How I came to be in Barmouth
I said, in a previous post, that I would tell you how I came to have a business in Barmouth.
I thought, at the time, it might or might not happen. But, having had such a good response to the posting 'From time to time' (about how I became a jeweller.) I thought I would get on with it.
When the motorway, I was helping to build, opened for traffic, the "gang" I was with was kept on for maintenance, everyone else was laid off.
‘Time to go’ I thought, I don't need this job, others do, it's the only way they have of earning a living.
Through the Hatton Garden grapevine I heard that my old boss (who was pretty old) was looking for someone to work for him.
It had been a long time since he had taken on any apprentices and his remaining staff had left to start up their own business.
He offered quite a good wage with a carrot that I would be taken in, eventually, as a partner.
'Taken in' I was! Time went on, with me doing all the work.
Inflation was rampant but he didn't even come up with a pay rise let alone start bringing me into the business.
Perhaps it was time to go it alone. The 'boss' had a much younger wife, who was involved in the business, and children that weren't. If any kind of partnership did come about I would have 'sleeping partners' and always be the one doing all the work!
Despite inflation the jewellery trade was very buoyant with wealthy Arab customers spending liberally. Lots of freelance work was available.
Everything came to a head at a most inconvenient time. I need another mortgage. That meant I still needed to be employed.
I was then approached by a workshop that didn't care whether I was employed by them or worked freelance. This was the answer, work for them until I got the mortgage and then work freelance.
When working freelance you rent 'bench' space in a workshop with access to all the equipment. This works well as the workman doesn't have the commitment of a lease or the cost of equipment. The owner gets another income and a workman he doesn't have to find work for, or give holiday or sickness pay to.
Hand tools are different; you acquire your own over the years and take them wherever you go.
After a year I moved to another workshop with the promise of as much work as I wanted.
What a mistake! Not for the reason you could be thinking.
They gave me so much work that in a very short time I had to employ people! I hated it! When it got to three and I still struggled to cope I decided that was enough.
Leading up to Christmas I was sleeping in the workshop. (With mice! though they didn't seem to be doing much sleeping)
There just wasn't time to go home.
What I also hated was the commuting. We lived 25 miles outside London.
We tried it by car and by train both as bad. The train, or rather the other passengers, made me think ‘do I want to be doing this the rest of my working life?’
Over a period of 16 years I had been catching the same train from Kent, with significant breaks, living in Australia, living in Buckinghamshire, and shorter breaks when we thought the car was better.
Out of habit I would get in the same carriage and discover the same people, and still not talking to each other!
I thought I really must get out before I caught the commuting disease.
I couldn't see how I could make a living as a jeweller other than in Hatton Garden.
What else could I do? No idea.
The answer wasn’t going to come without going looking.
At Easter, 1977, we explored Cornwall.
Jubilee weekend the New forest.
Summer holiday North Yorkshire, Lake District and Wales.
Before getting married, Jen and I had "toured" North Wales staying on Shell Island for a few days.
Having enjoyed it then we decided to go back. The weather in the Dales and Lakes had been very poor, in Wales it was glorious.
On the road leading to Shell Island we saw a sign for a craft village and thought we can visit when the weather isn't so good.
Trouble was the weather stayed hot and sunny and when it came time to go home we still hadn't been.
Maes Artro was in its first year, still not finished, but functioning. There was a Potter, Garment Maker, Leather Worker and Bookbinder and that was it.
We met everyone, including the architect, and decided this is it, we are going to come.
That evening, we were told, the owner would be in the Victoria pub. Go and see him.
We told him we wanted to set up a unit making jewellery, to which he responded,
'When can you come?’
We went home put the house on the market and warned my staff that by the end of the year the business would cease to exist.
In the end the senior of them took over, the female, un-indentured, apprentice had got pregnant and would have left anyway and 'the boy', who hadn't stayed in any of his previous jobs long, was happy just to move on.
Jen gave advanced notice that as soon as we sold the house she would be leaving.
That was it, fully committed.
We took on a unit in Maes Artro as soon as we could and went back on three or four occasions opening, with a workbench and a counter, for just a few days at a time. .
Our accommodation was a tent in the grounds. (On subsequent visits someone let us have use of their touring caravan based at their home in Harlech)
To our delighted and great relief we were selling things!
Problem was we were sleeping, with more money than was sensible, under our sleeping bags.
In those days there was a branch of our bank in Harlech.Whilst standing waiting to make the deposit I thought I would try and make an appointment and introduce myself to the manager.
In the Hatton Garden branch this could be next week or the week after with the under, under manager if I was lucky. Such was my standing.
When the teller returned, after what I thought was consulting the appointment diary, she said ‘He will see you now’ What! I was in jeans and jumper! We became very good friends and every time he was promoted we would transfer our account with him. Years later we were at a dinner party with him, his wife and friends and he relayed the story of our first encounter.
Seems jeans and jumper were more impressionable than a suit. I can’t remember him ever refusing us a request for finance.
We finally moved in January 1978.
Not straight forward as there was a week’s difference, in completion dates, of the home we sold and the one we were purchasing.
However, wherever we were, whoever we met, we encountered kindness and helpfulness.
You’re looking to hire/borrow a van? ‘See Alec’
So I go and see him.
Alec; ‘No problem. I have one £5 ok?’
‘That’s it outside in the street’
Puzzled look. ‘In it!’
Later when Jen and I were struggling getting a washing machine out of the van and into the cottage ‘Ray the Milk’, who, at the time we never knew, stopped and helped.
Now down to fitting the shop, office and workshop out with Easter being our goal for opening.
We just about made it and opened on Good Friday 24th March 1978 (making Easter 2018 the beginning of our 40th year in retail.)
The ‘Village’ was a wonderful place to work.
Business was good; the other crafts people were companionable, the customers happy. Why shouldn’t they be? They were on holiday.
In the later part of 1979 gold and silver prices started to increase rapidly.
This was due, in the case of silver, to an American oil millionaire called Nelson Bunker Hunt.
He and his brothers had begun buying silver in the early part of the decade and by 1979 they nearly cornered the global market holding an estimated 100 million ounces increasing the price by 350%.
Many people believe that this caused gold to increase by 170%. Others blame tension between the United States and the Arab World and the Iranian Hostage Crisis.
Whatever it put the jewellery trade in turmoil.
I heard one story of a small retailer going away leaving his mother to run the shop. He didn't keep abreast of world affairs she didn't see they had any relevance. On his return she said business had been fantastic she had nearly sold everything. He was devastated. It was going to cost more to restock than she had taken.
Despite having to increase stock prices we were still doing reasonably well.
I found it very different when I visited Hatton Garden. There it was doom and despondency. The people that thought I was out of my mind doing what I had done were sitting with nothing to do.
I had great delight in offering, one of them, the opportunity of working with me the following year.
The unit we were renting had just been big enough for that first year but we wanted to expand both the workshop, so we could setup and cast my designs (a kind of mass producing) and the shop.
All the workshops in our block, which was prime position so we didn't want to move, were small.
Along from us one was empty so we persuaded (bribed?) the person next to us to relocate.
The quiet months, January until Easter, were then spent fulfilling our plans ready for the new season.
We were rewarded with another good year and as two more units became available, we expanded again, opening the next Easter with a workshop, which again was on show to the public, doing basic stone cutting and a shop selling rocks and minerals.
We were now employing more people than I had in Hatton Garden but this time I was enjoying it.
When Maes Artro first opened the owner derived his income from rent and a percentage of the tenant’s income. Fair enough, the more visitors he attracted the better we did the better his rewards.
Unfortunately there were the tenants that abused the system by fiddling it.
There were those that probably had three sets of accounts, one genuine, one for the taxman and another for the landlord!
The later wasn't stupid; he could observe how well these people were doing.
The system changed. Rent plus a small levy charged on all visitors.
Now, according to the devious, it was the landlord that could be 'cooking the books'
The eventual answer, unfortunately, was an entry fee.
Now it was the all-important customer that was upset.
"We are being asked to pay to go shopping!" And, in a way they were right.
On previous visits they had seen all the 'sideshows' as we termed them. The aquarium, the model village, the Welsh street (with the soundtrack of a cockney street caller!!!! never could understand that) etc.
All they wanted was to 'go shopping'
Maes Artro’s problem was it was never designed as a craft village.
It was laid out as a wartime RAF camp with a NAFFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes) canteen, entertainment, cinema, barber etc.
Snowdonia National Park Planning probably insisted that the buildings, with 30 years of neglect, not be pulled down but renovated.
If the 10 acres of land had been designed as a tourist attraction, car park then workshops, cafe/restaurant, then the 'sideshows' with entrance fee, it might still exist today.
Corris Craft Village which opened c1982 still does.
The site was eventually demolished and today is an estate or wooden chalets.
What does that do for tourism? Planners!!!
The 'good times' were going to end and we decided to jump ship.
At the time visitors to Harlech Castle numbered around 125,000 per year. We thought it was a nice town and in the right place we would do well.
Onto the market came that 'right place'. Large shop with largish recesses either side of a staircase. One for the office and one for the workshop, where people could see me work as they had done in Maes Artro.
Lovely flat with views over to the sea and a price we could manage.
Vendor moves goal posts. We managed to sort that out, borrow more money, exactly as he asks. Proceed. Then he moves them again..
Around this time, a third person told us ‘The Steps’ in Barmouth were on the market and “Just what we were looking for you should go for a viewing”
Barmouth had never appealed. But, as they say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover and that is what we had been doing.
The cover we saw had amusement arcades, fairgrounds (more in those days) down market gift shops etc. 'Old Barmouth’ we knew nothing about, but, to be fair, we were working 7 days a week most of the time.
John Barton made us welcome and showed us his property, finishing with tea in the first floor conservatory, with grape vine and bunches of ripe grapes hanging above us, looking out into a garden. We were hooked.
This was September 1981. By Easter the following year we there and opened.
Grapevine is still there but no longer producing 40 to 50 bunches.
Who isn't sadly, is Jen, as most of you know, she died at the end of January 2010.
Still, to me, and many others, very much part of Perrys.
She did the administration, buying, display, serving etc. and although I have very capable staff, being my business, I now have to come out of my workshop and be very much more involved. This results in me having less time at the workbench, resolved, unfortunately, by only opening three days a week so that the I have time to do all the work I have promised.
So now you know and the ramblings are finished.
I married Jane last October (2016); and we have a house on the edge of the New Forest, near Bournemouth, for the benefit of her grown family. Lovely to visit but I don’t think I could live there.
However, I have no intention of retiring from Barmouth.
I would miss it too much.
And as a matter of interest this is what it looked like c1866/70
What was the tallest building is now dwarfed by everything else