On The Road With BoB by Alix Waterhouse
On a road trip to the North West of England with BoB I cover 1000 miles in 56 hours and experience a mini-education in textiles from raw material to final product. The trip starts at an astounding Victorian cotton warehouse, a potential site for the 2015 Best of Britannia Manchester show. We meet the British Footwear Association before heading into the countryside to meet the makers of Carradice and Cherchbi. Our final stop is John Smedley, the world’s longest running factory manufacturer, who have been based at Lea Mills near Matlock since 1784.
The North West has a long and proud history of textile production dating from the 1400’s. The region, where much of the modern textile market originated, was perfect for making cloth because the damp climate made fibres less likely to snap during spinning and there was an abundance of coal to fuel machinery. The area is still the UK’s largest manufacturer of textile and clothing.
The sun is shining on the cobbled streets of Nelson as I arrive to meet David Chadwick the owner of Carradice, the last British manufacturer of traditional bicycle luggage – you can’t get any more “Made in England” than this. The family owned company has been making bicycle bags since the 1920’s when Wilf Carradice, a keen cyclist made his first panniers from a humble back bedroom.
Manufacture has always taken place in Nelson, Lancashire and the tradition of sourcing materials in the UK continues. David shows me the most well-known Carradice design, the English saddle bag and explains that the cotton duck fabric comes from Hally Stevenson’s in Dundee, the buckles from Birmingham and the leather from Skipton in Yorkshire.
The cotton is waxed using a 200 year old system of pressure impregnation with paraffin to make it water proof. When rain hits the fabric, the outer cotton filaments swell, effectively closing up any gaps in the weave and around the stitching. Combined with the barrier of wax, this stops the rain getting through.
Each bag is made by hand, from start to finish and signed by the maker on the inside label which prompts some owners to write in asking to meet their maker….
Carradice now export to 30 different countries and recently won the UK’s highest accolade for business success, the Queens Award for Enterprise.
On a tour around the factory I see an 80-year-old rucksack, which is still in use and has recently been sent back for re-stitching.
Carradice is probably the most popular choice of luggage for world wide cycling expeditions. The brand also collaborates on a ‘friends of Fred’ fashion range with Fred Perry.
Friends of Fred – Carradice Manchester Musette
Friends of Fred – Carradice Kelbrook Satchel
Carradice are proud of their heritage and the passion they inspire in customers.
My next stop is on the other side of the Pennines, near Penrith to meet Adam Atkinson of Cherchbi, a maker of bespoke leather and tweed bags and accessories. He is visiting James Rebanks farm, a shepherd and one of his suppliers of Herdwick wool.
I find myself in the back of a truck, shuttling between newborn lambs, as James checks to make sure they are suckling, which in the first hour of their life is crucial to their survival. Adam has blood on his hands from delivering his first lamb, just before I arrive, and I am thrilled to witness a lamb being born myself.
I can see why Beatrix Potter was such a fan of these pretty sheep, which are born black with white ears, until after their first shearing, when they begin to turn a salt and pepper grey and there are two photographers on hand to record events too – one for a forthcoming photography book and the other a local archivist – himself a former farmer in the area.
Moments old – A Herdwick lamb
With sibling and Ewe
Their wool has a unique durability, prized by the Vikings who first introduced Herdvyck (meaning sheep pasture) to the Lake District over 1000 years ago. These are Britain’s hardiest mountain sheep, withstanding cold and rain at heights upwards of 1000 metres. Now primarily bred for their meat rather than wool, due to the fleece being coarse and difficult to work with, it can end up being burned, as there is little use for it. Hearing this story inspired Adam to develop the fleece. He conducted nine spin and weave trials over four years before he achieved a quality of cloth he was happy with. He aptly named it, Herdwyck No.10 and it became the core body material of this range within the Cherchbi bag collection.
Herdwyck No. 10
All materials used in the making of Cherchbi are natural, sustainable and wherever possible sourced in the UK. The fleece, originating in Cumbria makes a journey around the British Isle’s; it is spun in Ireland, woven in Wales and finished in Scotland. The cotton lining is sourced from Manchester, the horn toggles for rucksacks come from Lancashire and the leather is tanned in Chesterfield.
1. Hereford Cow Cross hides sourced.
2. Cowhorn toggles made.
3. English Union cloth woven.
4. British saddle leather tanned.
5. Buckle foundry.
Cherchbi draws inspiration from Britain’s creative, cultural and manufacturing heritage. The bags themselves are bench made in a robust construction style, which references aspects of English saddlery and equestrian leatherwork. Adam cites his main design influence as intuitive functionality. Designs are modern and paired down to their essence to ensure the inherent natural qualities in the materials, remain visible.