Stoking up a warm welcome
- Credit: Archant
Eddie and Christine Brooke are both boaters and run Northern Fabrication Services making boats nice and toasty with the well-known Boatman Stove
How did Northern Fabrication Services start?
I qualified as a fabricator in 1985 and around the same year Christine and I purchased our first narrowboat. We joined our local cruising club and as knowledge of my skills became known, my weekends were spent doing jobs on members’ boats.
When I was made redundant I made the natural decision to create my own business using my engineering and boating skills.
I started at a unit in Lymm, Cheshire, and undertook all work relating to engineering and fitting out narrowboats. This included extensions – it’s quite daunting for a customer to watch their boat being cut in half for extra length to be added!
In 1998 the business expanded when we purchased the rights to manufacture the Boatman Stove. I don’t have much time for boat extensions now as the manufacture of the stoves has now taken over Northern Fabrication Services as a company.
So you and Christine work together?
- 1 Restoring & reopening the Wendover Arm of Grand Union Canal
- 2 Second-hand canal boats for sale
- 3 Boat test: Mothership Marine’s solar-powered semi-trad
- 4 Boat test: “Oyster Catcher” the permanent house boat
- 5 10 pubs on the River Wey Navigation
- 6 Ask the experts: My narrowboat is damp and stained
- 7 Best pubs on: the Grand Union Canal, between Birmingham & Napton
- 8 The waterways heritage spotter: narrow gauge railway tracks
- 9 Restoration on the Cromford Canal
- 10 ‘Let boaters sleep aboard’ says CRT chief
Yes, Christine handles all the business affairs and leads at all the boat shows we attend, discussing all requirements with customers. She also responds to all the client internet contacts.
How did you learn the skills?
As a teenager I worked at an engineering company in Trafford Park. They unfortunately took the decision not to send me to college one day each week. So, in later life, I decided to start night school while working full-time to gain my City & Guilds qualifications. Three years studying three nights each week was a tough challenge, but the training and qualifications have provided all the skills I need to produce the quality products I manufacture now.
What makes a good stove?
All my stoves are manufactured and quality assured by myself. The Boatman Stove design was created to produce a quality stove at a reasonable price. It has been enhanced over the past few years to meet increased efficiency recommendations, so the efficiency rating went up from 68% to 78% against a recommended target of 65%. This helps to reduce running costs.
Tell me more about the manufacturing process
The Boatman stove starts as a sheet of steel which is cut and folded at a large engineering shop to the Boatman Stove specifications. I usually make them in batches off four, six or ten.
The assembly starts once the folded steel is back at my unit in Clifton Manchester. Once the stove body has been assembled, the last important element is the cast-iron door which needs to have a tight fit to ensure no gases can escape. The stoves then need painting, which over the years has been perfected to produce a quality finish.
The Boatman was always manufactured in black, but 18 months ago we launched a choice of different colours. This colour option has proved to be very popular.
Some of your stoves are quite elegant
The standard Boatman Stove is rated as having a maximum output of 4kW. This is ample size for narrowboats up to 60-foot long. But we found that some customers prefer a larger stove, and one with more designs on it compared with the Boatman’s plain design. Therefore since 1998 to complement the size and design of the Boatman we have been retailing the Evergreen range of cast-iron stoves. These range from 6kW to 16kW.
Within the Evergreen range a popular choice is the ST0311. This stove is similar in size to the Morso, but is priced at a fraction of the cost and gives our customers the extra design and fire-box space that they need on a larger narrowboat.
Do you fit the stoves?
We deliver directly to a customer’s narrowboat despite, at times, bridges and long towpaths.
I deliver myself wherever possible to ensure that the stove fully meets the client’s requirements and that I am 100 percent sure, not only that their purchase is correct for them, but also that all installations meet the needs of their compliance certificate. As a number of our customers also have homes on land, we are now Hetas qualified so we can survey the property and install our stoves into houses. We can also supply a range of larger stoves suitable for residential accommodation. Our sister company’s newly launched website provides the full details cast-iron-stoves.co.uk
What’s the most challenging part of the job?
Convincing a customer that a solid-fuel stove cannot be installed on to their boat or that their stove of choice is not suitable.
I take my responsibilities very seriously to ensure that customers’ purchases are suitable for their needs and boat. We give them a printed sheet showing all the requirements for safety.
I often see stoves incorrectly positioned, the wrong size, or installations that should have been condemned years ago.
Customers who have no experience of solid-fuel stoves often have no concept of the heat stoves produce and the effect it has on the area surrounding the stove.
The recommendations regarding the fitting of a carbon monoxide alarm is in the headlines often, customers will spend hundreds of pounds on a stove and installation but a £20 alarm is something they need to be constantly reminded about.
What are the most popular accessories?
We sell a vast range of accessories. The most popular are the coal buckets, fire-sets and fireguards. Each year we attend the Crick Boat Show, Braunston Historic Boat Show and the IWA National Festival where we display the range.
What is your business philosophy?
Always make sure the customer is 100 percent satisfied. Customers do not pay anything until I have delivered the stove and it fully meets their requirements. If they are not happy, neither am I.
Do you have your own boat?
Yes we do, but have to admit that working at least six days each week has put paid to many trips out.
Our lives have revolved around the boating industry for 30 years. Most of our immediate friends either have narrowboats or are associated with boat manufacturing. It makes conversations with our customers much easier.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Any spare time I have is spent refurbishing my Land Rover 90 or going on off-road trips with my Manchester Land Rover Club friends.
What’s the best way for people to contact you?
Our website boatmanstove.co.uk provides most of the information customers need initially. They can email email@example.com, but most prefer to chat via the mobile: 07831 624822.