Keeping metalwork skills alive.
When thieves stole a beautiful brass pulpit rail from a Victorian church in Kent, the parish church council wanted to commission a replica.
They contacted Waltham Forest Engineering Ltd (WFE), a member of our Professional Trades Directory, which undertakes heritage metalwork projects across London and the South East.
The lost rail was an intricate design that twisted and turned around the upright bars like a vine. It was taken from St Paul's church at Four Elms, Edenbridge, Kent, a treasure house of the Arts and Crafts movement by architect Edwin Hall, who designed Liberty's department store. As well as the pulpit rail, the thieves stole two of the church's original brass chandeliers.
WFE's brass specialist, Callan Pease, was able to make copies of the one remaining chandelier. The pulpit rail was much more difficult with only faded photos to guide him.
Brass is very brittle and Callan struggled with the delicacy of the design: "You can't do curves and scrolls with a machine, I had to pull the mental round gradually by hand. It would be going really well and I'd just pull it round a bit more and it would break and I had to start all over again."
The job took seven weeks but he was not entirely happy with his first completed version and took it back to the workshop for further refining. The church warden pronounced the finished article "perfect".
Callan is one of the 10-strong team at WFE's workshop on an industrial estate in Loughton, Essex. Each craftsman has his own specialist skills and is employed on a range of fabrication and restoration projects, particularly gates, railings, handrailsand staircases. They work in mild steel, stainless steel, aluminium and brass.
The company was founded in 1972 by three brothers, Bill, Ken and Joe Davies, who were in the building trade. Bill's son, Ian, has been running the company since 1990.
Reliable metal workers
Ian says: "My father wanted some metalwork done and couldn't find any reputable metal workers so he started the firm. We got more jobs and experience in restoration and slowly gained a reputation for the quality of our work and standards of service."
Recent clients include Historic Royal Palaces, the Royal Society, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and major London museums and galleries. They also work for historic churches, often restoring gates and railings or making new ones when cars crash into them. They have worked twice at St James's Church, Enfield, following such accidents.
Among the new items they have made for churches is a sleek brass handrail for a ramp inside the church of St Mary Magdalene in Richmond, west London.
The company uses modern metal fabrication techniques but can utilise traditional practices if this is insisted on. Most clients are happy with up-to-date methods when they see the high quality – and often more durable results – that are achieved by their skilled fabricators.
Taking pride in their work
Ian is keen to keep metalwork skills alive but few colleges offer appropriate courses. In recent years, they have had one apprentice who is now a trainee manager and they would welcome more.
Says Ian: "Our fabricators take pride in their work and our reputation. Their skill, experience and attention to detail set us apart and that reflects back on them."
Profile written by Elena Curti
Prolfile written by Elena Curti