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Home   Sittingbourne   News   Article

By Royal approval - the Bredgar-based company lighting up the world

31 January 2013
by Danny Boyle

Chandeliers that grace palaces and stately homes are being sent to glamorous locations across the globe from a barn in Bredgar. Reporter Rachael Woods found out more...

 

A leading light in the world of chandeliers is prospering in rural Kent.

R. Wilkinson and Son creates and repairs the lavish masterpieces for eight royal families.

The firm has held the Royal Warrant of Appointment as a supplier to the Queen since 1985.

The family business was established in 1947, and had been based in London, with a Mayfair showroom and a factory in Catford.

But three years ago the Wilkinson family left the city for Bredgar and boss David Wilkinson, the grandson of its founder, says they have not looked back.

He said: “We made the conscious decision to move out of London, as it is so expensive, and we are now enjoying a better quality of life.”

The Grade II listed Wealden hall house, Bexon Court, has become their home, while the adjacent barn, which once housed a swimming pool, has been turned into a workshop, from where their creations are despatched to homes in Russia, the Middle East and America.

And it is to America that the spotlight will fall on the Wilkinson firm when filming takes place next week for the Discovery Channel’s How Do They Do It.

Film crews will watch a chandelier being created and then follow its journey across the Atlantic to a home in South Carolina, where the complex task of putting it in place will be undertaken.

David, who remains tight- lipped about his customers, said: “I will be going out to America with the film crew to oversee the installation of the chandelier, although I am not putting it up myself.”

Things can and do go wrong – the scene in Only Fools and Horses when the Trotters’ plan to clean Lord and Lady Ridgemere’s Louis XIV chandeliers comes quite literally crashing down, is one television’s most memorable comic moments.

David reveals that the Trotters’ misfortune is a very real one and that not only has he been called in to pick up the pieces from chandelier disasters, but his firm has actually installed a chandelier in Clayesmore School, Dorset, when the classic episode was filmed.

He said: “These things do happen and chandeliers do fall.”

The subject of keeping chandeliers spotless will also see the Wilkinson firm featured in a soon to be announced ITV series about cleaning.

Wilkinson chandeliers are made of gilt or silver-plated frames and adorned with hand-blown lead crystal and range in price range from £2,000 to £100,000.

The scale of work involved is immense, with chandeliers taking up to two years to make and one of David’s creations being 27ft long.

Wilkinson also repairs broken glasses and tumblers and creates wall lights and lanterns as part of its business.

The work is a vocation for 55-year-old David, whose family are also dedicated to the business, with his wife Mandy and four daughters all playing a role in running it, with the help of 15 employees.

David said that chandeliers from the elegant Georgian period are the most popular with customers.

He said: “We are the only company left in the world that can make faithful reproductions of Georgian chandeliers and we have taught ourselves the art over many years.”

The past is the future for the family – and their global business is really starting to put Bredgar on the map.

 

  • The earliest candle chandeliers were used by rich families in medieval times
  • The Jumeirah Bilgah Beach Hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, houses the world’s largest chandelier. It has 72,000 lights and extends the full 18 floors of the hotel
  • The world’s largest solar chandelier is at the Bristol and Bath science park and is powered by 700 glass bulbs which light up when exposed to sunlight.

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