Sidney Barnsley came from Birmingham, studied at the Birmingham School of Art and went on to the Royal Academy's Architecture School (1885-1887). Simultaneously with his studies at the RA, he trained as an architect in Norman Shaw's London office.
He moved to the Cotswolds in company with Ernest Gimson and his brother Ernest Barnsley in 1892. All three men were all interested in the revival of rural life in general and of craftsmanship in particular. Sidney Barnsley concentrated on teaching himself the basics of carpentry and cabinetmaking, living and working firstly at Pinbury, then in the village of Sapperton, where he designed and built his own house. Here he made furniture and woodwork in an outbuilding in his garden, generally to design drawings. Like members of the Gimson workshop, he made everything by hand and from solid English timbers, employing decorative gouged carving and inlays of geometric design.
Ernest Gimson was born in Leicester, the son of an engineer. He was articled to the architect Isaac Barradale and, as an apprentice, also studied at Leicester School of Art in the years 1881-1884. After hearing William Morris lecture, he went to work for the architect J.D. Sedding in London, and there associated with Morris, Lethaby and other members of the Art Workers' Guild and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. He also learnt to make country chairs and decorative plasterwork in his spare time.
In 1893 he married and moved to Gloucestershire in company with Ernest and Sidney Barnsley; they designed and built three individual houses to live in at Sapperton and became known as the Cotswolds group of craftsmen. By 1902 Gimson was chiefly concerned with designing furniture and his workshop at Daneway House was led by the cabinetmaker Peter Waals. Fine furniture and plasterwork was produced there to Gimson's drawings, while his metalwork was made at local forges. The principles of the Cotswold style of furniture included the use of English hardwoods, exposed joints, chamfered surfaces, decorative stringing and other inlaid details. Ernest Gimson also continued to design buildings and his last major project was the library (1918-1919) at Bedales School, near Petersfield, Hampshire.