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Unique Items at Horsham Forge

Paul Wightman at Horsham Forge

Published on 31st August 2018

Horsham Forge initially operated as conventional fabricators and repairers. Recently, the business has been creating unique furniture and lighting to broaden its customer base. AAH met founder and owner, Paul Wightman...

How long have you been in business? We started in 1991, renting a unit from Hillier’s Garden Centre. It was touch-and-go for Horsham Forge in the early days, as people didn’t know about us. We’re at the back of a garden centre in a small town and we didn't even have computers back then, let alone social media, so it took a while to build a reputation through word of mouth.

Why choose a low-key location?We couldn’t afford to be on the High Street as the rates and insurance are too high and we require a lot of space because of the machinery.

What machinery do you have? I started off with a budget of about £500 and bought tools from G&M Tools in Ashington. Now, we have incredible machinery capable of creating intricate patterns and letters in one inch thick steel as well as industrial lathe machines. We have everything you need for forging, cutting and shaping. It’s not just someone hammering on an anvil. 

What sort of things do you work on at the forge? You never know what the day will bring. We work on anything that can be fabricated, shaped, welded or repaired. We work with sheet metal, glasswork, wood, copper and other materials. Common items include gates, railings, weathervanes, lamp shades, fire baskets, chairs, tables and lights. We realised early on that bigger companies that deal with fabrication or metal sheeting don't want the public coming back for minor repairs. They’re not set-up for it, so there has always been a place for a local forge. 

Is there anything you don’t do? I am not a farrier! We have had people ask if they should bring their horse round the back or through the garden centre! The farrier and blacksmith trade separated about 50 years ago and few blacksmiths will shoe a horse. We’ve also had people sit down at one of our tables and order a coffee, as we have a coffee sign in the corner, just as an example of our work. Usually, they see the funny side before leaving!

What items do people want repairing? We see all kinds of interesting items come into the workshop. We’ve just taken in an old Victorian street lamp and a vintage wine rack that needs restoring. Sometimes, people bring in old wheelbarrows and we have to explain that it’ll cost more to repair than it would to buy a new one. But some items have sentimental value. Upcycling is popular, but people aren’t always aware of how much time is required to repair these old items. We always provide an estimate, so there are no shocks!

Do you make your own items too? We’ve always made things like gates, pokers and railings. It’s hard when people can buy a mass-produced item that is good enough for their needs for perhaps a third of the price elsewhere. Still, there will always be people who appreciate the weight, structure and quality of handmade, made-to-fit items. It’s like a music enthusiast who becomes an audiophile, insisting on the best sound reproduction so the music they listen to is as good as it can be. Whilst for others, a regular set of speakers will do. 

Is that your main source of business? The most successful part of the business has been shop fitting for corporate clients. Different designs are used by fashion retailers to make shops stylish and attractive, and that has kept us busy. Some of that work has been local; we fitted out the tables for Mungo’s Bar in Horsham. We also work with two national retail companies but it’s a tough time for fashion outlets and that’s had a knock-on effect. When orders started drying up, we considered other ways to generate business.  

What was the result of that? We now make lighting and rustic wood furniture. Pete Barnes, who is affectionately known as Metal Bender, makes a lot of the pipe men and motorbike lights. He loves making them and has helped grow our profile too by posting photos on social media. People are fascinated by them! 

Are they unique items? You can find similar looking items on eBay, but they do not have the same quality. If you want something unique, bespoke and built with quality, then Pete’s work is perfect. We also made lamps out of deactivated shotguns, with the trigger operating as a switch, and fire pits from stainless steel washing machine drums. Another of Pete’s creations is a metal spider made from spoons! 

You’re making furniture too? We have a selection of stools, tables and chairs, but we are still learning what our customers like and what sells. Our drain cover table is a prime example, in that we’ve displayed the table for six months and have only sold one. Everybody who walks through the door loves it, but buying it is another matter!

Why are people not buying items they love? Very few people are lucky enough to have the space for such things. We have a beautiful dining room table that attracts a lot of attention, but most people only have space for a four-foot table in their kitchen, or a breakfast bar. You see lovely, bespoke tables going into huge homes on TV programmes like Grand Designs, but it is the smaller items that sell better. 

Is there a throwaway culture when it comes to furniture? Many people don't want items for life, which is why retailers like Ikea do so well. People want to change furniture every few years to keep up with the latest styles and technology. I don't understand that stance myself, but that’s the reality. However, making the furniture has helped us keep our heads above water and has revitalised our desire to design and create unique items for our customers. 

What other unusual projects have you been involved in? Our remit is so wide that we can take on anything. We made a huge steel structure for a scale model of a grabbing machine which picks up items on the ocean bed. We love a challenge at the forge!

What are your future plans? I reached official retiring age this year and I've had letters telling me about my winter fuel allowance! But I have no interest in stopping. I like to play around with cars and have an American style pick-up truck that I will be taking to Americarna in Horsham. I use the van for deliveries too, which people always enjoy. That’s something else that we do that’s a little unusual!



Visit Horsham Forge at Hillier Garden Centre, Brighton Road, Horsham. Open Tuesday - Saturday. Call (01403) 272894 or visit www.horshamforge.co.uk