61 years ago, having rented the top floor of the Old silk Mill in Chipping Campden, Robert Welch would have been busily setting up his workshop and drawing studio. It must have been a time of trepidation for him, after all he was largely on his own and there was no guarantee that his venture would be a success. He even slept in the studio until Christmas 1955.
The workshop officially opened on 25th October 1955, and it would be just under a year from this date until he first exhibited his popular silver designs and a new range of stainless steel products he was working on - including the Campden toast rack, which would become the first award winning product he created.
In December 1957, the toast rack was selected as a ‘product of outstanding design’ by the Council of Industrial Design having been exhibited at its London Design Centre. The following year it won one of the Council’s annual ‘Designs of the Year’ awards, a forerunner of the Design Council Awards, and presented by H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh. This recognition must have buoyed his confidence; it was the first of many major awards that Robert Welch would receive during his long and prolific career.
The brass prototype which can be seen in this case is now in the collection of the V&A museum in London. Graham Hughes wrote of Robert Welch in 1963 that the 'first one of any new production pattern is a hand-made Welch prototype' and that it was 'no doubt this quality of seeing through fingers as well as eyes which distinguishes his work'. Robert talked of using his workshop to produce ‘solid scribbles’, an ethos very much still at the core of how designs are produced today - although developments such as 3D printing have provided a new means of producing models. Robert would have never imagined we would have such technology at our fingertips, and to see his toast rack recreated in such a way would be a strange revelation.
High design it is not, we are talking about a toast rack here, however the Campden toast rack is so much more than what it seems. It is odd to suggest that such a utilitarian object could elicit an emotional response, but I think this one does - they were everywhere and are part of the wider consciousness. People do not necessarily connect them to Robert Welch or to the idea of design, but it takes them back to nostalgic memories of breakfasts at their grandparents or parents house, or on holiday in a seaside B&B. The toast rack stands for the idea of ritual that breakfast no longer feels like it is, and if bread has gone out of fashion on a daily basis then perhaps it still makes an appearance at that special lazy weekend breakfast, a round of toast dropping crumbs on the paper - or that ultimate treat, breakfast in bed!
The toast rack, and the wider Campden tableware range, was a success because rather than designing silverware to be made in stainless steel Robert had the ingenuity to create objects which appeared like what they were and therefore had integrity. As a consequence the designs looked new, and extremely modern. They have remained so for 60 years.
The archive is a hive of factual information, dates and details, but it also provides a wealth of ideas and inspiration for our product and graphic designers. Much of it is very visual and lends itself to a creative mind easily. Not all of Robert Welch’s designs were put into production, and of those that were some were to become more iconic than others.
We hope this recreation of a popular heritage design heralds a new era for the company, one where the past not only informs the present but inspires the future!
Next time: Take a look at ‘Britain in the Fifties’, an exhibition currently on at Compton Verney