A traditional approach
PUBLISHED: 10:01 03 November 2015 | UPDATED: 12:33 03 November 2015
A rarity in our stack-em-high-and-sell-em-cheap economy, there are people still dedicated to creating beautifully-crafted things. Sandra Deeble meets three Herts crafstman whose work can last a lifetime
Carl Russell is a gunmaker and gunsmith who set up his own workshop and retail premises, Carl Russell & Co, in the Stable Yard independent shopping destination at Hatfield House 18 months ago. He services, makes and sells shotguns for game and clay pigeon shooting
‘The gun trade is small and niche. It’s quite tough to get into. There isn’t a college for gunsmithing and gunmaking; you have to do an apprenticeship and in the UK there are probably only ten apprenticeships a year.
‘If you’re building a new gun, each individual part is very specialist. You’d get an action maker, a stocker, a barrel maker, an engraver and a finisher, which is predominantly what I do. I am the last person to work on the gun.
‘Making a gun is a long and complicated process and that’s why it can be expensive. You can pay £50,000 upwards for a new gun for shooting game. Customers would say what calibre they want, what engraving they’d like, and they come in and choose their wood. We use walnut from Turkey. It’s the best: you get the strength. It’s only the rootball that’s used. You get the weight of the tree, that’s how you get the nice figuring and the colour. I polish the wood with oil; it’s a secret recipe! I do a coat every day for a couple of months. It can take two years to make a gun.
‘Gunsmithing is repairing and renovations. We strip the gun down and polish all the parts; look for faults, just as you would do on a clock or car.
‘With gunmaking, the techniques haven’t changed for hundreds of years. In the workshop, the machines we use are 40 or 50 years old. They are needed to turn the old threads.
‘You’d be amazed by how many game shoots there are in Hertfordshire. People shoot pheasant and partridge. Further north it would be grouse. There is shooting on the Hatfield Estate, and Lord and Lady Salisbury have been very supportive of what we’re doing. Coming up to the Glorious Twelfth is the busiest time of year: when guns break down, people want them quickly.
‘We also have a clothing and accessories shop. We sell a lot of green clothes! People like to wear their wellies and their breeks. I’m quite a traditionalist.
‘I want to pass on what I know and I’m looking to take on an apprentice. A lot of young people think ‘Guns, that’s exciting’. But when you get down to it you can spend hours polishing one part. It’s not as glamorous as you might think.’ n carlrussellandco.com.
Dan Shelley is a sixth-generation thatcher. He lives in St Albans and works in Hertfordshire, Essex, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire.
‘Thatching is hard to get into. The trouble is there are no college courses any more. I went to Knuston Hall in Northamptonshire but you had to be employed by a Master Thatcher to go there. The course doesn’t exist now, it’s all learned on site.
‘Thatching tends to stay in the family. As far as we know, we’re the longest-serving thatching family in the country: we can trace it back to 1807. I’m still using my grandad’s shearing hook. My dad trained me and I am so grateful to him. If i was to train someone up, by the time they get good enough, they’re going to go off on their own. I used to work with my dad in Essex, but now I’m on my own. My cousin is a thatcher and he has three sons and I have one. My dad is still working as a thatcher. We help each other out.
‘Most thatchers are booked up for 18 months to two years. A three-bedroom cottage will take me six weeks and I work all year round. I’m very lucky in that I enjoy my work. Job satisfaction is high.
‘I work with water reed, straw, and combed wheat reed. My work is 70 per cent straw, 30 per cent reed. We get our water reed from Norfolk but there’s not enough to meet the demand, so people are getting it from Eastern Europe or France. The straw comes from Wiltshire or Essex; it’s all specially grown for the trade. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes - you have to prepare the straw first.
‘With a roof, your first priority is to get it watertight. The next is to make it look good. You can do something that looks spot-on but then you get on the floor and it’s wonky. You have to get back up and change it.‘There needs to be more young people coming into it, but then there’s the trouble about who would employ them. I don’t want to pressurise my son into doing it in the future but I want to give him the option.’
A desire to ‘do things differently’ led designer Fabian Lintott to set up Rufus Country, a luxury bag and accessories brand based in Great Amwell with a focus on high quality leather and manufacturing.
‘I wanted to make bags that are top-quality Italian leather and accessible to the consumer,’ explains Fabian Lintott from his home and design studio in the village of Great Amwell near Ware. Selling direct to his customers means that he knows ‘exactly who buys my products’; a decision based on a commitment to keeping down overheads and using materials that he trusts.
‘The tannery is in Santa Croce in Tuscany,’ says Lintott. ‘The pigments are applied to the skins by hand, using natural vegetable dyes.’
The Rufus Country range currently comes in three colours: tan, chocolate brown and petrol blue. Waiting in the wings is fuschia - a rich berry colour. The leather is soft as butter and the duck egg lining of the bags is exquisitely tactile. Lintott’s attention to detail extends to the oackaging, which is reminiscent of techno giant Apple.
Lintott says that 30 per cent of his sales are currently in Hertfordshire. Rufus Country bags are popular with a doctor in Harpenden and the actor Philip Glenister carries his scripts in the ‘Maple’ briefcase.
Lintott enjoys nurturing relationships with his customers and is excited about developing a brand ‘from designer to user.’
‘I want to focus on the product, so I’m not going through a retailer. My bags are limited in their numbers. The margin isn’t as important to me as the product. We offer a five-year guarantee but the bags should last forever.’
Passionate about how the patina of leather changes with use, he says, ‘Depending on how you treat your bag, it will become personal to you.’
After school at Haileybury in Hertford, Lintott studied product design at Central St Martins and went on to work for brands such as handbag and accessories designer Radley. Delighted to have set up his own business, he is energised by the potential for Rufus Country and is enjoying meeting his customers in person.
In early September he shared a stand at the Goodwood Revival historic car eventwith gentlemen groomers Captain Fawcett, and if you would like to meet him and his products, he will be exhibiting next month at the Country Living Christmas Far at the Business Design Centre, Islington.