Cornwall LivingIssue #85

Cornwall’s industrial heritage

Discover the Duchy’s historic industrial past with The Cornish Bed Company who, to this day, continue to utilise traditional techniques.

The Cornish Bed Company, located in the heart of Cornwall, rejects soulless mass production, choosing instead to embrace the county’s long industrial heritage.

Cornwall is steeped in a rich industrial history, which dates back as far as the medieval period, when its mineral resources were first exploited. The county thrived in the 18th and 19th centuries as a business powerhouse in metal mining, quarrying and china clay production.

“We’re confident that we produce some of the finest beds found anywhere – and we’re proud that we do it all in Cornwall”

Diverse artisanal skills and traditional crafting techniques arose around the raw materials that were prevalent across the region and the skills developed and honed by Cornish craftsmen have been passed down from generation to generation, and are still in use around Cornwall today.

Just down the road from China clay country and the Cornish ‘Alps’, is the Cornish Bed Company, a manufacturer of bespoke beds that pays homage to the craftsmanship of its Victorian forefathers.

Located in an old railway depot formally used for the transportation of mining materials, the company’s roots are steeped in history and all things Victorian, from the foundry it operates from, to the artisan beds it produces.

Its foundry in Par is one of the last in the country to cast iron, brass, and nickel beds by hand using traditional techniques. The company embraces Cornwall’s industrial heritage and leads the charge against mass production to offer customers something more personal that will last a lifetime.

Director at The Cornish Bed Company, Garry Smith, tells us: “We champion authenticity and craftsmanship – it really is as far from the production line as you could get. It’s great to be able to add to the county’s long industrial heritage. The manufacturing process for Victorian bed frames in the 19th century used the same hand pouring and intricate polishing methods that we employ today. We are producing antiques for the future, heirlooms and pieces of workmanship that will last for many generations.”

When you visit The Cornish Bed Company’s foundry you have the opportunity to witness this time-honoured manufacturing process first hand. Its iron beds have a modest birth, beginning life as lengths of seamless tubes which are laid across a base of set moulds. An engineer with the steadiest hands in Cornwall proceeds to use a ladle to spoon molten zinc, which reaches temperatures of 470°C, from the nearby furnace, pouring it into the mould cavities. As it cools, the zinc solidifies and is knocked free.

At this stage, a signature self-locking system is used to attach the side rails to the head and foot of the bed, guaranteeing longevity. An individual serial number is then stamped onto the knuckle, providing a mark of authenticity for each customer.

The bed frame is then degreased by hand before powder coating is applied using an electrostatic gun, and cured in an oven reaching temperatures of 400°C. The baked skin of paint is thicker and more durable than its conventional counterpart, and extremely unlikely to chip.

“We’re confident that we produce some of the finest beds found anywhere – and we’re proud that we do it all in Cornwall,” Garry explains.

Like the Cornish mining diaspora, Cornish beds can be found anywhere in the world. From the urban scenes of Minneapolis in America, to the tranquil setting of the Scottish Highlands, each bespoke bed showcases the work of Cornwall’s industrial forefathers to a global audience.

The Cornish Bed Company is not alone either. As our lives become increasingly virtual, there’s now a growing awareness of provenance and, as a result, Cornwall is now filled with artisan businesses flying the flag for sustainability and building items using traditional techniques. Companies such as Skinflint Lighting and Otter Surfboards have joined The Cornish Bed Company in championing Cornwall’s long and successful industrial heritage.

You can find The Cornish Bed Company at The Royal Cornwall Show this year, where they will be exhibiting from 6th until 8th June.

"We’re confident that we produce some of the finest beds found anywhere – and we’re proud that we do it all in Cornwall"