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August 31, 2010, 09:33 PM

Esavian - the Educational Supply Association - and James Leonard

By Thornton Kay

Chair to c1948 James Leonard design, with associated desk, by Esavian [photo Trainspotters

Hertfordshire, UK - Esavian was the trading brand name for the Educational Supply Association Ltd, a leading UK supplier of school books, school furniture and fixtures including laboratory euqipment, windows and folding partitions. The ESA seems to have commnced trading in 1883 at a purpose-built factory in Fishers Green Road in Stevenage, Hertfordshire. The company had a forward-looking approach to modern materials and technologies. Esavian stood for low-cost, good quality furniture, but they became best known for innovative folding classroom partitions. In 1971, Nigel Jewers joined Esavian having had previous experience of door manufacturer, and introduced the idea of steel sliding doors for aircraft hangars. In 1983, Jewers left Esavian and started out alone. His company thrived and he began to explore the hangar door market - soon winning many orders against competition from Esavian. In 1987, Jewers Doors Ltd acquired the Esavian business. Consequently, Esavian became the brand name for hangar doors designed and built by Jewers Doors Ltd.

Little information is available on James W. Leonard, altough he is thought to have been English. The only documented example of his work is a chair design and associated table with variations. His work appeared in the Italian design magazine, Esempi, in 1955. It is debated whether James Leonard or Jean Prouve invented the compass legs. In 2008, Guy Bagnall, referring to a compass leg table, wrote, 'This design is by James Leonard in 1946 or 7 and pre-dates Prouve's 'Compass' by three years. It was featured in Domus in early 1948 and was manufactured in high-pressure die-cast aluminium, using an American machine, a highly-innovative production method. He also designed brilliant chairs, over a million were made by 1965 - and yet he remains unknown - we Brits are very bad at celebrating our talents - I hope to plan an exhibition on him - a British Prouve!'

There is a film in the British Film Institute's archive called The Esavian Door which was made in 1952.

Trainspotters of Gloucestershire are selling Esavian aluminium desks with tropical hardwood tops, and aluminium chairs, the latter made to a c1948 aerospace-influenced design by James W. Leonard.

Prefabricated timber by Jean Prouvé in the 2015 CHS Journal

Hertfordshire Archives: Educational Supply Assn Ltd, Stevenage: Sales catalogues c1920-60
Trainspotters: James W. Leonard, Esavian chair and desk

Story Type:  News

ID: 54695

Date Modified: September 01, 2010, 11:15 AM

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