This article was first published in January 2003.
On my drive north to visit the Hardy Facility in Alnwick I was reminded of the booklets produced by Hardy’s in the 1920’s when a couple of gentlemen toured the rod making works. I felt I as though I was treading in historical footsteps. The main difference was that I did not have a leisurely trip on a train but a four o’clock start and a two hundred and fifty mile drive up the A1.
On arrival I was met by Richards Maudesly, the managing director of the company and a member of the Harris & Sheldon main board – the owners of Hardy Brothers since 1967. I had heard various comments on the current situation at the company including the fact that Richard was a “money man” or “bean counter”, a sometimes derogatory term for an accountant. Far from it, and although not coming from a tackle making background or a mechanical engineering background, he is an electrical engineer by training. Richard has worked for various companies involved in the heavy power generating field.
We were joined by Charley Norris who is the Chief design engineer and reel maker. Last year was not a good one for the company with all the problems, especially foot and mouth. The tourists did not come and by the time that it was cleared up the season had finished.
This year however there is a genuine air of optimism due to certain events that have taken place. Firstly the foot & mouth disease has gone and it is expected more visitors will come to this country to take up country pursuits when the new season starts in March. Hardy have recently concluded various deals to manufacture reels for other companies. During my visit I saw the Daiwa Lochmor reels being assembled.
I asked Richard about the various “collector” reels that have been made by the company and he did admit that there had been some mistakes in the marketing of them. Most people complained about the Bougle reels, but we have to take a balanced view here. I know people who have bought the reels as an investment and have tried to sell them a few months later. A situation similar to that encountered in Britain when the Public Utilities were privatised.
Well there was no shortage of these reels, there was in fact a glut. Witness the number that appeared on eBay. Who’s fault was that? Hardy’s for making too many or the “investors” for being greedy. One guy I know has a few of the Bougle and the St. George Junior reels and he has no complaints because he fishes with them.
I believe that we will continue to see reels that celebrate the history of the company but the numbers will not be as many as those produced in the last few years. This problem is not unique to Hardy’s people like Royal Doulton and Crown Derby introduce “Collector” series getting the exact number right is a tricky quest, too many and the retailers are left with unsold stock, too few and panic buying takes place.
Many people were under the impression that the London shop had been closed down and sold to Falow. I was informed that this was not the case but that Hardy had bought Farlow and would for a limited time be known as House of Hardy at Farlow. This was a business decision based on the fact that two retail stores within walking distance of each other was not a good idea. As the Farlow site was in a better location it was decided to move the complete operation there.
I brought up the question of fakes and forgeries and was left in no doubt that Hardy would defend their name and reputation, hopefully something can be sorted out to eradicate those that appear at auction and internet sales. Hardy’s are in a unique position and are mindful of their historical past. Yes they have the skills to produce futurist reels similar to those by Ari Hart but they have a tradition to uphold and many of their customers would not accept radical departure from those traditions and values.
I was shown round the factory by Charley Norris and was amazed at some of the reels being produced. One reel that impressed me was the Baby Bougle reels being made in a limited edition from their agent in Japan. This is wonderful reel and with a very limited run will become very collectible. These reels quickly sold out when offered to the collectors and fishermen in Japan.
I was shown Charley’s cupboard with bits and pieces of reels that have been produced and some that were not. The Royal was one such reel that was manufactured for testing but never produced. The new Bougle reels have a teal green frame and I asked why the spool was a different colour. The answer was that the manufacturing process could not guarantee exactly the same shade of green. Reels would look different and customers would think that they had been given the wrong spool.
The White-Wickham reels that were purchased by Ted Evans did go back to Hardy’s for cleaning and Charley told me of how when he first started to work on them they were a horrible colour. He started to wonder if things were going wrong, £50,000 worth of reels about to be ruined. Eventually the correct finish came about and he was able to stop panicking.
The reel making department is a fascinating place to visit and I was shown the various components being made for the limited edition wide spool Perfects. The problem for the modern reel maker is how to find materials that are no longer available. The handles for the reel are man made but have the look of bone or ivory. This set has been limited to 200 and comes in a presentation case. There are also 50 individual reels in the three sizes available. So I do not expect these to be flooded on eBay.
After spending a few hours looking round the factory I was then shown the Museum. This is a very nice visit with a well laid out and labelled display. Most of the items are on loan but you can see items here that you will not see anywhere else.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and as a bonus I went into the town to buy a recharger for my mobile phone and quite by accident got talking to the grandson of Lennox Walker the Alwnick tackle maker. I will be doing a further article on this company in the near future. For anyone wanting to visit the factory please contact tel. +44 1665 602771 email firstname.lastname@example.org