Blakemar Briars

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By Maxim W. Engel

Image Courtesy of pipes2smoke.com
Image Courtesy of pipes2smoke.com

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.

Image Courtesy of pipes2smoke.com
Image Courtesy of pipes2smoke.com

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.

Image Courtesy of pipes2smoke.com
Image Courtesy of pipes2smoke.com

Having no sons, Dick passed on his skills to his nephew, Michael Billington, 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 9mm 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.

Website: Blakemar Briars
e-mail: mailto:mike@blakemar.co.uk
Unit 10 Litchborough Rural Industry Estate 
Northampton Road 
Litchborough, Towcester 
Northants NN12 8JB 
England 
Telephone +44 (0) 1327 830213 
Fax +44 (0) 1327 830366 
Pipes available from: pipes2smoke.com & The Smoker's Lounge