Creating Weathervanes in the Scottish Borders

Life for us at Black Fox Metalcraft has gone through some fairly dramatic changes in the past year – this post gives an update as to what’s happened to us and where we are now.

Being evicted from our workshop home of 10 years in North Manchester was at first a bit devastating. We knew the Victorian red brick building would most likely be knocked down to make way for some low quality flats as seems to be the way in that area, and that’s really sad! There was no suitable alternative in the Manchester area, and how would we move all of our metalworking equipment?  The anvils and steel workbenches are heavy enough but our beautiful vintage flypress seemed completely immovable. However after a long and difficult weekend of calling in favours from some good (and strong!) friends, David managed to get all our kit into storage, but we still had the issue of no workshop to actually move into, so producing metalwork would have to be put on hold….

We had always had our eye on the Scottish borders after driving though on many trips to visit family in Edinburgh, and loved the idea of building our own house. After months of searching, we came across a few acres in Hawick, a linear plot along the edge of a river. We first visited in the middle of lockdown, and had to make a decision on whether or not we wanted to move our family and business up here, with everything closed and virtually no people about this was a tough call. The surrounding countryside is as stunning as any I’ve seen in the UK, and we pretty much didn’t see any litter the whole time we were there, so we decided it must be a decent town and we would take the chance on it!

After a post on a local facebook group, we felt extremely lucky to stumble across a beautiful old farmhouse for rent a short drive outside Hawick, not far from the land we had purchased. Initially the plan was to get our brand new workshop built quickly on our land, but then it turned out the rental farmhouse had a small workshop just down the road that the landlord agreed we could rent – amazing turn of fortune as our commute is now a 3 minute walk down a farm track through beautiful countryside. And this means we can take our time with the build doing as much of it as possible ourselves. The photo below shows our new rented workshop with the most vivid rainbows I’ve ever seen, absolutely no filters used here! The workshop had been a Smithy until about 30 years ago, so feels very appropriate that we have taken it on.

 Our new metal workshop, a former Smithy

We’re currently running the business around family life. This week I’ve had loads of weathervanes to gild and signwriting to do, so have been getting up before the twins to do a coat of paint on everything, so that it’s dry by the time they are in bed for another coat. And in between all of this, we also have our very active, intelligent 4 year old border collie Bryn to entertain so we don’t have a lot of down time at the moment! The twins are now 27 months old, and they are due to start at a lovely nursery in town just after Christmas. I’m really looking forward to being able to devote more time to designing and making our weathervanes and farm signs, and eventually build our own home and workshop on the same site. Here are Imogen and Ada trying out our welding masks, a little bit of growing room in there I think!

 The twins trying on our welding masks!

Though we love it up here, running the business certainly has a few practical difficulties attached to it. In Manchester, the nearest electroplater was a short drive up the road in Oldham. I didn’t appreciate at the time how convenient this was, as it turns out that our nearest electroplater is now 2 hours away! It’s not practical to be driving that far twice a week, not to mention being a massive waste of diesel, so we had to build a pallet box and have things shipped over, which obviously adds a few days onto the length of time it already takes to produce our weathervanes. The electroplating is worth the effort though, it’s so important to us that we are confident in the quality and longevity of our weathervanes and swinging signs. It’s also no longer a case of nipping over the road to drop parcels at the post office and deliveries certainly take longer to reach us, so it’s certainly more difficult to run a small metalwork business up here than it was in a big city. But the quality of life is so much better, and our girls will grow up in the countryside with so much space and fresh air that they wouldn’t have come close to living in a North Manchester terrace. So, the trauma and serious hard work of getting evicted turned out to be the push we needed to get the life we wanted, and we’re very excited for our future.

Bryn waiting while I finish putting the primer coat on a swinging sign.

Photo showing Bryn giving me the Collie stare while I finish putting the primer coat on this bespoke swinging sign... think we must be about 3 minutes past his dinner time!