Chris Brammall - the Ulverston artist forging an impressive reputation

Chris Brammall in his design office

Chris Brammall in his design office - Credit: Archant

Pieces created in an Ulverston workshop can now be found all over the country, as Mike Glover reports

It is hard to define what Chris Brammall does: artist, designer, sculptor, engineer, metal-worker or blacksmith? Well actually it is all of these, and more. And now he is also a businessman and salesman.

Chris has spent 18 years developing his company and reputation to such an extent that his purpose-built (by him of course) workshop employs 16 craftsmen and turns over around £1 million a year.

There is barely a corner of the country that doesn’t now house one of his functional but artistic creations. The impressive list includes bridges, street furniture, sculptures, follies, gate-posts, towers, signs, railings, restoration projects and hand-forged items for the home.

They are all individually designed to fit the vision of the customer, sit in the landscape that surrounds them and help tell a story.

Above all they need to satisfy the passionate belief of Chris in what he sees as enhancing the experience of those who see and use them.

One of the most high profile creations in recent times was the entrance to the Churchill War Rooms in King Charles Street, Westminster, between the Treasury and Foreign Office, with the roof, doors, hinges and even lettering made entirely of solid bronze. Another was the desk, canopy and walls of the land works by the new ferry pier at Brockhole, Windermere, graced earlier this year by a visit from HM The Queen.

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In September his 16-tonne conch shell, made of nine individual tapers each 27 metres long and made of marine grade stainless steel, was installed at Cleveleys sea front. It is one of a series of sculptural pieces on the promenade inspired by the book Sea Swallows, marking the Wyre section of the Fylde coast restoration.

Next are curved panels which will form a circle to mark the entrance to Fawcett Park, part of a massive development on the site of the former Consett Steel works in County Durham.The coast to coast route will pass through the entrance, with walkers and cyclists able to see the images of steel workers within the panels.

Also on the stocks at Chris’s workshop in Low Mill Business Park, Ulverston, is a bandstand with a wing-shaped roof for a resort in the south of England.

Those familiar with the Lake District will recognise the design as similar to the bandstand Chris and his team put on the Glebe at Bowness-on-Windermere.

It was not without controversy when installed but Chris relishes the debate over public art.

‘People sometimes shake their heads and wonder what we are doing putting such a piece in the public realm. But after a year or two the community takes ownership of it, admires it and often becomes proud of it,’ says Chris, who lives in Windermere and became quite used to being told by local people they were not happy with the project.

The award-winning Glebe piece is made of weathering steel, the same material as used by Anthony Gormley for the Angel of the North, which takes about 18 months to oxidise and become embedded in its environment.

Another landmark close to home is a footbridge over the River Kent at Staveley, near Kendal, which is now regularly used as a back-drop to wedding photographs taken in the village. ‘When our works make an intervention in people’s lives it gives a great feeling. I feel privileged,’ he said.

Chris, now aged 40, was aware he wanted to be involved in art and design from primary school days in Hawkshead. He went on to Lakes School, in Troutbeck, where he was given encouragement by teachers to pursue his passion.

From there he went to Carlisle College of Art for a foundation course and then took an innovative design and blacksmith course.

He comes from practical stock, with his grandfather a plumber and father a builder, and found forging metal to create designs to be his ideal medium.

He started making artefacts for the Old Court House Gallery in Ambleside, run by his parents, and set up his business in a barn at the Graythwaite Hall estate, where he developed his skills mending forestry machines and creating decorative works to sell.

It was the move into public works - which he describes as ‘sculptures with a function’ - that led to the expansion of his firm and the move to the purpose built factory at Ulverston in 2002. His first commission was a five-metre high Town Clock for Whitley Bay, near the mouth of the Tyne.

Each work is site specific. Chris likes to visit and absorb the surroundings and starts scribbling down his thoughts and then draws his ideas on a computer.

Because it is difficult to portray three-dimensional images, he then creates models in the material he intends to use so clients can get a feel for the texture, and gain approval before getting his team to create the final full-scale piece. This can take several months.

As well as these public projects, Chris is increasingly retracing his roots to develop hand-forged interior home accessories. Gallery pieces, including candlesticks, wall sconces, fire irons and tables are created using traditional blacksmith techniques, hot steel forged by hand over an anvil.

And he has ready-made outlets. As well as his parents’ gallery, his wife Heidi runs three contemporary gift and kitchenware shops, called Detail, in Penrith, Ambleside and Windermere.

To complete the family feel, Chris’s company emblem is based on a wren, the name of his daughter, now 14, and born during the early years in Graythwaite.

Whereas wrens stay very small, Chris Brammall’s company, and his influence on the public art scene, just gets bigger.