The Yorkshire Foundry: The family-run Yorkshire foundry making artisan door knockers
In a family-run foundry on the edge of the North York Moors National Park, a small team skilled of craftsmen are hard at work. They are creating items including Father Christmases, Highland cattle and skulls – all interchangeable door knockers that you can switch depending on the season and even your mood.
The Yorkshire Foundry is the brainchild of designer Ben Shaw –whose family own the Kirkbymoorside factory which is more used to churning out products for the aerospace and defence industry – and CEO Rob Bennett.
The friends came up with the idea initially to make a bicycle and called their company Crucible Cycles.
“We hit a few technical snags and then Covid happened,” says Rob. “We had a very expensive 3D printer that prints the wax that turns into the brass and we needed to make it work. Ben’s the genius of this outfit and the mind that came up with the bike also came up with the idea of these door knockers.”
“I’d already been working with 3D models but the idea morphed into making door knockers and being able to change the heads – depending on the season or even how you are feeling,” says Ben. “We’ve got Father Christmas, Halloweeen, lots of animals and we are starting on a Tyrannosaurus rex – we’d eventually like a dinosaur suite. Everyone has their own categories they like to talk to us about.”
Ben and Rob, who were initially joined by a third business partner, launched a Kickstarter campaign in March 2022 in a bid to get their fledgling idea off the ground. They aimed to raise £3,900 but within hours had raked in nearly £20,000.
“The aim was to get the cash in on pre-sales to help produce the product and get it out. We went out with what we thought was an ambitious but relatively achievable target and we hit 300 per cent funded within 72 hours,” says Rob.
The Yorkshire Foundry is based in Ben’s family foundry, Sylatech. The sales and marketing side of the company is based 26 miles away in York.
When not designing and making door knockers, Ben has another business – the elevenforty company which makes what it describes as “the world’s most exclusive” table football tables which gave him inspiration for his first door knocker.
“We model all the customers’ heads and the heads of their friends and family onto the table football players,” he says. “You can have the strips of your choice. It’s an expensive high-end product and we have a lot of digital models.
“What a lot of our customers wanted was the heads of celebrities. I had a dozen models that I thought were suitable for knockers. The first one was a lion – it’s a classic as everyone has a lion door knocker.
“A lot of it depends on the quality of the modeller. I’ve been working with some of the best digital modellers we have in this country.”
Ben and Rob now export their products all over the world – especially to Australia, New Zealand and Canada – and bizarrely their biggest order and most repeat orders come from Chile. The Yorkshire Foundry is happy to consider any bespoke orders, especially if it can add them to its catalogue.
“Anything you like, we can do. Someone wanted a squirrel holding a nut, which we made and then it went into our catalogue,” adds Ben.
“If you want something unusual for your door knocker, then you have to come to us. If it something completely unique, we might charge you a bit extra."
Unusual one-off requests have included an order from a retiring USAF officer, who wanted the force’s emblem with his years of service, as well as a Robin Hood hat with a hole for a real feather.
Rob says animals are really popular, in particular dogs, with the foundry recently commissioned to make a huskie, a corgi and a Cavapoo. It now has a range of 15-20 breeds to choose from.
Other non-dog bestsellers are the foundry’s two Highland cows. “They are very popular as they are just a beautiful item,” he adds. “Hares are also popular and we have just started a range of non-domestic animals including a couple of breeds of pigs and a milk cow.”
Ben and Rob don’t always know where their door knockers are going to end up, although they were delighted to learn that two lions recently purchased by one customer now adorn the double doors of a farmhouse on the outskirts of New Delhi.
They have also entered partnerships with door manufacturers so that when people buy a new front door they can also have a Yorkshire Foundry door knocker fitted at the same time.
Rob admits that competing with cheap imports can be tough. “It’s a high-end product and it’s made by really talented people in Kirkbymoorside, so we are quite high cost. That can be a challenge when you are competing against imported lower-quality, cheaper items made from lower-cost materials,” he says.
“We use aluminium bronze (AB2) which is the same material used in the marine environment so you can have a door knocker on your door that’s made from material designed to withstand being under water for decades.”
“It’s what the propellers on our nuclear submarines are made out of,” adds Ben.
The unique way the door knockers made allows for a high level of precision and detail not possible with cheaper products. “We don’t have the compromise on the design,” say Ben.
The foundry has also been approached to make figures for headstones. “Basically we can make anything that can fit into the size of a shoebox,” says Rob.
“Every head we make can be shrunk down to make matching cupboard door handles and there are more than 40 different designs available.
“If you want cupboard door handles of your husband, we can make them,” Ben adds, laughing. “We have at least two high-end kitchens where we have made a set of skull door handles and a set of Highland cows.”
Prices starts from £99 per knocker. An added bonus to the door knockers being interchangeable is that you can also fix a wreath to your door without the need for complicated contraptions or nailing it in place.
But what about that bike? “We will make the bike in one piece and it will be super light and super cheap requiring hardly any assembly,” says Ben. Watch this space.