Last week we were delighted to be featured in the October 28th edition of Country Life Magazine, a wonderful three-page article all about beautiful bellows written by Matthew Dennison. This week on our blog, we wanted to shine a light on our fabulous bellows and their equally fabulous maker, Mike East.
A Leather Craftsman
Mike is the epitome of the traditional craftsman; humble, talented and eager to try new things to further his craft. Now in his 84th year, he learned his craft at the National Leathersellers College in the late 1950s. Covering all aspects of leather manufacturing, much of his time was split between lectures, time in the tannery or the laboratory. In the tannery, Mike learnt to process the skins, known as hides, from raw to finished leather. After leaving the College in 1959, Mike worked in several tanneries across the UK, one being the largest tannery in Europe, in a technical capacity, then in sales, before the UK leather trade rapidly disappeared.
Crafting a Living
In 1980 along with his late wife, Mike set up shop on his own at a Craft Centre in Shropshire. They had begun making and selling their own soft padded bags for musical instruments and expanded the range to belts and handbags and other tourist gifts. In the late 80’s they relocated to Hay on Wye and went on to making leather boxes for restored WW1 field guns. Ironically the workshop that saw so many hides made into beautiful leather creations is none other than our very own Woodee Store in Dorstone! Since officially retiring in 2002, Mike has been ‘pottering about’ working from a small workshop at home; but in the last twelve months has come out of retirement to make our Leather Aprons, Skewer Pouches and Woodee Bellows. We are so grateful to have Mike and his wealth of experience in team Woodee. What a heritage!
Designed to breathe life into dying embers and help light a fire, the Woodee Bellows are a contemporary take on the traditional fireside bellows. In years gone by it was a common fireside tool and something you may well remember lying on your parents and grandparents hearths. Of course, it has also been used for millennia in blacksmithing to drive oxygen into the forge to heat metal; although these would have been huge, it was the same principle.
Today there are only a few traditional bellows makers in the country. The Woodee Bellows are a fine example, bringing together traditional craftsmanship and natural materials. Each bellows is unique and is the work of seven different traditional craftspeople. Available in Herefordshire Oak or Ash they are made using the hide of a local Hereford Bull, Hereford Willow and Herefordshire Beeswax - a true Herefordshire heritage product. The handles, plus every nail within our bellows, is hand-forged by our father and son blacksmiths and the metal nozzle is turned from a solid piece of metal by our agricultural engineer. They are a piece of practical rural art, a statement piece that will become a useful family heirloom.