Bridport’s unique characters photographed by Kevin Wilson
PUBLISHED: 14:57 23 October 2014 | UPDATED: 14:57 23 October 2014
Renowned photographer Kevin Wilson returned to original techniques to capture the unique characters of St Michael’s estate in the town, picturing trades of bygone eras from net-making to waxworks.
Waxworks – the very word conjures up the cobbled streets and pea-soupers of the Victorian age. Surf to the Wade Waxworks website though, and you will find yourself firmly in the 21st century, along with Miley Cyrus, Mariah Cary and Morgan Freeman, George Clooney, Glastonbury’s darling Dolly Parton and Barack Obama. “I’ve made a few Obamas,” chuckles Mike Wade. “When he first got into office I made a speculative Barack Obama and touted it around to wax museums, so I got in there at the right time. One even went to Australia.”
Recent creations in wax have been of a more fast-moving set: Ayrton Senna for Brazil and 21-year old motorcycle racing superstar Marc Márquez, the current MotoGP world champion. It takes about three to four months to make one of the waxworks and Mike reckons to make about 12 a year.
Having worked at Madame Tussaud’s from 1987 to 2000, Mike then set up in business in London. He moved to Bridport in 2003. “It is such a beautiful spot and a great place to work and bring up a family,” he enthuses. “I live in the middle of town and my commute is a nice walk St Michael’s, where there are all these amazing little companies.”
“Bowler hats to Tristan da Cunha, berets to St Helena, bush hats to Papua New Guinea…” Roger Snook has turned a personal passion for hats into an international trade as well as a local festival, the Bridport Hat Festival. Originally set up as a Gent’s Outfitters in 1896 by his grandfather, Snooks was taken over by Roger in 1987. “I made it my mission to bring back the hat,” he declares. This he did - to Bridport and to the world. Big hats, too: last year, the Hollywood Museum of Wax asked for a Boss of the Plains ten-gallon hat, as worn by John Wayne in the 1954 movie Hondo. “Stetson quoted 20 weeks. They had it from me in seven days,” Roger says proudly. Snooks has one of the biggest stocks of hats in the country, and also offers formal dress hire and “accessories for the well dressed gentleman” including snuff, suspenders, Winceyette pyjamas and cummerbunds.
Roger has seen a lot of the world, but has always returned to his birthplace, Bridport. At five years old, he lived in the African bush; later, he went around the world servicing turbines on dams. Travelling every couple of months palled and Roger has lived in Bridport for 27 years
“I thoroughly enjoy it. People ask if I go on holiday but I feel I am on holiday all the time,” he says. In September, Roger held the fifth Bridport Hat Festival, with live music, hat auctions and hat competitions for adults, children and a ‘Best-hatted Dog’ category. Roger estimates that at least 10,000 people attended this year and proceeds go to Brain Tumour Research and the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust. It has to be said: hats off to Roger!
Karl Dixon has worked in stone, in West Dorset, all his adult life. Born in Weymouth, he started stone carving when he went to college in Leeds. He then moved back to Weymouth and took a letter-cutting and heraldry course at the Technical College. He then started to work in letter-cutting for the funeral trade 1979, when he and his wife Christine had their first child. “I’ve always had an aspiration to come to Bridport, I think it’s the nicest West Dorset town,” Karl declares. “Bridport was a very unpretentious place in those days - I’m not sure you can say that now - and it felt like a working town. Obviously Weymouth, where I was born, is a seaside town but Bridport is an artisan’s town. That’s what I consider myself to be and that feeling has endured. Our three children have grown up here and it just felt like the right place for us.” Soon, he found an opportunity with a funeral director in Bridport and took on the premises on St Michael’s Trading Estate in 1980.
Most of the business is for the funeral trade. “We do a lot of hand-cut work, which stands out against machine-cut letters, that has grown in popularity over the last 15 years,” Karl remarks. He has also done about a dozen stone sculptures and the Buckydoo Seat, an octagonal seat with panels depicting the history of the town, in Buckydoo Square. This public commission opened the door for other commissions, like a St Francis at Netherbury Church. Karl also designed the floor for the revamped Bridport Town Hall and did some decorative work there.
Vintage at Cornucopia
It might be stretching a point to call Vintage at Cornucopia a Curiosity Shop, but the fact that vintage kitchenware, Bakelite and early plastics are now included in retro chic certainly invites the comparison. Kate Laing started the shop with her collection of vintage fashion almost eight years ago, taking over a shop from her brother’s antique business. As well as clothing, she trades in accessories, costume jewellery, furniture and ‘kitchenalia’. Kate says: “I’ve always had an interest in vintage clothing and collected it. Most of the pieces I sell are from the 1920s to 1960s”
The 1940s are always popular: Kate attributes part of this to Goodwood – the famous racecourse has events such as ‘Vintage at Goodwood’, where fans of retro style gather in their finery – and recently to anniversaries of World War Two. “I’ve learned never to look for one particular thing, but to focus on what is wearable and in good condition,” she reveals. Kate grew up in Bridport, moved away but returned 17 years ago. “It’s a wonderful place - a very diverse, thriving market town where people really do seem to care about supporting small businesses and keeping things local. There’s a lot of music and art, Open Studios - lots of reasons to come here,” she says. Kate is an organizer of the lively Vintage Markets on the estate. “We have music and food outlets and lots of other traders pitching stalls here on the last Sunday of every month. They have been a great success.”
Rope-making is Bridport’s most enduring trade, dating at least from the time of King John. The town was so well-known for its rope that hanged men were said to be ‘stabbed with a Bridport dagger.’ Coastal Nets is a family concern that has thrived on diversifying from its original primary business, supplying nets to the fishing industry, which now accounts for about half its trade; safety nets, sport, pest control, military and other uses make up the balance. Rod Barr started the business in 1987, having been sales manager at Bridport Gundry’s, which at one point was one of the leading netting manufacturers in the world. Rod is due to hand over most of the management to his son James, who has worked there for 15 years.
“I’ve always been into fishing and nets,” James says. “As soon as I could walk I was out on the boat.” He has always lived in Bridport, except when he went to university before joining his father’s business.
In February this year, Coastal launched an online shop. “That has really helped with the fishing trade, because a lot of fishermen are out in the day,” James says. There are plans to move into horticultural, ground control and building nets and to open a retail shop.
“Bridport is a great town and a great place to bring up kids - there’s a lot going on,” adds James. “I love being by the sea, that’s the biggest draw. We’ve got a boat in West Bay and go fishing a lot.”
Kevin Wilson, Photographer
It was a recent move from East Dorset to West Dorset that inspired photographer Kevin to create the collection of photographs taken in Bridport that gained him a Fellowship of the British Institute of Professional Photography. “We moved to Bradford Peverell a year ago. Prior to that we had been looking in the area and I came across Bridport and realized what a vibrant community there was on the St Michael’s Trading Estate and South Street,” Kevin says. “Looking at the various artisans working there I thought it would be a really nice project. It coincided with wanting to create a new fellowship.”
He asked 20 businesses if they wanted to help with this project; most were enthusiastic. “I didn’t bring any costumes or props, every person wore their own clothing,” he says. The approach to photography is quite traditional: though Kevin uses digital equipment, everything is lit by available light – no flashgun is used. “You manipulate and enhance the light,” Kevin says. “I try to think like the old masters. Historically, everything was done with available light, tripods and reflectors. I use very fast lenses, wide open in some instances.”
A Fellowship is the highest award you can get in photography and Kevin now has five – more than anyone else in the world - including one in portrait photography, which was his first area of work, and one in wedding photography, which is his principal business now.
“Currently I’m involved in teaching and judging, as well as more portraiture and weddings. I teach around the country and internationally. I speak for the Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers and the Royal Photographic Society.”
Kevin has given a complete set of the Bridport photographs to the Bridport Museum as a permanent record and hopes to exhibit them locally in a gallery in the next few months.