Cumbria Crystal - fine lead crystal
Cumbria Crystal is situated rather remotely in the small town of Ulverston and so I'm travelling up by train. After a change at Lancaster progress shifts to a slower pace along a spectacular coastal branch line via stations with picturesque names like Silverdale, Kents Bank, and Cark-and-Cartmel.
The company is housed in a smart plain modern building on the edge of town. Twenty-one people are employed here : glass-blowers, cutters, polishers, engravers, quality control, shop and office staff. In the intense heat of the workshop molten glass is gathered from the furnaces on the ends of blowing irons. Master glass-maker David Sharpe is assisted by Andrew Rouand in the tightly choreographed creation of a decanter. They flow around each other like dancers, both working on the same piece.
In the cutting workshop Rob Thompson is working with Creative Director Katy Holford on a series of prototypes for a new range of wine glasses. The pattern he has to follow has already been marked out very accurately in blue marker pen. Rob cuts the glass on various diamond or stone abrasive wheels. 'Like this?' he asks Katy, holding up a glass to the light. 'No, a bit more,' she says. This goes on until she's happy with the result. These two work well together; designer and craftsman. 'This is for a new simple classic range,' she tells me, 'we need more like this.' Katy has been with the company first as Creative Director, then as Managing Director, for four years. I think she's probably turned the whole thing around. I ask Rob if the work is varied. 'It is now,' he says, 'and since Katy's been here we've extended the range enormously and so I'm working on something different all the time. When I first started here I'd be doing the same job all week.' It takes seven years to train to be a cutter. 'Are you training anyone up at the moment,' I ask. “We were,' says Rob. 'A young lad – but he wouldn't listen – thought he knew better than we do.' 'In the end I had to sack him,' says Katy.
In the showroom visitors can buy 'seconds' at half-price. I look at everything very closely and can't spot any faults. It's the full-time job of a young woman called Vicky to check every piece that's made. 'Quality control is everything,' says Katy. With clients like Asprey, David Linley, and Thomas Goode, this is no surprise. 'This is craft,' says Katy, 'but we're operating in the luxury market.'
Cumbria Crystal is a perfect example of real craft in a factory situation, where the importance of good design is clearly recognised. Everyone works together to produce something quite unique, and they look like they know where they're going with it.