Meet the designers of the Love Lock Tree

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 February 2020

An impression of a love lock tree in situ

An impression of a love lock tree in situ

as supplied by love lock trees

A local father-and-daughter team has created an innovative invention that provides an alternative place to leave a tribute. Lynne Dixon reports on the Love Lock Tree

Ken Massingham and his daughter CarolineKen Massingham and his daughter Caroline

The practice of hanging an inscribed padlock on a bridge or railings as a token of affection, has become a worldwide phenomenon over the past decade - although the very human desire people have to leave their mark for the future is a ritual going back into the mists of time.

But today's love lock craze didn't really take off until the early 2000s. Now it has literally spread across the globe - most famously in Paris. Some people think it's wonderfully romantic (especially the gesture of throwing the key into the river as a symbol of enduring love), while others regard it as pure vandalism. For when there are literally thousands of padlocks attached to a bridge, their colossal combined weight can dangerously weaken the structure.

So when retired engineer Ken Massingham, of Church Broughton, heard of concerns about the 20,000 plus love locks placed on the Weir Bridge in Bakewell, it set him thinking. 'Although they can be a tourist attraction, they really do pose a predicament due not only to weight but also to rust,' he says. 'So I set myself the challenge of coming up with a safer, more sustainable alternative. I decided to design a dedicated standalone iconic structure that would inspire people to visit and leave their tributes.'

Now two years on and more than £30,000 of savings later, Ken, 69, a mechanical and fabrication engineer, has created his very own Love Lock Tree, inspired by the shape of an evergreen tree symbolising the wonder of life. The five-metre-high steel structure can hold up to 25,000 padlocks. Alternatively, it can serve as a Forever Tree, from which people can hang 'leaves' engraved with personal messages, names of loved ones and if desired, a photograph.

An impression of a love lock tree in situAn impression of a love lock tree in situ

And it's all very much a family affair as Ken's daughter Caroline,42, a graphic designer from Littleover, is now at the helm. 'I came on board to take care of sales and marketing and now dad has stepped back to enable me to take the business forward,' she says.

Caroline has designed the websites and logo and is running the business through her own company, C' Creative Ltd.

When I visit Ken and his wife Lynn at their home in the peaceful rural surroundings of Church Broughton, they show me their two prototype trees displayed in the garden - the large size and the compact size. The latter can hold up to 10,000 padlocks.

The attractive metal structures can be erected indoors or outdoors and Caroline explains that she envisages selling them to local authorities to stand in parks and other public places. 'I also believe they are perfect for towns, villages, schools, universities, nature reserves, hospitals, crematoria - the possibilities are endless.'

Bakewell's Weir Bridge covered in love locksBakewell's Weir Bridge covered in love locks

Says Ken: 'When I first had the idea of designing my Love Lock Tree, I just couldn't switch off from it. I saw it not only as a way of protecting public structures like bridges, railings and monuments, but also as an attractive business opportunity, something that could have appeal throughout the world.'

Ken is well aware that in many cities and countries globally, the authorities are removing love locks from bridges and other structures because of the damage they can do en masse. As an example, he cites the Pont des Arts bridge over the River Seine in Paris, where the weight of a vast number of padlocks caused part of the bridge to collapse. Consequently the padlocks have had to be removed.

Ken has put considerable effort into the design of his trees, which are made from rust-proof galvanised or stainless steel. 'My aim has been to create something not only attractive and tasteful but iconic too,' he says. 'The love lock phenomenon is mainly among young people and my Love Lock Tree is a very contemporary concept.'

Not only are his trees suitable for hanging padlocks on, they are also ideal to hang 'leaves' on. Again designed by Ken, these 'leaves' are made from a plain stone, granite or marble effect material and can be engraved with names and personal messages and feature a photograph if desired. They also open up to provide a place for a keepsake such as a lock of hair or some ashes of a loved one.

Not actually leaf shaped, they are round and bevelled, feeling pleasantly tactile with no sharp edges. 'Every leaf is handmade and hand painted,' Ken says. 'They are being produced for us by a family business in Burton upon Trent.'

Ken and Caroline see the possibility of charities getting involved here. 'If they bought a Forever Tree, they could raise funds for their charity by selling our leaves to members of the public, having them engraved on an individually bespoke basis.'

The metal trees, designed to be securely embedded into the ground to last for many years, can be produced in most colours (the prototype is green) with a decorative finial that can be anything from a corporate logo to a symbol reflecting the tree's surroundings.

Now a Registered Design, Love Lock Trees and Forever Trees are manufactured by a family company in Derby, so the whole project is an entirely local enterprise. 'Now our big challenge is to make the world aware of this new concept,' Ken tells me.

The good news is that already their two websites are attracting interest both from the UK and abroad. 'We are in discussions with several locations across the UK and a businessman from Hungary is keen to sell our product in Hungary and Slovakia. He believes the Love Lock Trees could be erected at schools, colleges and other public institutions. We've also had enquiries from someone in The Netherlands who is interested in supplying our trees to cemeteries and crematoria in Holland, Belgium and France. Yes it's early days, but the signs are already encouraging.'

Ken and Caroline have been in talks with officials in Bakewell, Derbyshire's 'love lock capital', and believe their invention could also play a part in war cemeteries in Europe, where engraved poppy-design leaves could be displayed in memory of family members who died in the two world wars.

'It has also occurred to us that our trees could feature at sporting venues. We know that many football clubs, for instance, get regular requests from supporters to scatter their loved ones' ashes on the pitch. Hanging a padlock or a bespoke leaf on our trees could be an alternative to that,' adds Ken.

'It's about posting a lasting legacy to a loved one, a declaration of love to a sweetheart, a tribute to celebrate an achievement or a cherished moment in time. Each tree will have its own serial number and will be registered on our website so that people can search them out.'

The project has been a true labour of love for the Massingham family, virtually taking over their lives for the past two years. Adds Ken: 'It's been a time not only of designing but of testing, problem solving, changes and tweaks to come up with a final product that's safe, strong, long lasting, can hold thousands of locks and stay looking good in most environmnents. It can also be customised without in any way damaging its integrity.

'Now our aim is for our trees to be erected across the globe, either on their own or as a part of a "forest" so that more and more people can participate in this contemporary ritual. But most of all, as this is a Derbyshire invention we would love the first one to be erected in our own home city or county.'

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