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