Who is Jack Badger?
PUBLISHED: 15:10 13 February 2014 | UPDATED: 15:11 13 February 2014
Mike Smith visits the master craftsmen and recent Balvenie Masters of Crafts Award winners at their Glossop premises
If you own a period house, hotel or holiday-let and you are looking for new handmade furniture, fittings or flooring that will be a perfect match for the style of your property, you would be well advised to contact an award-winning firm called Jack Badger Limited, but do not repeat my mistake when you make your telephone call. Do not ask to speak to Jack Badger, because there is no one of that name working for the company, and there never has been.
Having established that Ben Naylor, and not Jack Badger, is the firm’s managing director, I asked if I could pay him a visit, not only with the aim of uncovering some of the secrets behind the production of wood and stone products that have a perfect period feel about them, but also in the hope that I might solve the riddle of Jack Badger. Ben’s response to my request brought another surprise. Rather than being given directions to a workshop or a showroom, I was invited to Allmans Heath Farm, a bed-and-breakfast establishment on the high moors of the Dark Peak.
When I arrived at the old farmhouse, which occupies a splendid setting close to the Pennine Way, Ben led me into the dining room, where I was confronted with a vision of times gone by. The ceiling was supported by wooden beams and the room was lit by a mullioned window, beneath which was a finely-carved box seat. Warmth came from a wood-burning stove, set in a fireplace with a stone surround topped by a triangular pediment. Along the length of one wall, there was a large wooden cabinet with a decorative frieze. A long wooden table occupied the centre of the room and there was a very fine period chair in one corner. Even the light switches had wooden surrounds.
Ben sprang yet another surprise when he said: ‘The room we are sitting in is not really an ancient dining room at all. Before we renovated, restructured and re-roofed it, this was simply the interior of a shed which had an asbestos roof and a dirt floor. We made furniture, fittings and a stone floor to give it a period feel and an appearance compatible with the adjoining farmhouse. As well as being a dining room for the B&B, it is a perfect showroom for our architectural joinery and stonemasonry.’
The B&B is managed by Ben’s mother Julie, who was a national finalist in the AA’s Friendly Landlady of the Year competition. When Julie greets her B&B guests, she supplements her friendly welcome with the offer of refreshments, including her homemade banana cake, which I found to be utterly scrumptious. She even provides hot-water bottles to keep the cold of the Pennine nights at bay and offers to collect walkers from the Pennine Way and return them, after their overnight stay, to the starting point for the next stage of their journey.
Julie’s son has her friendly, open manner and has inherited his practical skills from his father, who trained as a chef, became a stonemason and can turn his hand to any form of craftsmanship. Ben attended school in Glossop and had a job in the holidays with John Hetherington, whom he describes as ‘a fine craftsman of the old school’. He was then taken on by John as an apprentice and given day-release to attend a college course on handicraft and furniture.
He said, ‘When I did some work with John in period properties, I was really impressed when I saw how the products of traditional joinery had withstood wear and tear over the centuries and I was keen to learn the carpentry techniques that gave them their longevity, including the use of slow-grown timbers and specialist sawing techniques.’
On completing his apprenticeship, Ben set up his own company with Rob Edwards, another craftsman who is equally determined to make things that last. Their mission was to produce handmade wooden products in response to the needs of their clients. Their specialism would be furniture and fittings for period properties and they would stick faithfully to the sort of carpentry skills that are being lost in this age of mass production.
The company has become so successful that the workforce has grown to ten. Ben took me into the nearby workshop to meet some of the team, which includes his father Dom and his brother Brad Acland, Rob, the co-founder of the company, Jamie Redfearn, the workshop manager, who learned his skills by working alongside Ben, and Rob Poole, who was busily reconstructing a four-poster bed, with the decoration on a surviving headboard as the only clue to the design of the lost uprights and base.
It was Dom Naylor who solved the riddle of the company’s name. Pointing to the metal implement that was sitting on his workbench, he said, ‘Jack Badger is a local dialect term for a joiner’s plane, which is a tool that no self-respecting carpenter would be without. Because we use traditional skills, we believe it is an appropriate name for our company.’
All the craftsmen at Jack Badger obviously derive great satisfaction from producing beautiful and desirable items from wood and stone, and it is equally apparent that they enjoy working together as a team. They exchange daily good-natured banter and even go on group outings to National Trust properties and other period houses so that they can study traditional joinery and masonry up close.
Explaining their methods, Ben said, ‘For most of our work in wood, we use oak, which will not rot if it is given the opportunity to dry out before it is fashioned. We don’t believe in soaking our products in lots of varnish and seal, because we want the natural beauty of the wood to show through. Due to our understanding of the behaviour of wood under stress, we can make traditional-looking oak doors that can withstand, on their outside, the cold and rain to which they are often subjected in upland areas like this, whilst coping, on their inside, with the effects of very dry central heating.’
The team has made just such a door for one of the farm’s outhouses, which has been given an eco-friendly turf roof and is in the process of being converted into a holiday-let. A couple of months ago, Ben removed the door from its hinges and took it to London’s Somerset House as an exhibit to show the judges of the Balvenie (Single-malt Scotch Whisky) Masters of Craft Awards, which champion the best of British craftsmanship. Together with a written presentation, a cross-sectional sample and a collection of digital images, the exhibit clinched the prestigious first prize for Jack Badger Limited.
The profile of the company had already been raised by their participation in two episodes of the DIY SOS television programme. As well as elaborate architectural joinery and stone products that can be given, if appropriate, an aged and worn appearance, their portfolio includes bespoke switch surrounds, electronically-operated gates, along with pillars and flanking walls, for private residencies and even for castles. Ben would like to make another addition to that portfolio. At the moment, this project is a dream but, given the success he has made of his business, it could well become reality. He says, ‘I would love to build a wooden galleon and sail it around the world with a crew of mates.’
Jack Badger Ltd is located at Allmans Heath Farm, Woodhead Road, Glossop, SK13 7QE (www.jackbadger.co.uk). For details of the B&B, see Julie@allmansheathcottage.co.uk