There is that old saying that has multiple formats – “behind every good man, there’s a great woman’ or “behind every good man, there’s an incredible woman” and on occasion “behind every good man, there’s a woman rolling her eyes”.
In the case of Daedalian Glass Studios, our incredible woman is front and centre. Davia Walmsley founded our studios in 1986, became the first female President of the British Glass Manufacturers Association, and remains our Creative Director to this day whilst training the next generation of Daedalian glass makers. However, in this post we are going to have a chat to the good/incredible/rolling his eyes man behind Davia – her Husband and our Technical Director, Chris Walmsley.
In Profile: Chris Walmsley, Technical Director, Daedalian Glass Studios
So, the man behind the woman – when did you first meet Davia? Is there a romantic story behind your 40 year marriage?
I first met Davia 1979 when she came to Blackpool to work at the Venetian glass factory straight from graduating university. She was also a scuba diver and joined the local Blackpool aqua club where I was a member. We hit it off straight away and as they say ‘the rest was history!’.
Ah yes, you are both qualified divers… Obviously you haven’t got away this year but did you manage to get any dives in last year?
Nowadays we tend to dive if we go somewhere exotic rather than the UK. The last time Davia and I dived was 2 years ago in Bali. We toured around the Island and stayed at a dive centre where we went out diving twice a day on a traditional wooden diving boat, our favourite was when we dived with the Manta Rays. We also climbed an extinct volcano at 4am to watch the sunrise – it nearly killed me! The people were lovely in Bali, and Geday our local driver took us to some of the temples which were amazing. We also went to the local markets to get our food throughout our stay so it was a real culturally immersive experience.
We really enjoy being our on the water, of course Davia practically has salt in her blood with her Faroese heritage. We used to own an Endurance 40 yacht which we fitted out ourselves over 11 years – Davia designed the whole interior with teak, ash and maple wood and I did the installation. It was absolutely beautifully done – I guess you could say it was Daedalian Glass Studios original yacht project!
I love when we are involved in superyacht projects these days. On a much grander scale but it really brings back happy memories. We sailed that yacht in the Azab (Azores and Back) Yacht Race one year from Falmouth in Cornwall to Ponta Del Garda on São Miguel Island. We ended up selling the yacht in the end as didn’t get out on it enough to justify the running costs. We like to take our holidays in warmer climates when we get a chance to get away these days also – like Bali. Still, it was like selling a child.
We had better discuss the studios at some point! You joined Daedalian Glass Studios from the very start and helped Davia realise her ambitions – did you have any idea that nearly 35 years later Daedalian Glass Studios would still be here, and have grown so large?
Yes – from the very start I saw her passion and drive to succeed and that made me believe in the mission. We built Daedalian Glass Studios from the ground up (literally!) and moved to our current premises in April 1993.
The studios over an acre of land, lots of it taken up by extensions to the studio space and manufacturing facilities we have added over the years. Back then there was just an old smithy building with a leaky roof and I took three months off work to rebuild it. We actually won an award for architectural merit after the work was completed.
Prior to that you were in the building trade, what was your field of expertise?
Initially it was civil engineering in tunneling. Its when I decided that being an architectural technicial was not for me, I didn’t want to stay in the office all the time so I found a job as a chain man with a civil engineer called Bahandra Singh Anjan. He was a Sikh from India and it was his first job in the UK after emigrating here… he was a mentor to me and taught me an awful lot about surveying. It was a three year contract and I was 18 when I started, by the time I was 20 I had become an Assistant Engineer because I was able to control the night shifts. During an 8 hour shift, I had to go down into the tunnel 2 or 3 times to check miners were keeping to the same slope angle and the same direction. The company was called Marples Ridgeway and we were digging the main drainage sewers through Blackpool – it was a great job.
You touched on my next question there…. going right back, you were a trainee architects assistant when you were fresh from school – I wont mention the dates! Did you learn to draw architectural plans freehand – no computer-aided design?
Hahaha… who wrote these questions? Yes, it was all freehand when I was training – way before computers!
One question I like to ask people is what their favourite project with Daedalian Glass Studios is they’ve worked on is. After 35 years I don’t think I could ask you to name just one… Which are your top 3 and what made them so special or memorable?
Great Missenden Church purely because the design was beautiful, and we worked with an artist who has become a great friend over the years Nick Mynheer.
Compton Hospice in Birmingham where we created a ‘memory blanket’ in collation with Susan Percer Hope – now Chair of the Contemporary Glass Society. The client came to us with a concept photograph which was unlike anything we had ever seen. Davia and I worked out the theory together and the whole project went absolutely to plan with no hiccups.
The Lanesborough Hotel London, was also a favourite – again this was something completely new which we had never attempted before. Working with Alberto Pinto was incredible who pushed us creatively and technically to produce some really unique glass such as the antiqued wide reeded glass design in the Belgravia Dining Suite.
Finally we did a project in Gibraltar which was extremely challenging conditions on site due to the sheer size of the metalwork involved as well as a huge monolithic glass screen. This was also one of the first times we used digital electronic surveying on a larger project. Working with the architects on this project was a great test of knowledge as there was a lot of debate on how to transport the glass through the rooms to where it was to be installed. In the end we transported our glass lifting robot to Gibraltar which worked perfectly and safely, and was absolutely worth its weight in gold!
Joe said you would pick more than three when I asked his opinion on your questions! I had told him you would pick only the projects where you got the chance to travel to a site visit on your motorbike… That is true for the last one through, I remember you were quite excited to off to Gibraltar on the bike!
Yes, I did it twice actually – 300 or so miles to Portsmouth and then around 60 miles across Spain from Santander. It was excellent – the roads were really quiet in Spain and well tarmacked. Plus beautiful countryside to look.
And you have recently taken up a second ‘job’ as a voluntary blood biker. What inspired you to get involved?
I really enjoy motorcycling and like to have a purpose when I drive such as taking long distance trips. Obviously that hasn’t been possible this year, and I had heard about Blood Bikers several years ago. Now I’m (mostly) semi-retired I decided to give it a go and find it really rewarding. Blood bikes is a charity which delivers medicines and blood between different hospitals on an out of hour basis. The NHS have their own couriers but they don’t work at night or at the weekend so the Blood Bikes save the NHS hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in taxi fares.
Yes, semi-retired now – you say anyway, I still see you around the studios neatly every day! One last question… any plans to ride off into the sunset on your motorbike?