From cataloguing the Queen's silver to running a saw mill, Emma Woods talks about owning one of the oldest mills in the county

One of the county’s oldest mills, Duncombe Sawmill, has been producing timber from Helmsley in North Yorkshire for more than a century.

Emma changed from a career in antique silver to running a saw mill

Once part of the Duncombe Estate, the saw mill is now owned by Emma Woods, who took on what was a failing enterprise almost 18 years ago.

It was a big departure from her career in antique silver, which had seen her working at the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as Buckingham Palace cataloguing the Queen’s silver.

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“It was very naive. I loved its heritage. The saw mill had been part of Helmsley for 120 years and it seemed a real shame to lose it.

The team produce bespoke pieces.

“I knew nothing about running a business when I took it on. I had sold silver but it was just me doing that, I didn’t have any employees.

“It was a big learning curve but I was lucky to have a lot of support from my family.”

As well as support at home, Emma said she was also fortune to have the skills and experience of the team at the mill, many of whom have been working in the business for decades.

Manager Chris Storey worked in forestry as well as the saw mill which Emma said has given him an “incredible knowledge” of timber. His father also worked at the mill and his daughter, Angela Collier, is the third generation to join the team.

Eddie Garbutt and Dave Spence are long-standing members of staff, who have worked in the saw mill for more than 30 years, having learnt the specialist traditional skills.

Steve Shepherd worked in the mill as a teenager and has returned to the place where he first learnt his trade.

“It is very much a team effort,” Emma said.

“And having this sort of skill and knowledge has meant we have been able to grow.”

When Emma took on the business it focused on supplying to trade buyers within Ryedale. Opening up to the general public, which now accounts for more than half of the sales, along with delivering across the UK and into Europe has seen the mill thrive.

There is now a team of three, Evie Frankland, Jacki Shepherd and Angela who offer advice and guidance to customers on what will work best for their projects.

A majority of its work is bespoke and Emma said they love the challenge of creating something different.

“One of the things I love and find quite magical, is seeing the round saw log or rectangular piece of wood then seeing the finished product appearing from it.”

Emma has been able to marry her love of art and history with the business through its latest line which has been influenced by historic gates.

“I studied antiques at university and during my time at the V&A I found a library of gate designs from the early 19th and 20th Century. What we have done is put a modern twist on these designs.

“We recently worked with an architect who was creating an art deco house and we had original art deco designs which we could adapt for the project. It is very exciting.”