Mason Pearson and G B Kent & Sons

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For a man with minimal hair my need for a brush may at first blush seem limited. That is until you look at the beautiful brushes produced by companies such as Mason Pearson and G B Kent & Sons – there are things in life that I can appreciate even without the need to use them!

Just looking at the intracy of persuading a pure boar bristle to stay mounted to a fine wooden handle and to remain attached for many years of grooming. These brushes are not only iconic but they seem devilishly complicated to make – and even more so as some are hand-made.

Somewhere deep in childhood I seem to have, incorrectly, understood, in a routined pink for a girl blue for a boy kind of way, that Mason Pearson made brushes for women whereas Kent made brushes for men. In fact, both companies have extensive ranges for men, women and children – as well as specialist brushes. My Grandmother had a large pure boar bristle Mason Pearson brush and my wife and daughters each have a medium sized Mason Pearson. My Father, who had a distinguished military career prior to commerce, always had a Kent brush – that I think may have been military issue – on his bathroom mirror shelf an in his travel case.

Mason Pearson Brushes was founded in 1860 by a Bradford (Yorkshire, UK) Engineer of the same name who, having had some experience in the weaving business left, with his young wife Mary, for London’s East End to work with brushes. His automation of much of the brush making process resulted in 1885 in Mason being awarded a Silver Medal at the International Inventions Exhibition in London. In the same year his invention of the “pneumatic” rubber-cushion hairbrush became core Mason Pearson product and with some redevelopment between 1905  and 1920’s the resulting 1885 brush sold today is little changed since its first launch.

On Mason’s death Mary, eldest son Mason Jnr and his sisters ran the business for a further twenty years from premises off the Old Ford Road (London E3). In 1986 the business relocated to Stratford but moved in 2009 to give way for the London Olympics that resulted in a move to Rainham in Essex. The business is still owned by the Pearson family and continues to thrive.

The pure bristle versions of the iconic Mason Pearson brush come in several sizes. I understand that for the bedroom/bathroom the B1 and B2 sizes are preferred whereas for the handbag the B3 – the “handy” size – and the B4 – the “pocket” size – are perfect.  Get your favourite by clicking the AMAZON link below the image of your choice

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Mason Pearson Extra Large Pure Boar Bristle Hair Brush B1- Made in England

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Mason Pearson B2 Medium Pure Boar Bristle Fine Hair Brush, Cleaner in Gift Box

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Mason Pearson Brushes Pure Bristle Handy B3 Black

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MASON PEARSON Pocket Size Pure Bristle Hair Brush (Model:B4)

G.B Kent & Sons Ltd, was founded in 1777 by William Kent and has, very impressively, held unbroken Royal Warrants for now nine reigns. In 1932 the company was acquired by Eric Cosby, the owner of Cosby Brushes Ltd. It was a dynamic and creative alliance. Today Eric’s grandson, Alan, is Managing Director and Chairman and his wife and four children work for the business.

Kent Brushes moved from its old London factory – as seen depicted in the videos below –  to Apsley (Hertfordshire, UK) in 1984 and remains there today. The companies reputation is based on its craftsmanship and quality combining hand-made techniques with the latest hi-tech developments in brush making.

Kent iconic brushes are known in the barbering trade as the “lifetimes brush”!

For me, there are two clear and different buying options for the prospective Kent brush purchaser. It’s true, that they look similar – but for the tell-tale screw fixed back – but the first is 100% hand-made progressing through different processes to arrive at the definitive men’s hair brush:

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Kent Handmade Military Oval Bristle Hairbrush for Men White

The alternative is a largely machine made version but just as appealing:

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Kent Oval Military Style Bristle Brush for Men, Cherry Wood White

There are many men who have a beard and the perfect accompanient to their grooming regime is the Kent Beard Brush – this is a right handed version.

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Get yours here – Kent Right Handed Beard Brush

Check out the following charming videos from KENT Kent Brushes 1 And Kent Brushes 2

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Image credits – thanks to Mason Pearson and G.B Kent and Sons Plc.

 

Robin Wood – Traditional Wood Turning

When I was at school pre-O levels one of the elements of the scholastic week that I really enjoyed was our time in the Woodwork shop.

Overseen by a reliable older teacher dressed in a long brown workshop coat – probably with a breast pocket full of triangular pencils – I forget his real name but I think we all called him “Sid”.  I suspect he was a retired carpenter who wasn’t there to teach as any form of an academic subject. His role, at which he was unassumingly brilliant at, was to impart the wonders of working with wood and in so doing he sparked a life long affection for this beautiful material.

The Woodwork shop had a vaulted glass ceiling that echoed to the whirl and clatter of a series of old electric lathes, I say “old” as they probably pre-dated me by thirty plus years making them nearly over forty in the late 1970’s. We’d be taught to centre the wood on a spike which had a back plate that we screwed into the wood making it firm for turning. We’d be shown how to sharpen chisels to achieve a desired cut. After the Master has placed the blank in the lathe we then be shown how to rest the chisel and work it to cut into the timber. There was minimal Heath & Safety input but we probably had perspex glasses borrowed from the Chemistry lab.

Sometime around half-term we be the proud owner of a four and a half inch diameter freshly beeswaxed bowl which our Mother’s would then fill with peanuts and offer them at drinks parties to admiring friends who’d remark on the quality of the bowl.

Aged 14 I came top in the year end exams in two subjects, Woodwork and Religion. Shrugging off the suggestions of a Second Coming, to this day I have loved wood, particularly turned wood, and have sourced all manner of examples including spindles for chair back, table legs and stair bannisters.

What I have never attempted is to operate a manual lathe – indeed until recently I didn’t know that they existed but exist they do and they are seeing a revival in the craft of Traditional Turning one of its best exponents is a very engaging chap from Sheffield named Robin Wood – yes, seriously!

Robin, who holds an MBE – awarded in 2014 for services to Heritage Crafts and Skills – is a master wood turner who for the last 20 years has been making wooden bowls, plates and utensils on a simple foot powered lathe. His products, if respected and treat with some care last and age beautifully. His extensive studies have influence his design and techniques.

Fuelled by a simple mantra of “Never to do a day’s work he did not enjoy” it was the experience of working close to nature with the National Trust that introduced Robin to traditional woodland crafts and ignited his and he started to make spoons and bowls bringing “a little quiet beauty into everyday life”.

Robin was inspired by the work of George Lailey, who died in 1958. He was last person in England to make his living turning wooden bowls on a foot powered pole lathe. Seeing the great beauty in the simplicity of the craft Robin sought to revive the technique. His first task was to learn how to create the cutting tools required which involved him training as a blacksmith. It has become a source of some pride that no sandpaper is used and the smoothness of the finish is achieve by the sharpest of tools.

Clearly evangelical about the simple pleasure and satisfaction to be achieved from wood turning Robin teaches and also, in addition to hang his own tools, make tools for others help others learn to carve.

Robin has assured us despite the bitter weather that he is hard at work restoring his stock of bowls  – but it will take some time. So for those wishing to make a purchase please be patient. Please complete the Contact section of our site

In this film, Robin can be seen at work in his idyllic outbuilding/studio. Enjoy!

Film used by kind permission of Artisan Media/Image courtesy of Robin Wood

Jeremy Atkinson – The Last English Clog maker

There is a quite confidence that comes from knowing exactly what you are doing.

Jeremy Atkinson is a highly skilled and time-served craftsman who is also lamentably described as the last – no play on words here – maker of English traditional bespoke clogs, a craft going back to Roman times.

Based in the Hereford, Jeremy turns “green” unseasoned timber – sycamore, birch, cherry and alder into the soles of really very beautiful shoes with wooden soles – classically designed English clogs. Perhaps unsurprisingly Jeremy is also a skilled at cutting, dyeing and stitching leather uppers.

Having first split the timber with a froe, the half log is marked with the desired bespoke foot pattern and is then taken through a cutting process which sees Jeremy exert some force to manipulate a three foot long oversized cut-throat tool called a “blocker” or “stock knife” to slice the wooden blank to gradually take the shape of a sole.

The “blocker” is pivoted from the bench via a hook and eye arrangement so that Jeremy applies purchase with his right hand guiding the blade with pin-point accuracy where he want the cuts to be made.

Finer adjustments to the instep, cast and camber of the sole are achieved with two more swivel blade tools, the hollower for the footbed and the gripper for the welt ledge in which the upper is nailed.

The upper is shaped over a wooden last and then lightly tacked to the wooden sole prior to a final fitting with the client – if they are able to visit.

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The finished clog is completed with a brass toe piece and either clog irons – similar to horse shoes – or a rubber sole – clogs have a particularly good reputation wherever it’s wet underfoot.

Jeremy has been taught his craft, one that has experienced great longevity in the many regions of the United Kingdom and he travels extensively demonstrating his skills and picking up ideas for his continued work.

Given the physical nature of the work his wrists bear the brunt of the repetitive slicing of the “blocker” and he is worried that he may only have a few more years left in the craft.

Jeremy notes that a number of satisfied customers have used his clogs successfully to provide support for poor feet and in the management of painful foot conditions.

He’s not particularly sentimental about his unwilling role as the last in England to pursue this centuries old craft but he is realistic and in part doing his best to impart his skills having taught Geraint Parfitt (based in Wales).

The struggle to obtain recognition for the social and economic value of crafts and their exponents may well have a quiet champion in Jeremy who in the film below notes that in other parts of Europe people are given state funding to ensure that these crafts do not die out.

I for one would be willing to work much more closely with the Heritage Crafts Association – of which the Prince of Wales is the President – to see what can be done to harness both respect and funding for these legacy crafts.We are becoming increasingly involved in an effort to raise the profile of these crafts and through us I want to market and hopefully sell the work of craftsmen like Jeremy.

Please complete our Contact section so that we can introduce you to the more of the amazing products made with great affection and skill by Jeremy and his colleague.

Film used by kind permission of Artisan Media/Image courtesy of Jeremy Atkinson