CHRIS Brammall has celebrated 20 years as a creative blacksmith, building up from a one-man band to an enterprise which now employs 15.
We explore the secret of his success with steel - and checks out how three other Lakeland enterprises are also keeping traditional crafts aliveusing slate, stone and wood.
Chris Brammall looks an unlikely 'blacksmith' - the 40-year old is dressed in designer jeans and a smart checked shirt.
At his huge workshop on an Ulverston industrial estate, welders are showering sparks near a propane-powered forge that bends steel at a heat of 1,200 Celsius.
“There are no horses or leather aprons,” explains Chris, who lives in Windermere. “There never has been.”
“The image people conjure up of a blacksmith is of you with your clogs on in an apron wielding a hammer so when people ask me what I do, I tend to say architectural and sculptural metal work now,” explains Chris, who was brought up in Far Sawrey and Ambleside.
“The blacksmithing is a core element of what we do, but only one element.”
Some kind of creative magic occurs when Chris gets an idea in his head and his hands on steel.
He has created ‘thousands’ of smaller interiors pieces that adorn the walls of stylish Lake District homes.
Many are to be found on display at The Old Courthouse Gallery in Ambleside, run by his parents Sylvia and Andrew.
But Chris is also the mastermind of huge ‘statement’ installations all over the country. He drives past one of them every day...the bandstand on The Glebe at Bowness.
He also created the futuristic Brockhole jetty, Woodburn Bridge at Skelwith Bridge, Staveley footbridge and the start of the Cumbria Way at The Gill in Ulverston.
Even the bronze entrance to the Churchill War Rooms in London, is his work.
“Seventy per cent of what we do is what I design,” says Chris.
“I’ll look at a site, the history, the background and start scribbling in my sketch-book and it starts to flow.”
His office is light, modern and stylish and has something of the trendy graphic design business about it.
He has 15 employees and it’s a world and 20 years away from where he set up from a draughty barn at Gawthwaite – wondering if it would ever work out.
Back then, he was knocking out small-scale candlesticks, designer mirrors and wall sconces when he wasn’t being asked to fix muck spreaders or broken chainsaws.
The big job that changed the course of his business was winning a £12,500 public sector commission to create a distinctive new town clock for Whitley Bay.
Chris said: “We’ve done thousands of pieces now and hundreds of big sites all over the country.”
On inspiration, Chris explains he likes walking in the Lakes. “ I love the Lake District and getting out. There’s a lot of stuff in the natural environment that gives me ideas... rock structures and the different strata, textures of stones and mosses, how different geologies have come together. I interpret that...if that doesn’t sound too arty-farty,” he laughs.
Meanwhile, Lancashire-born master craftsman Andrew Loudon, is keeping drystone walling alive, but not the sort you see on farms.
He still does some historic restorative jobs but the bulk of his business comes from well-heeled private clients wanting specific garden designs.
Living in Gleaston, he has won 16 awards for his work as Andrew Loudon Traditional and Decorative Stonework Ltd.
Andrew is a master member of the Dry-Stone Walling Association of Great Britain and has taught dry-stone walling in Canada and on an American Indian reservation.
“There’s been a resurgence in traditional crafts,” explained Andrew, 50. “In the 1970s, it was looked upon as old hat, whereas if you look at television now it’s programmes like the Great British Bake-Off and Make Do and Mend - it’s all about people making things. It’s come back round again.”
And wood sculptor Andy Levy, 28, from Kendal, uses traditional tools and skills in creating head-turning public art like the throne in Kendal’s Fletcher Park, a 6ft 3in wizard for a client in Milnthorpe, and a friendship seat off Milnthorpe Road, Kendal. He is now on a break in a Buddhist retreat.
At Honister Slate Mine, traditional slate riving skills are now being handed down to the fourth generation of family members.
The mine, run by Joe Weir, Celia Taylor-Weir and Jan Wilkinson, wife of the late Mark Weir, have just recruited Conor Weir, 18, who is now perfecting the age-old slate skills of ‘docking’, ‘riving’ and ‘dressing’ which involves dividing large blocks (or ‘clogs’) of slate, splitting down the grain, and carefully crafting smaller pieces with a hammer and chisel.
As Conor’s grandmother, Celia explains: “These are the skills we are losing – they simply don’t teach them at university. It’s all about keeping the ancient traditions alive.”