NEW SITE LAUNCHED AUGUST 2023!
"Making Quality Smoking Pipes Since 1890"
The founder of the Blakemar dynasty, Thomas Martin started his five year apprenticeship in the early 1880’s with John Friedrich of Soho where he initially learned his trade carving meerschaums. He then went on to learn briar pipe making with Loewes of London, the most prestigious of the London pipe makers in the days before Dunhill became a household name. Having contributed to a gold medal winning exhibition display for his employers, he returned to his home village of Blakesley and set up the first Martin pipe workshop in 1890.
In due course his skills and the factory were passed on to his son Richard (Dick) who, in 1961 moved to Litchborough, the ‘next door’ village, when larger premises became available. During his tenure, Dick modernized the process, changing from treadle lathes and long, flapping drive belts to electric power.
One of Dick’s most loyal customers was the legendary WWII ‘Battle of Britain’ flying ace Douglas Bader, famously portrayed by Kenneth More in ‘Reach for the Sky’ a film adapted from the biography of the same name by Paul Brickhill. Sir Douglas smoked a small billiard with a short saddle stem.
Having no sons, Dick passed on his skills to his nephew, Michael, the current owner, who started at the factory in 1970 and took over at the present site in 1986. Sadly, Dick passed away in January 2003, at the age of 84, right up until the end he was still helping out in the factory, keeping his hand in and offering advice and encouragement. Mike has continued the policy of conservative evolution, introducing new shapes and encompassing new technologies, like the 9 mm filters particularly favoured in continental Europe and now, of course, joining the on-line community. The pipes, however, remain essentially the same as they have been since 1890 – a joy to behold and a delight to smoke.
Situated in the rolling hills of Northamptonshire, the “county of squires and spires” the quiet village of Litchborough is only 8 miles from Althorp House, resting place of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. About the same distance away to the south is Sulgrave Manor, ancestral home of George Washington, destined later of course to become the first President of the United States of America, whilst even closer than that, to the south -east, (sometimes within earshot) is Silverstone, home of the British Grand Prix Circuit.
Litchborough, or Lychbarrow as one ancient spelling has it, is situated on a broad ridge between two small river valleys that have been farmed since prehistory. Neolithic stone tools, Roman pot sherds and Norman carved stones are to be found in the fields and gardens surrounding the village.
Litchborough was one of four British garrisons overrun by the Saxons in the sixth century and there are records of ‘The Great Salt Road’ between Droitwich and London that ran across the back of the village in AD908. This still existed in AD1324 when a toll of a penny or a peck of salt was levied on every passing wagon.
Litchborough is mentioned in the Domesday Book as being held by one Leufnott before AD1066, but he appears to have been displaced soon after this time. The medieval hall was owned by a succession of Norman luminaries but now unfortunately no longer exists. Attached to this defunct manor was a deer park of only 19 acres, the smallest in England, which still held deer as recently as 1970.
A new Hall (see photograph) was built in the 14th and 15th centuries and has been added to by succeeding generations. More recently, from the 1740’s until 1970 the Hall was in the hands of the Grants, a branch of the great whisky distilling family.
The lovely parish church of Litchborough has on the wall a list of all the incumbent rectors going back to AD1209; so it can be seen that the Blakemar tradition is not really that special on the Litchborough time scale.