He is a businessman who spends his spare time on the battlefield and is a keen crusader for the traditional High Street in a world gone mad for out-of-town shopping centres. Dylan Hampshire, 41, of Cockett’s Beds, took over the family store in Herne Bay’s High Street in 1999 from his uncle and grandfather before him. He continues to make bespoke mattresses for clients as far afield as Hong Kong.
He tells Ed Targett how he’d invite King Harold round for dinner, his fears for the future of the Herne Bay central regeneration and why he’d like to see philosopher and economist Adam Smith make a cup of tea with his bread and butter…
How long has your business been in the family?
Since 1928, when my grandfather Fred Cockett set it up. His father, who was a gardener, had moved to the town in 1907 from Berkshire. He settled in Eddington and my grandfather bicycled all the way down from Berkshire to join him. We moved to the workshop we use on the High Street in the early 1960s. It used to be a market garden.
Did you take over from your parents?
From my uncle. My parents are antique dealers and didn’t get involved in the business. I think my grandfather always had his eye on me to take over. I used to come to the workshop when I was young and can still remember the distinct smell of coir fibre, or coconut husk, which was traditionally used to make the base layer of a mattress.
Has the business changed much over the years?
The workshop used to be full of great big machines, used to rip up old clothes for stuffing and so on. In the 1970s it became cheaper to buy materials in. Now we specialise in custom mattresses; whether that’s for antique beds, yachts, caravans or anyone who wants an unconventional size or shape. Just before Christmas we had an order from Hong Kong, we’ve made mattresses for use in Blenheim Palace and my grandfather made a bed for Pavarotti.
How is trade now?
Middling. The tough thing with running a small firm is that you need to be an expert at everything – doing your tax returns, deliveries, marketing, making what you need, websites; you name it. And if you are not an expert at any of those things, but essentially a plumber or mattress maker, it’s not easy at all.
You’re an active member of Herne Bay Town Partners. What do you think the town needs to boost its profile?
I think it needs to build a better idea of itself. We’re not just a dormitory town for Canterbury. Physically, in terms of population, we’re actually only a tiny bit smaller, although obviously Canterbury is a cathedral city. But smaller towns are being badly hurt by out-of-town shopping centres and a lack of community. There are rumours that the Altira business park could get a major supermarket in it and that’s exactly the sort of thing we need to fight against.
It would be great to see a revitalised High Street, but I fear the Herne Bay Central Regeneration plan might be, to put it politely, in a permanent lull. But there’s a lot of history here – and history can be a real force that binds a community together and the town has a lot of potential. But I think people are increasingly disconnected from their environments.
Speaking of history, I understand you are a big re-enactor?
I’ve been wielding strange historic weapons since I was five years old, when my parents got into it. I was recently very involved in the Normans vs Saxons battle at Reculver Towers and hope to put on more events this year too. I’ve set up a little local group, “Badger Rampant” and we’ve done everything from helping out with costumes at schools and museums, to bigger pitched battles. It’s fascinating to know the history of some of the places around us.
Where we’re sitting right now was marshland 300 years ago. The White Horse pub? That used to be a Napoleonic-era garrison. Knowing these things really brings the places to life.
What was your first car?
A 1964 Austin Cambridge in maroon; I had it for quite a few years. It was a very sensible first car, built like a tank and slow to accelerate.
What was your first record?
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it, but it was Mike Batt’s Keep on Wombling.
Which three people, living or dead, would you invite to a dream dinner party?
King Harold Godwinson, William the Conqueror and philosopher and economist Adam Smith, who wrote The Wealth of Nations in 1776. I’d be fascinated to see how Harold and William got on. There seems to have been a degree of mutual respect between the two of them. Usually deposed leaders are treated very badly in the history books, but if you look at the Bayeux tapestry, Harold is treated quite kindly.
And finally Adam Smith; I just think he would be a fascinating person to talk to. I like the anecdote about a friend dropping in on him for breakfast. Adam Smith set about making a pot of tea, talking all the while. He made himself some bread and butter, rolled it up absent-mindedly, put it in the teapot and poured water on it, talking passionately about philosophy all the while. Then he took a sip and spat it all over the table, saying it was the worst tea he’d ever tried. Well it would be, wouldn’t it?
Have you ever seen a ghost?
I can’t say I have, although I believe I saw the Loch Ness monster once. It was your standard 1930s snake-head in the water, but I was just six at the time and liked dinosaur programmes…
thisiskent 12th Jan 2012