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Award-winning family firm is now international brand
5:00pm Monday 16th December 2013 in News
FROM small beginnings in a few modest rooms in an 18th century silk mill, Robert Welch is now an international, award-winning brand.
Founded by the late Robert Welch in 1955, the Chipping Campden-based company has been designing stainless steel pieces for everyday life for almost 60 years.
The firm has some 40 awards to its name, including most recently being named business of the year in the inaugural Campden Business Awards.
Now run by his children, Rupert and Alice Welch, trade customers include major department stores such as John Lewis, leading airlines, hotels and restaurants throughout the world.
The company’s range of products – including cutlery and kitchenware – are created by a small team of designers in the same building Robert Welch started six decades ago.
His ethos – that everyone should be able to use beautifully designed pieces in everyday life – is still central to the company’s work today.
Alice Welch, who lives in Winchcombe, said: “That for us is the most important thing. To maintain the ethos of his design which is is timeless and affordable.
“It’s very important to us that when we design we look at something that’s not going to be a trend. It needs to have longevity.”
Her father, who died in 2000 aged 70, founded the company in the Old Silk Mill fresh from the Royal College of Art. At that time he was designing for the old Oriana ship as a designer for industry as well as being a silversmith producing one-off commissions. Some of his famous early designs, such as his Alveston cutlery, are still going today and are still selling incredibly well.
But unknown to some, he also designed some more unusual pieces including a large amount of ecclesiastical silverware including an altar cross and candlestick for Canterbury Cathedral.
In 1998 the company began producing all of its cutlery rather than getting a firm to make it for them after being commissioned by a large, international company to design a range of cutlery.
“We were completely in control of the design, the manufacturing, selling and marketing,” said Alice. “It was a big turning point for the business.”
A mail order service was set up – which now has 50,000 members – and Rupert and Alice started going to consumer shows to market the brand. They set up a division selling to retailers such as John Lewis along with hotels and restaurants and four years ago starting selling to high-quality cookery shops including Lakeland.
Their distribution is now as far reaching as Australia, America, Russia and, most recently, Azerbaijan.
Customers will be familiar with the company’s distinctive branding, Robert Welch’s signature, which has been used since early 2000.
The company is still very much a family affair with Robert Welch’s wife, Patricia, still involved in the business as a director, despite their team of five staff having now grown to nearly 60.
Since Robert Welch opened his first shop in Campden in 1969, a further shop in Warwick opened in 1990 and, most recently, one in Broad Street, Bath. Just a year since it opened, this shop has already been shortlisted for retail interior of the year in the World Interiors annual awards.
Robert Welch may no longer be here, but his legacy will live on for generations to come, something his children are keen to preserve.
Alice said they were hoping to catalogue his huge portfolio of work that most people have never seen in an online archive which could be used as an educational resource for students and people interested in design.
Their dream is to eventually open a museum so people can see his work and read the stories behind it.
“I think over the years he will become more and more recognised as one of the most important designers of the 20th century,” she said. “People don’t realise how many pieces in their homes were designed by Robert Welch.”
An exhibition of Robert Welch designs from the beginning to the present day is being held in Court Barn Museum, Chipping Campden, next July.
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