FEW people have not heard of Yorkshire’s ‘Mouseman’.

A century ago village carpenter Robert Thompson came up with the idea to carve a mouse on every item he made.

The talented craftsman would add the small rodent as his trademark onto tables, beds and bookcases for homes, pulpits and pews for churches, benches and chairs for schools, and to the many other items he was commissioned to make.

Today, four generations down the line, Robert’s mouse is famous across the world as a symbol of fine furniture made from English oak, in a village on the edge of the North York Moors National Park.

‘Mouseman’ furniture can sell for a premium. This summer a rare pair of bookends made by him fetched £10,000 at auction.

Visitors flock to The Mouseman Visitor Centre in Kilburn beneath the area’s famous white horse. We spent a wonderful afternoon there, learning about the man behind the mouse, and how this still flourishing business began.

Housed in a former blacksmith’s and joiner’s shops and adjoining cottage, the centre contains three room sets filled with Robert Thompson’s products, from a large refectory table to reclining chairs, lamp stands, lecterns and - my favourite item - a pair of Mouseman crutches with the little creature running up the side. I liked the small animal carvings including greyhounds, an otter, a fox and a cat - all with mouse included.

The characterful cottage is furnished entirely with Robert’s personal furniture, many pieces made with his own hands.

There’s a workshop with a vast array of tools lined up like sentries along the walls. One in particular, the ancient adze, a tool similar to an axe but with the cutting edge perpendicular to the handle, was adopted by Robert to create a scallop effect in wood.

We were given a mine of information by Bradford-born staff member Tricia Goodall, who told us how today’s craftsmen - there are more than 20 - all have their own ‘mouse’ signature.

A short film about Robert’s life and legacy is played to visitors. Sitting on Mouseman benches to watch it, we were amazed to discover the seats were from Haileybury, my husband’s old school. “We used to try to knock the mice off,” he confessed.

Robert was a bright child. Keen for him to do well, his carpenter father signed him up for an apprenticeship at an engineering works in Cleckheaton. But Thompson did not take to living in an industrial area, claiming his five-year term to be akin to ‘penal servitude’.

Returning to his birthplace he took over as village carpenter when his father died.

A fortuitous meeting with Father Paul Neville from nearby Ampleforth College led to a commission for a large oak crucifix, and further ecclesiastical work followed, including at Westminster Abbey in London. The two men became lifelong friends.

It was in 1919 that, it is believed, the mouse came to light. It was by accident, following a conversation about ‘being as poor as a church mouse’, which took place between Robert and one of his colleagues as they worked. The chance remark led to him carving a mouse and this remained part of his work from then on.

Across the road from the Visitor Centre is the 16th century timbered cottage where Robert grew up and which later became his design studio. It now houses the main furniture showroom and design department.

As we entered the centre we spotted a lovely café with an outside, dining area, and were not disappointed as we tucked into homemade scones and cream served by friendly staff.

While we sipped our tea we browsed through a list of the firm’s commissions, taken from archives. It was interesting to see how these little oak mice pop up everywhere, from churches to schools and public buildings, in cities, towns and villages across Britain.

City Hall, Bingley Grammar School, Ilkley Grammar School, Bradford Girls’ Grammar School, Bradford Golf Club and the city’s civic society were among the recipients in the Bradford district.

We wandered into the garden beside the cafe, offering wonderful views of the white horse.

There’s also a gift shop, which has at the counter the family-run firm’s former wages desk, used in Robert’s day.

A stone’s throw from Robert’s former home, the village church St Mary’s, contains Mouseman pews along with other fittings and furniture made by him. Children will love searching for mice.

There is ample parking in the village square, with a box for voluntary donations, or to one side of the Mouseman’s cottage.

And when you’ve seen everything, you can always climb up the white horse.

*The Mouseman Visitor Centre, Kilburn, near Thirsk, YO61 4AH For more details and opening hours visit robertthompson.co.uk; T: 01347 869102