Handbag designer Matt Fothergill- Ludlow

PUBLISHED: 20:49 07 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:09 20 February 2013

Matt Fothergill

Matt Fothergill

Handbag designer Matt Fothergill spent an idyllic childhood growing up near Ludlow and exploring the rambling beauty of the South Shropshire countryside. So when he became a father himself he wanted a similar upbringing for his daughter....

Handbag designer Matt Fothergill spent an idyllic childhood growing up near Ludlow and exploring the rambling beauty of the South Shropshire countryside.
So when he became a father himself he wanted a similar upbringing for his daughter. Sarah Hart explored their Shropshire home. Photography Adrian Jones

Six years ago Matt and his wife, Jax, decided to upsticks from London having grown tired of the hustle and bustle of capital living.
"Jax was working for the publisher Harper Collins and she'd have to trek across London every day to work," says Matt.
Holly, their daughter, was eight years old, and they felt it a timely moment to make their move. Matt had begun to make a name for himself in the world of luxury leather bags. He had designed collections for top designers Paul Smith and Nicole Farhi and had a burgeoning business under his own name selling to the Conran Shop in London, Paris and New York, Selfridges, other exclusive retailers and the Japanese equivalent of Harrods. A number of celebrities, including the musician Fatboy Slim and the gardening writer Dan Pearson, counted themselves among the owners of Matt Fothergill creations. So Matt was in the secure position to be able to move his business lock, stock and barrel and take his prestigious customers with him. He also made the decision to start selling many of his products through his website.
Matt's parents still lived in the Ludlow area so he and Jax concentrated their search for a house with all important workshop space for Matt's business within a 30-mile radius of the historic Shropshire town.
"We were looking for six months. We used to come up every fortnight and stay with my parents, trawl the Internet and scour the estate agents," says Matt.
The beauty of the surrounding hills drew their search further out from Ludlow. One evening they happened to pop into a pub in the village of Clun and someone mentioned that a house with a barn was on the market just up the road.
"It was just getting dark, but we had a look and could see it had real potential because of the barn behind it," says Matt.
The couple returned to Clun for a closer inspection the following day and were smitten.
"The house needed everything doing to it but it had its original features. It still had its old servants' bells wired up, its original fireplaces and even all of its original fittings, such as the window latches, with the old Clun blacksmith's name, 'Luther of Clun', stamped into the wrought iron - although they were under layers of paint," Matt explains.
"The house dated back to the 1880s and it had barely been touched since the 1920s."
Beneath aging lino Matt and Jax discovered original quarry tile and flagstone floors. Underneath the carpet in the hallway they unveiled beautiful oak parquet flooring. And below an ugly blanket of pebbledash render the handsome, grey, exterior stonework emerged.
While the Fothergills brought in a local builder to carry out the main structural work to the house, including the fitting of a new roof, damp coursing, replastering and the taking down of ceilings upstairs to create lighter and airier bedrooms, Matt and Jax did as much as they could. They spent countless hours peeling away coats of paint from cast iron fireplaces and pine doors and stripping away layers of wallpaper from every wall. They were ably helped by Matt's leatherwork assistant Andy Kirkbride who had made the move from London with them.
Matt recalls: "We found six different layers of wallpaper going back to the 1880s. Jax has kept a swatch of each one."
One of the kitchen walls has been deliberately left partly stripped.
The biscuit beige and salmon pink of century old plasterwork melds with similarly coloured pretty fragments of century old wallpaper like an artful collage.
"Jax wanted to keep it like that because she loved the effect. It does create a lovely aged look," says Matt.
The gradual paring back of rooms throughout the house uncovered oak beams, vintage pine cupboards and wooden lintels and window sills.
Upstairs the original pine floorboards were sanded down and buffed to their former glory.
All the windows retained their original rolled glass panes, but the putty just about holding them in place had cracked or chipped away.
Matt painstakingly removed each pane and reinstated them in fresh putty.
Before he and Jax bought the house it had been empty for some time.
It had no central heating, a reason why most of the rooms had retained their fireplaces. The couple installed central heating sourcing Victorian and Edwardian cast iron radiators that they restored.
What had been the small kitchen of the house Matt and Jax transformed into a utility room, and they retained the ice white, vintage, wood- fuelled Rayburn that had come with the house.
"Jax thought it might come in handy in case of a power or fuel shortage. We use it sometimes. It quickly gets up to a roaring temperature."
They turned the room nextdoor, that the previous owner had used as a "snug', into the new kitchen. In fact it had probably been the original kitchen. Where the bread oven had been they installed a reconditioned charcoal black Aga. Many of the cupboards in the kitchen were designed and hand built by the Fothergills and their builder. Dining chairs that Matt re-upholstered in smooth duck egg blue leather echo the soft blue of the hand painted units.
Muted earthy shades of lichen green, chocolate brown and rusty red - except in Holly's room where fuschia pink prevails - have been used for the rest of the house in the form of soft furnishings, Persian rugs and sumptuous leather furniture. It is a timeless palate.
Matt and Jax bought much of their furniture from antique auctions, restoring pieces where necessary. The two Chesterfield sofas in the sitting room came from an auction and were re-upholstered in beautiful, soft, thick cow hide. In addition to hand-making gorgeous bags, gilets, jackets and accessories in the finest Italian leather, Matt's company sources and re-upholsters furniture to order.
Throughout the house window sills, mantelpieces and table tops are bedecked with old bottles, broken clay pipes and vintage curiosities that add character and interest.
"In London we lived on the Isle of Dogs. During low tides we used to go for walks along the Thames," says Matt.
"There had been lots of old inns on the island, so we were always finding claypipes and old ginger beer and ink bottles on the muddy banks."
Matt's busy leather workshop is on the first floor of the converted brick barn behind the house. Here he, Andy and he latest recurit, Sandra Hughes, busily turn out their stylish creations.
* Matt Fothergill has introduced a new range of handbags. For further information on his products or to order visit his website www.mattfothergill.com. Shropshire stockists of his handbags include his own shop, 'Fothergill', in Market Square, Clun (open Saturdays and bank holidays or by appointment);The Silver-Pear, Broad Street, Ludlow; Antony Sheppard, Castle Street, Ludlow; and Twenty-Twenty, High Street, Much Wenlock.

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