From his old English farmhouse, Peter Ellam produces Invicta for the masses
by H. Lee Murphy
There are bigger and fancier and better organized pipe workshops, but almost certainly none as old as that of Invicta Briars. The owner, Peter Ellam, toils away
in Stanbridge, England, in a farmhouse complex that dates to the 1400s. His workroom itself was built in 1650—Charles I had been executed the year before, Oliver Cromwell had begun his rise to power and tea was arriving for the first time from East Asia—as the butchery for a working farm that sent beef on to London, 35 miles to the south. The beams supporting the ceiling are original, and the tile floor in the nearby kitchen was laid out around 1750. The British, it should be noted, take centuries-old homes for granted. “Yes, this is very probably the oldest pipe workshop in the world,” Ellam says with a matter-of-fact shrug.
The pipemaker is relatively new to the business, however. Ellam had careers selling newspaper advertising and computers and lawn furniture before he happened upon Invicta nearly a decade ago, and he didn’t acquire the brand until 2010. He’s not even full time: Ellam, 56, spends part of each year selling firewood to local residents, wood that he’s chopped on the 120 rural acres his farmhouse anchors.
He admits that pipemaking around the clock is not for him: “I’d get bored working on nothing but pipes. I need to get out and get some exercise in the fresh air part of each day.”
Ellam may know the history of his farmhouse, but he isn’t so clear on Invicta’s past. The name is derived from the Latin word for undefeated and invincible and also happens to be the motto of the county of Kent, where the company was once based.
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