Try Ashbourne First – 17: William Haycock – extraordinary British precision engineers


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I am inspired. I Tried Ashbourne First and have been utterly rewarded for doing so.

It began with my wife’s handbag. It’s a lovely handbag but it has screw-on feet. We didn’t realise this until one unscrewed itself and fell off never to be found again. It left a threaded screw out of the bottom of the bag which snags itself on any passing fabric and detracts from the overall impression. It sounds a minor point but my wife really likes this bag and so the search began for a solution. I thought the internet may be the answer but after intensive Googling I knew the style (bucket shaped) the dimensions and the finish but unless I wanted to order by the ton from a Chinese manufacturer I was none the wiser. My next tack was to think laterally. We tried dozens of second hand and charity shops to find a bag for sale with detachable feet remotely similar. We tried cobblers. I even had a look through those trays of bits and pieces you find at car boot sales for something remotely similar that I could “adapt”. I should add that I have never done a days manual labour in my life and so my skills are severely limited. I resorted finally to asking “handy” people what they thought and it was my friend Dennis Easter, electrician and fixer, who suggested William Haycock. After one phone call I dropped one of the other feet off in an envelope. Two days later we collected a fabulous handmade replacement for the incredibly reasonable price of £20.

window2I collected the foot and entered the amazing world of William Haycock in Ashbourne. It may be because of my incompetence but I truly admire craftsmanship. Haycocks are wonderful craftspeople who have supplied their products around the world. I was shown round the workshop on North Leys by Charles Haycock whose son now owns the business. If the personalised brick in the wall can be trusted the workshop has been in place since 1852 and it is a wonderful place. It is full of tools and, where a tool doesn’t exist, a solution they have had to build to get the job done. The business itself was founded in 1826 and has stayed in the family throughout.

skeletonThey still make quality new clocks to this day. They make carriage clocks but also much more elaborate items. I was shown a replica of a skeleton clock from the 1890s which is being made from scratch by hand. The clock will cost the best part of £10000 but it is extraordinary. Haycocks have some of the few patterns for clocks dating from this era.

The bulk of their business these days is in repair of clocks and I guess, since they know how to make them from scratch, they are pretty expert in just repairing them – regardless of vintage. But at the heart of their business is precision engineering and this is where I learned about the replica machinery which they have made over the years. The industrial revolution was a period of innovation which catapulted Britain to superpower status economically. Charles told me that the Government of the day realised the value of what was being created and restricted sharing of technology with the rest of the world… And that included clock mechanisms and industrial equipment. Richard Arkwright set up his mill in Cromford with the water frame spinning machine which transformed productivity in the textiles industry. Through industrial espionage a German industrialist stole the design and set up a similar factory in Ratingen. This factory is now a museum and in a wonderful twist of history they turned to Derbyshire’s William Haycock to produce replica machines which are on display there to this day. The machines weighed several tons.

At the other end of the scale are the replica steam “toys” which they make..ironically along the lines of the great German toy manufacturers.

I felt embarrassed to pick up the tiny handcrafted replica bag foot when surrounded by the creativity and workmanship of generations. Charles Haycock was charming and modest but he could make anything – I really believe it – and William Haycock deserve recognition and support. They represent all that is great about British craftsmanship and our industrial heritage.

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About justaukcook

/kʊk/ Not a chef, not an epicure, not a foodie. Just one who likes to prepare food – What really happens in the kitchen and on the high street is what I write about. Follow me on Twitter @Justaukcook and on https://www.facebook.com/justaukcook
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