nottinghamshire area.  His ambition is to create individual items of furniture that will bring enjoyment to their owners.



Mark Ratcliffe

Mark studied Economics and had a successful career in marketing before moving into furniture design and making.  Mark was with us for 40 weeks, in this time he successfully completed a number of set pieces to very high standard, before moving onto his own designs. 

During his time with us Mark was awarded a Bespoke Guild Mark #441, for his ‘Oakridge Sofa Table’.   This stunning burr and scorched oak table was designed and made by Mark as his major piece on his 40 week course.  This coveted award from the ‘The Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers’ is only given for exceptional design & craftsmanship. 

Mark has a strong passion for the arts, design and architecture.  He draws on the wealth of design heritage, bringing a fresh approach and boundless enthusiasm to his all his projects.  Mark has a very meticulous nature and prides himself on producing the highest level of craftsmanship. 




Christopher Burley

Chris formerly worked as a retail, and IT manager, before joining us for our full time course, to follow his passion to become a designer-maker. Chris made a variety of pieces whilst on the course, including a maple occasional table, a dovetailed box, a walnut coffee table, and a striking rippled sycamore drinks cabinet. He also started a Bridget Riley inspired walnut sideboard which he planned to finish as his first project once he set up on his own.

 “The school is blessed with many designer-makers as tutors, each with their own particular area of expertise to tap into: Jim for construction advice and machine and hand skills; Jane for enthusiastic and helpful design discussions; Andrew for invaluable CAD tips; and Justin for boundless knowledge about timber.

At first it was such a jump into the unknown that I felt a bit lost but the patience and encouragement from everyone on the smallest of issues motivated me to push myself. It’s quite amazing to see how much my skills developed in such a small amount of time.

There was an interesting mix of students from all walks of life and it was great fun sitting outside at lunchtimes getting to know people. I miss the buzz of the workshop and the camaraderie created by working so closely together.”

“I now have the confidence to launch my new furniture business with the gusto it requires and I am very optimistic for the future."

We are pleased to say Chris has now set up on his own as a designer-maker. His company Heliconia, is based near Tower Bridge in London. Chris’s attention to detail, creativity, and self motivation, combined with his IT and retail background puts him in a perfect position to have a successful business. We wish him well.


Alexander Wildervanck

Alexander joined us from Pretoria in South Africa for a six week course to learn veneering and parquetry techniques. During this period Alexander says he gained a wealth of knowledge, learning an array of practical skills and techniques, to take back to his own furniture business in South Africa.  He felt one real bonus of doing a course at Williams & Cleal’s furniture school was being able to work in a commercially run workshop where “real life” commissions are being worked on.

"Under the highly professional guidance of James Ralph a lot of my techniques were corrected or improved upon. James’ wide experience and excellent skill level was clearly evident from his capability to patiently answer any constructional questions his students confront him with.

With Jane Cleal we had interesting discussions  and lectures about various topics such as designing, guidelines for exhibiting your furniture, construction of complex designs, marketing your business, to name but a few.  The real bonus of doing a course at Williams & Cleal’s furniture school is being able to work in a commercially run workshop where “real life” commissions are being worked on.

Williams and Cleal feel like my foster parents now and are a very valuable future contact in taking my business to the next level of expertise".


Ben Ray

Ben was a teacher in Bath, where he was head of Design and Technology, having studied Product Design and Manufacture at Loughborough University.  Ben is now in the process of realising his dream of setting up a woodwork project that would provide vocational training for Tanzanians, and he is hoping his course will develop his woodworking skills and knowledge of the furniture industry.  Ben originally attended our one week introduction and enjoyed it so much he subsequently returned to do a 3 month bespoke course. 

"I would recommend a course with Williams and Cleal to anyone who knows they enjoy learning by making. The support I received was excellent at every stage of the course and the fun conversations and therapeutic focus of the projects has been well worth it".


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