I was so pleased to be invited to photograph the retail shop and workshop of Mr. Joseph in Kidwelly.
Mr. Joseph was born in 1933, and amazingly, at the age of 90-years, he is still running his upholstery business in Bridge Street with the support of his wife Rose, who implements the majority of the repairs and refurbishment of the sofas and chairs that are bought to him, usually from referrals.
Mr. Joseph informed me that his grandfather was an upholsterer in York, and that his father had an upholstery factory and shop in Hove, Brighton, which he established in 1936. The premises in Hove consisted of a basement workshop with a shop at street level and living quarters above.
Continuing the family tradition; Mr. Joseph opened an upholstery business in Lower Oxford Street, Swansea, and his Kidwelly workshop in 1992, which was initially a hardware shop, and has traded in the same place for the past 31 years.
I believe that it is so important to recognise and celebrate these small independent businesses that have been such an intrinsic component of our heritage. Our throw-away society does not respect the lineage of Mr. Joseph and his forebears. It is all too easy for us to throw-away the old sofa, rather than respect the crafts men and women of the past and have the sofa repaired and recovered. I cannot help wondering what will happen to the business, when Mr. Joseph finally decides to hang-up his scissors; who will continue in his footsteps? Another small business will cease to function? Another small part of our heritage gone forever?
Mr. Joseph takes such pride in the work he produces in his workshop and is eager to share with me the age and history of some his machinery. He informed me that the USA manufactured ‘Union Special’ overlocker is pre-WWII. I have sent an enquiry to a UK company who claim to represent Union Special, regarding a possible age of the machine, but they have not responded. Mr. Joseph was keen for me to photograph and take note of the cast iron ‘Bellow’ sewing machine base. I have tried to research this manufacturer, but all I can establish is that the company has ‘ceased trading’.
It is a mark of the quality of Mr. Joseph’s work that he is able to maintain the business without any direct marketing, relying on referrals and a Carmarthenshire-based business advertiser called Trading Post.
It seems remarkable that Mr. Joseph knows were all his fabrics and material bolts are from his decades of contemporary and historic collection. He can competently respond to a client’s enquiry and fulfil their requirements.
I am grateful for Mr. Joseph’s hospitality and access to his workshop for my photo project.