A History of Sitting Spiritually
As Martin Young puts down his tools and sands the curved back of his 500th swing seat he is still entitled to be slightly amazed at the direction his life has taken over the last seven years.
Back in the early 1960's, and much against his better judgement, Martin was persuaded by his father to do a carpentry apprenticeship before leaving school. He struggled through and finished with flying colours but then he never thought about it again, his tools went into the attic and he started a very successful sales career in the building trade.
Fast forward 40 years of long hours, long journeys, food snatched on the run, nights away from home every week and high octane pressure and Martin wasn't feeling as well as he should have been. One evening he took his own blood pressure on a home testing machine. The results were alarmingly high so he went straight to the doctor the next morning. He expected to be told he needed to exercise and lose a bit of weight but he soon discovered it was a great deal more serious than that. He had metabolic Syndrome X, a combination of obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol; a recipe for heart problems. He was advised to stop work straight away and radically change his lifestyle or face the fact that he might not be here to enjoy his retirement.
Martin never returned to work, he had to change his lifestyle and quickly. As he took stock of his situation with time on his hands, weight to lose and exercise to think about, he turned his energies to his garden which he had wanted to landscape and plant out since moving to Lyme Regis in 1998. He discovered he had green fingers and his outside space began to take shape under the watchful eye and guidance of local Landscape Architect Ed Brooks, but as it neared completion, Martin was growing bored.
He and his wife Celia had visited other gardens through the National Garden Scheme so they rang up to see if they could join. Martin remembers the day the inspector came to visit clutching his Yellow Book and clip board full of the necessary criteria, 'It's perfect but our members like to sit down and contemplate the garden, the planting and the view, 'the inspector explained, 'but you have no seating so I'm afraid we can't include you this year unless you can sort this out in the next few weeks.'
Martin had always loved the type of evocative solid wooden swing seats he had seen in American films and he saw this as an excuse to buy one, but as he began to do his research through retailers and on line he quickly realised that he simply wasn't going to find what he wanted and he was astonished at the lack of choice, 'I must have sat on at least 20 and looked at the same amount again on line' he laughs, 'but they were all horrible; flimsy and badly made from foreign hardwoods, they didn't meet my expectations at all.' In frustration he turned to the USA and sent for some swing seat plans he found on the internet. They arrived and as he unfolded them Martin could see immediately that this was what he had been looking for but he also understood now that he was going to have to make it himself. He cleared a space in his garage, bought some local Devon Oak and began work.
It was physically very tough and he wasn't used to it. At first his hands were soft and he could only work for short periods but his old carpentry skills, buried for forty years, began to rise to the surface and, over the next few weeks, the first of Martin's swing seats started to take shape, and so did Martin. Two months later the inspector returned to see the swing seat in situ in the garden and pronounced that they would be delighted to add Bramble Hayes to their list of gardens to visit.
Martin had no idea, as those first visitors poured in to his garden and admired his swing seat just as much as his gigantic cardoons, that six of them would commission him to make a swing seat for them that summer; it seemed he wasn't the only one with dreams of beautifully made Oak swing seats. To his excitement he realised he had the beginnings of a new business, but he needed a name, something that captured what he was about and the journey he had taken. Martin explains, 'Working physically in the garden with my hands and particularly with wood had given me a new direction. Since my diagnosis I had become interested in meditation and feng shui and I wanted to call my business something memorable that captured the essence of the discoveries I had made.' So, 'Sitting Spiritually' was born and the hard work began.
From the very outset Martin was determined to use only local suppliers and materials to give back as much as he was taking and he has been registered Carbon Neutral since 2008. His woods are hand picked from FSC certified forests in the West Country, he would never consider using teak and the farthest the Oak comes from is Stourhead in Wiltshire. 'I know the landowners and the wood yards and I'm delighted to be able to work with these beautiful local materials. Oak in particular weathers extremely well, turning a silvery grey over time, and Oak, Chestnut and Western Red Cedar all contain tannin which is a natural preservative. These British woods are more unique and individual than the frequently used French Oak, but British Oak is part of our heritage and it is important to use our own resources and replant.'
As well as using local wood, a company in Axminster supply him with his stainless steel fittings, his chains come from Bridport and Martin has a whole team of skilled local craftsmen who help him deliver every aspect of the swing seats, benches and rope swings from carving, painting to making the cushions.
The car is long gone from Martin's garage which is now packed with his swing seat templates, his various woods, beautiful wooden pegs and every possible tool that he might need including the tool box he made as an apprentice 40 years ago. From those early days Martin's range has grown from one swing seat design to four, including his famous award winning Kyokusen (Japanese for 'curves in the air'). 'All of my swing seats are made by hand from start to finish' says Martin, 'and each one takes several days to make, but the Kyokusen is special. The uniqueness of the curved frame design is dictated by the curve in the British Oak log from which it is cut. It's a very beautiful swing seat.'
It's a long process but he has it down to a fine art now, using the lower part of the seat as a template, the back uprights are set and the cross rails jointed into them using traditional halving joints. Some of the tools he uses for this process are from his original set which he purchased as an apprentice. The curved top board is added then the back is bolted to the seat using stainless steel bolts which are plugged off in the matching timber enabling Martin to combine state of the art stainless steel fittings and still retain a traditional look and feel.
Old fashioned Oak Rope Swings were a natural addition to his range as well as accessories such as his ammonite table inlaid with an ammonite from the nearby Jurassic Coast, 'Every swing seat is one of a kind and I love working with customers to provide something extra special just for them, whether it's a carving of a beloved pet, wording, names or dates or inlaying ammonites into the seat arms. Brothers and sisters or grown up grand children often club together to buy a swing seat for a special grandpa or granny and I get to add their favourite saying or words. It's a great job to have.'
When he isn't in his workshop, Martin is in his garden or delivering and assembling his swing seats for customers. He is a people person and the thrill of the sale will always be in his blood but he will never forget his father's words to him when he was a young lad as he persuaded him to do the carpentry apprenticeship, 'It's like swimming Martin, you've always got it to fall back on and you never know when you might need it.'
How right he was.
Sitting Spiritually Ltd
Tel: 01297 443084