Furniture makers in Staveley, Cumbria
PUBLISHED: 19:34 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:32 20 February 2013
Traditional woodworking skills are very much alive and well thanks to the family firm, Peter Hall and Son based in Lakeland Roger Borrell reports
You can almost smell the resin and wood shavings as you gaze at the sepia photograph on Jeremy Halls office wall. Frozen in time is a busy scene inside a Kendal cabinet-makers shop and centre stage is a young chap posing beside his bench, wielding a smart wooden plane.
Its fair to assume few things from this late Victorian print made it into the 21st Century. Yet, some have - for instance, that very same plane can be found in one of Jeremys workshops at his Lakeland company, Peter Hall and Son, of Staveley.
It was acquired when the remnants of the Kendal business were disposed of along with serried ranks of smaller molding planes, which adorn another of Jeremys walls. Each one is a little work of art in its own right.
Theres a symmetry here, and a sense of permanence. Beautifully-made tools from a bygone era have created wonderful furniture over many decades. And the 18-strong team at Hall and Son continues to use some of those tools to create what will undoubtedly become the prized antiques of the future.
Not that theres anything Luddite here. Computers are employed in the design process, for instance, but if you can see a joint in one of their pieces, you know it has been cut by hand.
When we use machines we dont allow them to influence our designs,
said Jeremy. My heart is in a contemporary Arts and Crafts approach. We aim for practical, beautiful furniture made with the right ethos and ethics.
Hes equally passionate about the sustainability of our wood supplies and the desirability of using local timber wherever possible.
For instance, oak drying in the store came from a 150-year-old tree in nearby Allithwaite. It came from the garden of a well-known Arts and Crafts furniture-maker, who would have watched it grow during his lifetime and now it will be used by a new generation of craftsmen. Tradition runs through the business like a rich, dark grain.
The Staveley business was founded by Jeremy Halls father, Peter, now in his 80s. The former wartime Mosquito pilot spent the post-war years working for giants of the British aero industry.
Telling me I cant do something is pretty much a red rag to a bull, said Jeremy. After school, my father asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I said I wanted to make furniture. He told me I wouldnt make much money. Jeremy replied: But Ill be happy.
His prophesy came true but it was something of a surprise when in the 70s his father quit the aircraft industry to move from Cheshire to Staveley to start his own furniture making business.
Before joining his father, Jeremy studied furniture making in Leeds and then moved on to another college in the south of England, where he learned the art of restoration. He also met his future wife Diana, a student weaving tapestries for Henry Moore.
A priceless part of his education was time spent with a furniture maker in Grassington, North Yorkshire. He was going to spend three weeks there and stayed ten months.
He asked me if Id made any drawers and I said Id done one or two. He said you didnt know how to make a drawer until youd done 50 and thats just what we did.
The workshop was Dickensian. He never swept up and the place was covered in cobwebs. It was quite dark in there and it was a while before I discovered he also kept a pig in the corner! But I stayed there because I knew I would learn a lot.
Passing down knowledge has been one of the cornerstones of the business. The company has had 21 apprentices and there are six who have stayed on providing customers with 75 years of experience.
The last candidates were put through a Master Chef-style test of their wood planing skills. It was designed to show how they would work under pressure. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife - I didnt really mean it to have been as intense as that, said Jeremy.
Under the watchful eye of workshop manager Tim Smith, 19-year-old Tom Addison is settling into the trade after surviving that test. Im loving the job, said Tom, from Kendal. I came here on a visit from college and never dreamed Id be lucky enough to work here. Mind you, the interview was pretty nerve-wracking.
This job satisfaction spans the generations. Paul Thornton, who has been there 13 years, said: I came straight from school and, as a career, its everything I ever hoped it would be.
It says something about the company that the team in Staveley includes John Wynn-Griffiths, regarded as one of the countrys top restoration and conservation experts. He and his team have helped this side of the business to expand - anything from working on the National Trusts Sizergh Castle restoration project to carefully removing orange paint from ancient yew panelling at a house in Langdale.
As well as bespoke furniture making and restoration, Peter Hall and Son also has upholstery, interior design, wood turning and retailing - there is a shop on the site.
Theres a big gulf between what we make and the stuff that comes in from Eastern Europe and the Far East and people who come here appreciate that difference, said Jeremy.
They pay more, but they are paying for tremendous skill and for furniture that will last ten times as long, if not more. Its not throwaway furniture - it will be handed down from generation to generation.