Made By Hand: Meet The Recession-Busting Craftsmen

In a world of mass produced consumables, there lives a select few who place a premium on the traditions of their craft.
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A Handmade Morgan Aeromax

There are many things from our caveman days that affect what we do in modern life. Our fight-or-flight reflex is what makes us instantly offer that huge bloke in the pub another beer after you’ve accidentally nudged him. Our hunter-gatherer instinct is what drives us to burn the chicken drumsticks on the barbeque every summer. Our inbuilt need to continue our species is what… well; it explains why town centers look like they do on Friday and Saturday nights.

One other instinct is the need to make things. Homes, tools, weapons, they all were vital to the continuation of the species and that is a trait that has endured to the present day. How? Not through the thousands of blokes who reluctantly stick up a wonky Ikea shelf at the weekend, but from the small band of companies which continues to make their products in the old-fashioned way.

Rodney Flett makes Cumberland sausages by hand and, at 70, still puts the same pride and passion into his creations as he did when making his first ones, some 55 years ago. ‘I make every one by hand,’ he says proudly. ‘I have to admit that I do use an electric mincer to grind up the meat, but I cut the pork by hand, fill the cases by hand, everything.’

Rodney, who still lives in the Cumberland area, told me that he initially retired from his lifelong job, but the public outcry was such that he came out of retirement to supply the good folk of Cumberland with sausages once more.

I also spoke to his son Stuart, 44, who, despite leaving the family business to become a policeman in Cumbria, keeps up the tradition by making sausages to the same recipe as his father- a recipe known only by those two.

‘I actually make better sausages than my dad,’ Stuart says. ‘Once we both made a batch and tested them out in local residents and butchers. They all agreed that mine were best. Needless to say, Dad wasn’t too best pleased!’

Paul works for RCH Brew, a brewery in Somerset. He told me quite firmly that as long as he was there, RCH would resist mechanisation and mass production. ‘The initial outlay would be too much and it wouldn’t really be viable from a financial perspective.’

Okay, that’s the practical reason, but I sensed there was a deeper, more human motive for his desire for his business to remain as it was.

Finally I spoke to Mark Ledington, a sales rep for Morgan Motors; a car company that hand makes cars. He seemed horrified by the mere suggestion that Morgan move towards a more mechanisation.

‘Oh no. Not at all,’ he exclaimed. ‘If we needed to make more cars then we would simply hire more workers. At the moment we have 160 people working here, 135 of which are craftsmen. Actually, we might need to hire more people as we’re upping our output to 800 cars this year.’

‘If I used machinery to make my sausages, Rodney said, sounding outraged that I could contemplate such a travesty, ‘then they wouldn’t be Cumberland sausages.’

The worldwide recession has hit small businesses incredibly hard, with over 26,000 bankrupt small companies in 2009 alone. These seem less affected though.

‘The recession has hit us a bit,’ said Paul, ‘but that’s mainly due to the increased cost of ingredients and the closures of so many pubs in the area. The actual demand for our beer is still high.’

‘We haven’t been affected at all,’ said Rodney. ‘We’re a little company, people like quality and we serve a quality product. We sell a budget sausage, made from the less good cuts of meat at a reduced price but our premium sausage outsells it ten to one. People know what quality is and they are still prepared to pay a little bit more for that.’

‘The recession has affected us,’ said Mark, solemnly for a change. ‘We’ve had to increase production by 15%. I bet you weren’t expecting that were you?’

I certainly wasn’t. As he explained the reason, I began to understand why these companies were not only surviving, but flourishing. ‘People just want our cars. People with money are realising that keeping money in the bank is no good, so they think, “I’ll just enjoy my money” and buy a quality Morgan. That’s what we deliver. We hand craft the bonnet, we hand bolt the chassis, the safety cage, the body, we bolt the body to the chassis, paint it and stitch the upholstery. We give people a unique product which is an excellent selling point for us.’

And in that long, enthusiastic and passionate speech, Mark has shown me the method behind the madness of Morgan, Paul, Rodney and Stuart and all the others that follow that path.

They have passion and love doing what they do, and they believe that what they create is something of true quality that they can be proud of.

Rodney spoke to me for about fifteen minutes with pride about how he can feel if a sausage is too hard or too soft and that is something a machine cannot do. Stuart then actually phoned me the next day to make sure that I had all my information straight. We spoke for over half an hour about the underhand tactics of mass producers who fill their sausages with water, breadcrumbs and greasy leftovers, whilst Rodney fills his sausages with 94% prime pork and makes a mere 20p profit per pound of sausage. Paul described with passion about how they use floor malted barley from a Victorian mill and brew their beer slowly and with care. They all were so keen to tell me their creations are so much better than the mass-produced, machine made stuff that we eat, drink and drive every day that I was quite taken aback.

‘Every Morgan is different,’ said Mark. ‘We’ve hand-made these cars for 101 years and our customers know that something hand made just carries that extra bit of class. ‘We believe that making beer by hand creates a better quality beer,’ Paul insisted, showing that his previous accountant head had been cast off in favour of his passionate, creative head. ‘Making it by hand means we retain our individuality and it has more character. In a beer, that is very important.’

‘If I used machinery to make my sausages, Rodney said, sounding outraged that I could contemplate such a travesty, ‘then they wouldn’t be Cumberland sausages.’

These people clearly take such pride, such passion in doing what they do, they couldn’t possibly consider any other way of doing it. The likes of Paul, Rodney and Stuart retain that manly, primal ability to create something out of nothing and have the ability to pour scorn on us Foster’s drinking, Wall’s eating, Prius driving excuses for men. They make their things by hand because they can. That, in my opinion, hits the nail slap bang on the head. The hammer wielded by hand, of course.

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