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A new book revisits the most poignant items The Repair Shop has brought back to life

Across ten series and more than five years, the BBC’s The Repair Shop has turned a skilled hand to hundreds of much-loved items in need of restoration. 

Sometimes the pieces have artistic or historic significance, such as the portrait of Charles I’s grieving queen Henrietta Maria, restored by the experts last year and now featured in a remarkable book, The Repair Shop: Life In The Barn.

‘Often you have to hear the story to make sense of the item,’ says presenter Jay Blades. ‘It might be a domino set made by a grandfather during World War I and played in the famous 1914 Christmas Truce, or a handwritten recipe book handed down the generations and literally falling apart at the seams. 

‘Very few of the items are important enough to go into a museum, but they’re strongly linked to that particular family. They’re social history. In the barn, we not only repair items – we repair people and their family histories.’

Among the cherished items in the new book are an electric go-kart with a tragic tale, a mini library of the complete works of Shakespeare handed down for more than 100 years, and a replica sailboat that provides a link to a much-missed father. 

Here are the moving stories behind them…

‘Often you have to hear the story to make sense of the item,’ says presenter Jay Blades (pictured)

A VERY SPECIAL SET OF WHEELS

Rachel Smith's parents were dedicated to finding ways to improve her mobility and bought her a bright yellow electric go-kart as a tenth birthday present

Rachel Smith’s parents were dedicated to finding ways to improve her mobility and bought her a bright yellow electric go-kart as a tenth birthday present

Electrical expert Mark Stuckey (pictured) replaced the battery, resprayed the bodywork and switched the converted handbrake back to a footbrake

Electrical expert Mark Stuckey (pictured) replaced the battery, resprayed the bodywork and switched the converted handbrake back to a footbrake

Born with spina bifida, Rachel Smith was unable to walk or stand and spent much of her time in a wheelchair as she was always looking to get about. Her parents were dedicated to finding ways to improve her mobility and bought her a bright yellow electric go-kart as a tenth birthday present.

Dad Geoffrey had a custom-made metal panel installed to give her legs extra support and replaced the footbrake with a handbrake.

Tragically, at Christmas in 1977, Rachel became ill, and on New Year’s Eve – the very day she turned ten – she died, before she had even had a chance to sit in her go-kart. Heartbroken, her parents packed it away in the loft, along with Rachel’s other unopened presents.

Her younger sister Emma now has a family of her own, and vaguely recalls her dad bringing the kart out of the loft years later, only to find it didn’t work. Geoffrey passed away in January 2021, and when the family were helping her mum Bertie to pack up the house, she said she’d like to see the go-kart restored for Emma’s own children, ten-year-old Seren and six-year-old Milo.

Electrical expert Mark Stuckey replaced the battery, resprayed the bodywork and switched the converted handbrake back to a footbrake. As Seren zoomed off around the yard, her grandmother said the last time she saw it was on the landing the day Rachel died.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE PRESERVED

Leather expert Suzie Fletcher restored the case, replacing missing pieces and treating and dyeing the leather to restore its beauty (pictured)

Leather expert Suzie Fletcher restored the case, replacing missing pieces and treating and dyeing the leather to restore its beauty (pictured)

Isla Smith’s granny Kathleen was 12 in 1897 when she won a school competition for her needlework, and chose a leather-bound miniature library of the complete works of Shakespeare as her prize. The library passed to Isla after her grandmother’s death in 1978, but now its precious case was battered, its gold lettering almost worn away and the overall condition so fragile Isla feared she wouldn’t be able to leave it to her own children and grandchildren in turn.

The leather on the top side of the case, ripped and bleached by the sun, needed re-padding. Half of the metal clasp that locks the case was missing, and the leather hinge had come adrift.

Even the books (Isla says that, being Scottish, Macbeth is her favourite) were showing signs of age on their leather covers.

Spending time with her granny, a skilled embroiderer and calligraphist, was an important part of Isla’s childhood. She learned to cherish the precious little library and her granny’s memory of the grandfather she never met, who died three years after he and Kathleen married.

Leather expert Suzie Fletcher restored the case, replacing missing pieces and treating and dyeing the leather to restore its beauty. Then she buffed the book covers to bring back their lustre before presenting the set to Isla, who said even her old-school gran would have burst into tears at the result.

A GODDESS WITH A SECRET

The early 20th-century Chinese porcelain figure of Guan Yin (pictured), the Buddhist goddess of mercy and compassion

The early 20th-century Chinese porcelain figure of Guan Yin (pictured), the Buddhist goddess of mercy and compassion

The early 20th-century Chinese porcelain figure of Guan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of mercy and compassion, has a secret: if you put water in the fish on which she stands, turn it upside down and then upright again, the water drips from a flask in her hand into the fish’s mouth. Ceramics expert Kirsten Ramsay reattached the goddess’s hand and the fish’s tail, which had broken off, and made the water flow again, taking retired GP Mickey Adagra, who inherited the little figurine from his uncle and aunt Maki and Adi, back to childhood holidays at their home near Mumbai.

HOW FLIPPING FABULOUS!

'Pancake Dog' was a battery-operated 60s mechanical toy whose eyes and ears pop up and whose stove lights up red as his pan moves to flip burgers

‘Pancake Dog’ was a battery-operated 60s mechanical toy whose eyes and ears pop up and whose stove lights up red as his pan moves to flip burgers

‘Pancake Dog’ – a battery-operated 60s mechanical toy whose eyes and ears pop up and whose stove lights up red as his pan moves to flip burgers – has never made a pancake in his life. But to Sue Gent from Yorkshire, that’s his name, and he brings back bittersweet memories of playing with her younger brother Andrew, who died a year after being involved in a car crash when he was just 25.

Sue’s father now suffers from Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, and Sue hoped that, if Pancake Dog was mended, the toy might spark his own recollections of those happy days. Mechanical mastermind Steve Fletcher removed the rust in the battery compartment and made delicate repairs to the mechanism, while cuddly toy restorers Julie Tatchell and Amanda Middleditch made new clothes and fresh fur for the dog’s head and ears – ready for Sue to take him home to her dad.

TOY’S TRAIN TICKETY BOO ONCE MORE

The bright red and green pedal train on which Kate Humphries played as a child in the 1980s, bought by her father Barry nearly 30 years earlier, was covered in rust when Kate brought it in

The bright red and green pedal train on which Kate Humphries played as a child in the 1980s, bought by her father Barry nearly 30 years earlier, was covered in rust when Kate brought it in

The bright red and green pedal train on which Kate Humphries played as a child in the 1980s, bought by her father Barry nearly 30 years earlier, was dilapidated and covered in rust when Kate brought it in. An avid train fan, Barry loved the plywood and metal engine just as much as his children did.

Barry had a stroke in March 2021, and Kate felt that seeing his grandchildren with his beloved train would give him just the lift he needed. Step forward expert metalworker Dom Chinea.

The paint had worn off and the metalwork was extremely rusty. The pedals didn’t turn properly and there was woodworm, but Dom couldn’t contain his excitement at the sight of this special ride-on toy.

Dom dismantled the train, sandblasted the metal, replaced crumbling woodwork and clamped the toy together to ensure it was level before gluing it back into place. He repainted it, and finally greased the wheels so they could spin freely.

Kate returned with two-year-old Agnes, bearing the sad news that Barry had now passed away. But as her daughter rode around the workshop, ringing the train’s bell, Kate was overjoyed at finding a new way to remember her beloved father.

GRANDAD’S WARTIME TALISMAN

Leather specialist Suzie Fletcher and woodworker Will Kirk built a wooden support, strengthened the shoe and made a new strap and buckle, returning the shoe to a visibly moved Jonathan

Leather specialist Suzie Fletcher and woodworker Will Kirk built a wooden support, strengthened the shoe and made a new strap and buckle, returning the shoe to a visibly moved Jonathan

After his father passed away, Jonathan Sparkes asked his mother if he could have the leather child’s shoe his grandfather had found in France during World War I.

Hubert hoped he might spot a mother with a child missing a shoe, but amid the chaos of war he never did. It became his talisman, but over a hundred years later it had all but disintegrated.

Leather specialist Suzie Fletcher and woodworker Will Kirk built a wooden support, strengthened the shoe and made a new strap and buckle, returning the shoe to a visibly moved Jonathan.

A MODEL KETCH SETS SAIL AGAIN

Wood expert Will Kirk reconstructed the sails, renewed the glue, cleaned the dry and discoloured wood and created a display stand

Wood expert Will Kirk reconstructed the sails, renewed the glue, cleaned the dry and discoloured wood and created a display stand

When Matt Goddard’s father Stephen passed away suddenly in 2009, he left behind his devastated 15-year-old son and an unfinished 1/50 scale model of the Clara May, a historic recreation of an 1891 wooden ketch – a type of two-masted sailboat.

Wood expert Will Kirk reconstructed the sails, renewed the glue, cleaned the dry and discoloured wood and created a display stand.

For Matt and his family, who remember his father as a truly wonderful man, the restored Clara May now stands as a tribute to his memory, and one they can appreciate every day.

GOLDIE BEAR GETS HIS GROWL BACK

Musical instrument restorer David Burville was able to give him his growl back and, equipped with a new raincoat and hat, Goldie (pictured) was again the bear Judith remembered

Musical instrument restorer David Burville was able to give him his growl back and, equipped with a new raincoat and hat, Goldie (pictured) was again the bear Judith remembered

Goldie Bear had been through the wars – his nose had been stitched back on upside down, he was balding in places and he’d even lost his growl – over his 70 years. 

Owner Judith Evans, whose daughter and granddaughter have both played with Goldie, suffers from a condition that could lead to her going blind, so it was important for her to see Goldie as she remembers him.

Musical instrument restorer David Burville was able to give him his growl back and, equipped with a new raincoat and hat, Goldie was again the bear Judith remembered.

A MOMENT IN A FAMILY’S HISTORY 

In the late 60s when Sophy Bellis was six, her mother Barbara arranged for her to sit for the renowned northern artist Roger Hampson

In the late 60s when Sophy Bellis was six, her mother Barbara arranged for her to sit for the renowned northern artist Roger Hampson

In the late 60s when Sophy Bellis was six, her mother Barbara arranged for her to sit for the renowned northern artist Roger Hampson.

Even after Barbara developed dementia, the painting provoked a strong reaction in her, but the surface of the portrait, done on a reused canvas, was flaking and needed softening, varnishing and retouching.

Restorer Lucia Scalisi had never before worked on a portrait whose subject was still alive, and her work made Sophy gasp in astonishment. 

Extracted from The Repair Shop: Life In The Barn by The Repair Shop, published by Kyle Books on 13 October, £22. © The Repair Shop 2022. To order a copy for £19.80 (offer valid to 15/10/22; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visitmailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937. 

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