The Background Story
Mandy Marshall moved to the Lake District from south Manchester in 2009. Looking for a new direction and saw an advertisement to train as a Blue Badge Tourist Guide for Cumbria. With a background in retail and fashion the twelve month course studying what defines Cumbria was a challenge. From historic houses to far-flung fells, literary personalities to village traditions, lakeshore walks to fast flowing waterfalls…..there are so many elements….. Having always lived in suburbia this was a complete change of environment and she learnt how essential farming is in preserving this unique landscape.
In 2011 Mandy and her husband Bill moved to Castle Cottage in Near Sawrey, a hamlet on the western shore of Windermere. The village is well known for its connection with Beatrix Potter who owned Hill Top Farm from where she drew many of the scenes in her famous “little books”. In 1913 Beatrix married and moved from London to live in Castle Cottage with William Heelis. It was their home for 30 years until her death in 1943.
In her new life Beatrix focused on farming and was passionate about the Herdwick breed. She described them as “hardy and independent”, perhaps she identified with these characteristics!
Breeding prize-winning Herdwick sheep was an important part of preserving the breed and her trusted shepherd Tom Storey was crucial in this endeavour. He was her farmer at Hill Top and she was proud when the farm began to use a red H as the “smit mark” to identify their flock.
When furnishing their new home Mandy and Bill wanted to use local products. They fitted Herdwick carpet in what had been Beatrix’s sitting room and the National Trust were happy to return some of her original furniture. In searching for Herdwick tweed to cover window seats Mandy discovered a hidden store of top quality Herdwick Tweed worsted forgotten in the store room of a gentleman’s outfitters.
She was captivated by the quality of the material, the subtle Lake District colours and the provenance of the tweed. From this moment on she was inspired!
Her aim was to create a quality product that was contemporary in design but rooted in the heritage of Cumbria. Essential to this was that the bags should be made in the region and she sourced a top quality manufacturer based in Carlisle. Mandy worked closely with the bag manufacturers to design the first range of bags which were ready in early 2013. Everybody who set foot in Castle Cottage was asked their opinion on style and details. Tweaks were made to the designs and bag production began.
Herdwick Tweed bags had their debut at Woolfest, Cockemouth in 2014 and had a great reception winning The Wool Clip award which is given to new wool-related businesses. This was a great confidence boost for the fledgling business and our first opportunity to gauge public response to the products.
Herdwick was a hit! Enthusiasm and encouragement for the bags, offers of help and advice from farmers and weavers for when we reached the stage of producing our own fabric in the future, camaraderie from the stallholders.There was no turning back but we needed to be able to reproduce the original high quality worsted Herdwick Tweed and so a learning process began.
The ethos behind Herdwick products is that, as far as possible, everything is from Cumbria.
From the outset Mandy wanted to definitively know the provenance of the wool. In order to do this she needed to buy fleece directly from the farmer and needed the flock to be divided at shearing time into colour groups. The fleeces could then be spun to produce yarn of differing undyed shades from which a natural coloured tweed could be woven. Just to add to the list of requirements she wanted the farms she bought from to be part of the Beatrix Potter legacy that was left in its entirety to the National Trust.