When I was still a teenager (I think, it was certainly a while ago) we went on a day trip to Chipping Campden, a small and ridiculously beautiful market town in the Cotswolds. Mum wanted to see the church, I think; we went there at any rate. It was really cold (grey and cold, damp down into your bones cold) and I had sacrificed a significant degree of warmth for the sake of some sartorial statement, although I can't remember what that statement was now. We had a cream tea. And we went to the Robert Welch shop.
For a shop that only sells high end, modern cutlery and tableware it was surprisingly busy; again that might have been the cold. I clearly remember the buzz in the shop, and meticulously examining every pattern while deciding what I would buy "when I was a grown up." It is a memory that had stayed with me and it is still a design product I want to own one day.
Ten years or so later we were clearing my mother's parents’ house as my Grandmother was moving into a care home. We were clearing the kitchen and put aside a lot of kitchenalia to stock my kitchen when I had a place of my own. We kept all sorts of things, including a tray of mixed cutlery. I wasn't fussed for keeping it but mum said it would do when I started and it was either take it or it was going to landfill. So we took it and many other things and it all got packed up and stuffed in mum and dad's loft.
That tray of cutlery came out three years later when I eventually had a kitchen to put it in. There were a couple of patterns mixed in together and far more quantity than I needed, so I picked out one pattern that I liked and sent the remnants off to a charity shop. I was pleased to find that my hand me down cutlery was quietly stylish, simple with a nice balance in the hand, curved but not overly so. I've been using it ever since.
It was never a complete set, and we always ran out of knives. So I decided to see if I could track some down on eBay. All the fork and spoon handles were embossed with "Old Hall Stainless Sheffield England" so I stuck that in the search bar and up popped a selection, including a pattern that looked just like mine (God, I love eBay).
It was titled "Campden Old Hall by Robert Welch." All this time, I already had my "grown up" cutlery set.
Robert Welch studied silversmithing at the Royal College of Art in the early 1950s, but he was inspired by the stainless steel designs coming from Scandinavia. Rather than a mirror polish that stainless was given in the UK used to ape more expensive metals, the Scandinavian designers and producers were happy to let stainless steel be its own material. Robert saw great potential in this, and so did Birmingham-based cutlery manufacturer Old Hall, so much so they bought the manufacturing rights to one of Welch's prototype designs while he was still a student.
Following graduation he moved to Chipping Campden and established his studio there, and in 1955 he was appointed Old Hall's consultant designer. Robert designed the Campden range for Old Hall with fellow RCA graduate David Mellor in 1956, named after the town where he had his studio and where the company (now run by his son and daughter) still has its offices. And that shop that Robert opened in 1969 and I visited for the first time in the late 1990s.
My grandfather had wanted to be an architect. His family didn't have the money to send him to study for that long and so he became a maths teacher. I've known that for some time, although probably only after I decided to study the subject myself. It is only now that I'm beginning to appreciate that he was probably, unsurprisingly, a lover of great design too, just like I am. The payback for being too young to appreciate the adults in your lives had lives and tastes of their own. Now when I think back on some of objects my grandparents had in their house, that seems clearer and clearer. And I wish I had had space (and the foresight let’s not forget, because this was all luck) to save more of it. And I wish we could have talked about those objects together.
(Of course, the cutlery could have been my Grandma's choice and I'm constructing this all as a great narrative, but either way it stands, no?)
I think that the objects we choose to surround ourselves with tell stories. About who we are, and who we want to be. About the things we value. We keep mementos and treasure family heirlooms, which have little to nothing to do with their intrinsic value and a lot to do with the people they still tie us to. It makes me sad that I won't get to geek out with my Grandpa about design, now that I know enough to do so, but through everyday objects that he and Grandma chose to live with I can still have a little bit of that, everyday.