Established: 1198, 1498, 1515, 1519, 1534, 1570, 1698, 1705, 1715, 1759, 1824, 1891. An inn, a removals company, a butchers, a ferry, a printing press, a bell foundry, a wine merchants, a stone carvers, a scale makers, a brewers, an agricultural company, a gum manufacturer. How on earth have they managed that? And what are their secrets of survival?
In Established, twelve business writers set out to find the answers to these questions and to tell the stories of these companies that have survived scores of booms and busts, black sheep in the family and strange twists of fate.
But they’re not your typical team of business writers. The twelve are from the Dark Angels stable, the brand that since 2004 has been encouraging authentic voices in business writers through its residential courses and workshops. Storytelling is at the heart of the Dark Angels approach. In Established you will find that each of these enduring businesses has a great story, each of which is told in an individual voice that brings range and freshness to the book and makes it quite unlike the mainstream ‘how to’ hardback.
But the lessons the stories contain are every bit as instructive, from the eschewal of nepotism to the generational mantra of ‘humility and rebellion’. The reader will find contradictions, on questions like world domination or keeping it to the one shop. And that’s the joy of this book, that readers looking for insight as well as good old entertainment will gravitate towards the business that most resembles theirs in spirit and set-up if not in actual trade.
The lesson in every instance that is closest to the writers’ hearts is that the story itself is one of the greatest assets of every business – and when you’ve got over 500 years of records it’s quite a challenge to tell it, especially in a couple of thousand words. Established does just that.
The Brazen Head The Shore Porters Society R.J. Balson & Son The Hampton Ferry Whitechapel Bell Foundry Cambridge University Press Berry Brothers & Rudd The John Stevens Shop John White & Son Guinness Australian Agricultural Company Wrigley
The good and true story of The John Stevens Shop
by Richard Pelletier
“John Stevens, Stone Cutter Takes this method to inform the public and his former employers in particular THAT he carries on the stone-cutters business at his shop the North end of Thames Street where any persons may be supplied with tombstones, gravestones, hearths, and printers press stones, and where every kind of work in stone is performed in the neatest and most elegant manner.”
Newport Mercury, October 27, 1781
29 Thames Street, Newport Rhode Island
Late afternoon. A warm September day. Autumn light drifts down through the windows and skylights of Nicholas Benson’s stone carving shop on Thames Street in Newport, Rhode Island. High on the wall, a likeness of Nick’s grandfather. He is John Howard Benson, whose creative fires stoke this place like the light of an endless sun. Nick Benson is at his workbench. Overhead on a wooden shelf, a row of mallets and wood planes, smoothed and worn, register the yawn of time, gathering dust.
The space is intimate, glorious. Thick, exposed, load-bearing beams; mallets and chisels and wood planes and ropes. Small blocks of stone carved with the letter R. Shelves and drawers and walls are lovingly filled with old tools, drawings and sketches, letters and photographs, books and letterforms. There are thick slabs of granite, marble and slate. It’s the studio of an artist of the Old World, sumptuous and magical, a visual feast. All that light. A sense of order.
In the glare of a simple desk lamp, Paul Russo carves a honed granite headstone that leans on a large wooden easel. A twenty-plus-years stone-carver, he’s Nick's main man. Russo has just finished a line drawing of a sailboat and now comes the world's shortest biography—name, date of arrival, date of departure. The going is slow; it will take him two weeks to finish. It’s slow because granite is the hardest stone there is. And because this is how they do it here. To watch for a minute is to know two things. A hand-carved headstone is a sensitive, lasting and loving tribute. And it is fierce, hard, painstaking work. “My hands are fine,” Russo says, “it’s my elbows. I have tendinitis.”
“I have carpal tunnel,” says Nick. “I have bad legs and my knees are killing me.”
The pace in the workshop tends toward a normal eight-hour workday. On large, site-specific projects (for which the Shop is renowned) it’s different. “On those we’re going fast,” says Nick, “putting in nine and 10 hour days. It’s brutal.”
As chisel meets granite, a rapid fire, metallic ‘tenk’ sound fills the workshop. Tenk, tenk, tenk, tenk, tenk. Tenk, tenk. Tenk, tenk, tenk. Memorializing the dead in granite has a music and rhythm to it, a syncopation that repeats until it doesn’t. John Cage are you listening?
Between the shop’s first, somewhat crude scratchings from the early days of the 18th century, and the elegant letters that Russo carves today, stand two families. The Stevens family came first. Then came the Bensons, of whom Nicholas Waite Benson is the latest. Which means that the John Stevens Shop has survived six generations of one family and three generations of another.
To be continued…Read more...
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