Thursday, 29 September 2011


Lighting Matters, suppliers of BTC and Davey Lighting, has created some beautiful videos of the process behind the creation of a couple of classic designs. Above is the video for the making of a BTC Hector light. For similarly well constructed videos see here.

(via It's Nice That)

Monday, 26 September 2011


Stoke's potteries have a place in our recovery (Tristam Hunt)

An extract from 'The Busy Hives Around Us' (Esoteric London)

Thornbridge Brewery launches beer to help save Sheffield's Portland Works (SIBA)

Robin Wood's response to the recent UK culture posters: Craft is Great Britain (Robin Wood)

Design Council's 'Designing Demand' offers aid to small to medium manufacturers (Design Council)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


Abbeyhorn was founded in Bewdley, near Kidderminster in the West Midlands, where it was situated until 1930. The company gets its name from the fact that there was an abbey nearby. Since then it has changed owners many times. It moved to Kendal where it used to be right in the centre of the town. It moved to the current premises in Holme in 1991, after being bought by the present owner, Paul Cleasby. “It’s got a long, nomadic history!” Graham tells me.

“Apparently, when it was at Bewdley it used to get everything (horns) locally,” Graham continues, “Those were the days when cattle had horns in Britain. I think when it moved to Kendal it was a horn comb works and it amalgamated with that.”

I ask Graham a few questions about how he came to work for Abbeyhorn. “I came up to Kendal. I’d just been made redundant. I came up here on holiday. There was a little poky workshop, half the size of this place. I popped in and asked if he had any jobs. He said, “you start on Monday.” I’ve worked for all sorts, the Royal Mail in central London. An aluminium foundry... even the RSPCA for 6 months!” Its oddly satisfying that someone who seems so at ease with his work has previously done shorter, sporadic stints elsewhere.

As we move around the factory Graham keeps us entertained with anecdotes and facts about the company and its work. “The big secret of working with horn... when you heat it, it becomes pliable. When you put it in a mould or last it retains its shape. There’s quite a lot of skill in getting it just right - if you don’t heat it enough it will go back to how it was and if you heat it too much you’ll just ruin it,” he says as he demonstrates an expert ability in heating the horn just right without appearing to pay attention.

The room we are stood in houses several solid looking machines and Graham tells us about each, “The fly-press (above), we bought second hand about 20 years ago... it’s from the 30s. We can still get the oil for it. Luckily its not specifically for this. If you look at the shaft its actually cracked right the way through.”

“We work the spoons in the factory, get them sanded. Then before its polished it comes back in here, its dipped in the fat fryer, put in a mould and that puts a bowl in it,” he says, pointing to the mould. The moulds (below) are made by a local company, Excel cutters. According to Graham Excel are traditionally leather cutters.

“The basic process hasn’t changed,” Graham says as he cools down the now moulded spoons. “We’ve had various goes at modernising it but they never really worked. We’ve got a vibration machine but it kept breaking down because we overworked it.”

Despite this, there have been some touches of modernisation. “We have an engraving machine and we do a lot more work on the computer now,” Graham says. (I have to confess that I didn’t see a computer during my visit.)

Abbeyhorn’s fortunes seem to have been remarkably steady - as demand for one item declines, another rises to take its place. “We were producing 3-4,000 egg spoons at once a few years ago. We had a contract with Lakeland (a British kitchenware retailer), we were in their Christmas catalogue. Slowly spoons have dipped in popularity. Mugs, horns and shoehorns have grown in popularity though,” Graham says before going on to tell me about the great sales of the company’s horn goods to reenactors, “We do a couple of reenactment fairs. We dress up, sell stuff off the stall. It’s quite good. I did one in Germany recently.”

Before we leave I ask Graham about his working day. “I start at 8, finish at 4.30pm, 3.15pm on a Friday. I cycle from Kendal most days, 11 miles each way on my Claud Butler.” Its pleasing that, for a company that produces its products from the waste of another industry, its staff also take an environmentally friendly approach to travelling to and from the factory.


For more photos of the visit see the M&I Facebook page

Thank you to Pauline at Abbeyhorn for allowing us to visit

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Saturday, 17 September 2011


The London Design Festival officially begins today. Here's a few of the highlights relevant to British design and manufacturing (please feel free to add any I may have missed in the comments):

The Living Room (at Luna & Curious on Calvert Avenue in Shoreditch) plays host to a selection of British design; from Another Country to Young & Norgate

Many British brands exhibiting at designjunction (at Victoria House on Southampton Row, WC1): from Hitch Mylius to Very Good & Proper

At Tramshed2011 (on Rivington Street in Shoreditch) Barnaby Tuke will be exhibiting some Welsh made lambswool blankets and Miranda Watkins' bar ware (made by A.R. Wentworth of Sheffield) will also be on display

Lee Broom's debut upholstery collection is on show at his studio (also on Rivington Street in Shoreditch). "True to Broom’s signature style and ethos the polished collection has been created using traditional British craftsmanship" the press release states.

Vitsoe is celebrating its UK manufacturing with Made by Britain, a show at its shop in Marylebone

British-ish at the V&A is spotlighting the work of up and coming British designers

Wood & Woad at Few and Far (on Brompton Road in South Kensington) is showcasing a collection selected from small British companies. "We have searched for British companies that make beautiful hand made products that last – out of quality materials and only in Britain," they say.

Aston Martin is showing at Multiplex at The Dock (on Ladbroke Grove, W10)

London Design Festival, 17-25 September 2011 /

Monday, 12 September 2011


Off to visit Vitsœ in north London today. This video makes for a nice introduction to the company's process and the people behind it.

Saturday, 10 September 2011


When we visit Abbeyhorn, they have just taken delivery of horns from Germany and Nigeria. “Some of them are 25 inches and upwards - quite huge, right down to shorter ones which are used for whistles and knife handles, amongst other things,” Graham (pictured above), our guide and expert craftsman tells us.

“There’s no endangered species - its all from domestic use - waste from beef and so forth,” Graham hastened to add, before picking up a stumpy bit of horn in the stock room at Abbeyhorn’s factory in Holme, Cumbria. “Deer antler - this is all shed; they shed it and the gamekeeper in Scotland picks it up. This’ll make a knife handle.”

Graham has worked at Abbeyhorn since 1974, aside from a year away in another job a few years ago, from which he swiftly returned, “I didn’t like what I was doing whilst I was away and this is an easier life!” he jokes.

The factory, set in a rural idyll south of Kendal in Cumbria, is a fascinating place. Each room in the stone building is covered in the dust and dirt from the production of Abbeyhorn’s products, “Its a dirty job, you get mucky and dusty. But its enjoyable, you’re making stuff,” says Graham.

As we go round the factory Graham makes us two spoons to illustrate the different methods employed in turning horn into useful products. Different horns have different uses, depending on their form and colouration. Our horn is halved, heated, flattened, cut, buffed, fried, moulded, cooled and polished on its way to becoming spoons. It’s probably the most basic yet mesmerising production I’ve seen since starting to visit factories.

(Spoons, pre-frying and moulding)

Abbeyhorn’s products are sold throughout the world, with many of them ending up with the stamp of luxury brands engraved onto them. Purdey, Asprey, Harrods and Hermès all sell products produced by Abbeyhorn. As Graham puts it, “It’s surprising, for a little company, some household names turn up!”

The company also sells a great deal to reenactors and sells its wares at fairs around the world.
“We dress up, sell stuff off the stall. It’s quite good. I did one in Germany recently,” Graham tells me. “When I first started, most of the stuff was export - sent out to the States. There was no reenactment stuff back then. Reenactment has taken over a lot from export. We sell more to Japan than the US. Japan and Germany are our main export markets, shoehorns and stuff.”

Part two of Factory Visit No.6: Abbeyhorn to follow soon.

For all the photos of the visit please see the M&I Facebook page.

Monday, 5 September 2011


I'll be writing up the notes from the recent Abbeyhorn visit this week. In the meantime please peruse the photos from our time at the factory on the M&I Facebook page.

Sunday, 4 September 2011


A round-up of recent UK making stories:

Video of the recent debate on UK manufacturing at the Southbank (Make it British)

The real ale renaissance (The Guardian)

Roberts Radio turns 80 (The Telegraph)

Using the Olympics to promote UK manufacturing? (The Telegraph)

UK manufacturers 'must prove they have more than just heritage' (The Telegraph)