Liv­ing Na­tional Trea­sure

Clay-pipe maker

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graph by Richard Can­non

In the re­turn of our clas­sic se­ries, Paula Lester talks to Shrop­shire-based Rex Key, one of the three re­main­ing clayp­ipe mak­ers in Bri­tain

Idon’t smoke. I did puff on a pipe once for a pro­mo­tional leaflet, but I didn’t in­hale,’ ad­mits Rex Key, one of Bri­tain’s three re­main­ing clay-pipe mak­ers, who’s been craft­ing tobacco pipes for more than 20 years.

A for­mer chief sub-ed­i­tor on the Birmingham Mail, Mr Key’s pipedream be­gan af­ter mov­ing to the Shrop­shire vil­lage of Brose­ley, where el­e­gant, long-han­dled clay pipes were first pro­duced some 400 years ago, peak­ing in the 17th cen­tury, when the qual­ity of Bri­tish-made pipes was ac­knowl­edged world­wide.

‘I kept dig­ging up clay pipes from my gar­den and ended up with a wheel-bar­row­ful, then, through re­search, dis­cov­ered pipe-mak­ing was one of the area’s first cot­tage in­dus­tries,’ he ex­plains. ‘Back then, pipes were a work­ing man’s lux­ury.’

now in his sev­en­ties, Mr Keys con­tin­ues to fash­ion pipes in the tra­di­tional man­ner, by press­ing white clay into a Vic­to­rian ca­st­iron mould, fin­ish­ing each one by hand and fir­ing them at more than 1,000˚C in an elec­tric kiln.

In­deed, de­mand for his wares from film and tv pro­duc­tions—such as the ‘Pi­rates of the Caribbean’ films and the BBC’S Lark

Rise to Can­dle­ford—civil War reen­act­ment so­ci­eties and Ma­sonic lodges is so high that Mr Keys re­cently had to turn down an or­der for 1,500 pipes from the Pick­wick Bi­cy­cle Club.

‘I do en­joy mak­ing them,’ he en­thuses. ‘I find it re­lax­ing and ther­a­peu­tic and I love the fact I’m car­ry­ing on an old her­itage craft and a lo­cal in­dus­try that sup­ported our lit­tle vil­lage for cen­turies.’ PL www.brose­leyp­

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