An extremely talented wood carver, said by some to be the finest of all time, he was discovered by chance in 1671 by the diarist John Evelyn from whom he was renting a cottage near his home in Sayes Court, Deptford, today part of south-east London. Evelyn wrote:
I saw the young man at his carving, by the light of a candle. I saw him to be engaged on a carved representation of Tintoretto's "Crucifixion", which he had in a frame of his own making.
Later that same evening he described what he had seen to Sir Christopher Wren. Wren and Evelyn then introduced him to King Charles II who gave him his first commission - still to be seen in the dining room of Windsor Castle
Of Gibbons Horace Walpole wrote later:
There is no instance of a man before Gibbons who gave wood the loose and airy lightness of flowers, and chained together the various productions of the elements with the free disorder natural to each species.
He was employed by Wren to work on St Paul's Cathedral and later was appointed as master carver to George I. Many fine examples of his work can still be seen in the churches around London, particularly the choir stalls and organ case of St Paul's Cathedral.
His associations with Deptford are commemorated locally - Grinling Gibbons Primary School is on the corner of Evelyn Street, near the site of Sayes Court.