Article from Crafts Leadwork – Magazine that Stephen featured in.
‘The Romans found that lead looked better than marble in our soft English light. Craftsman Stephen Markham agrees – it is easy to work and last for 500 years.
Tucked away down a narrow winding north Deon lane with it’s high banks packed with summer wildflowers you come across a small farm near the hamlet of Chipplehampton. A prettily painted blue and white Devon long house, overlooking the gentle rolling slopes on the very fringes of Exmoor, is now the home and workplace for one of gardening’s most successful craftsmen – Stephen Markham, who has established himself as the man to go to for high quality, decorative leadwork – whether planters or statuary.
These days, celebrities feature quite largely in his life.Among his clients are Gucci, Ophrah Winfrey, Paul Getty, Sean Bean and Susan Hampshire, and he has also done much restoration work for the Queen’s royal palaces.
Not bad for a London lad of modest background who found schooling quiet hard and who started life as a plumber. But Stephen now believes his struggle with words freed up the creative part of his brain and allowed it free rein. His skills became more apparent when he moved to roofing and began his life long journey working with lead and the flexibility it offers in design.
It is, after all, a pure ore, very desirable, very heavy and, he says, in scientific terms just ‘two protons away from gold’. The Romans decided it was a better option- and more easily available – than marble in this country and no one has been able to improve on it yet.
Not only is Stephen a craftsman but designs ideas also began to tumble out. Often after a good night’s sleep. ‘I’ll reach for a notepad, start sketching – and it’s all there’.
His restoration of a lead topped London tower won accolades and Stephen was on the way up. Up to royalty in fact, for over the next decade he covered the rooftops – literally – of the royal palaces of London: St James’, Buckingham, Kensington, Hampton Court and The Tower of London. ‘The most satisfying one was restoring the roof at Windsor Castle after it burnt down during Her Majesty’s annus horribilis of 1992.
He turned to decorative leadwork first, in a small way; filling his own garden with a statue there and a planter here but, in 1995, his wife Joanna visited Hampton Court Flower Show and realised that her husband’s talents were worth exhibitioning. She secured him a stand at the next year’s show – from which she returned empty handed and delighted. The following year Stephen was invited to exhibit at Chelsea and there’s been no looking back since.
While the skills of leadwork he had learnt in his youth were traditional, he is now introducing a more contemporary feel. With geometric patterns and innovative use of lighting, his stunning JC Range of abstract straight edged planters are, rather to Stephens surprise, selling just as fast with old clients and with new. Traditional or contemporary; the designs will continue to evolve. Says Stephen, ‘Standing still is not an option!’