Founded in 1972 at Niton on the Isle of Wight, the family-run business is the oldest British producer of wood-burning stoves. The company is run on the Christian values of its owners, and has won several Chamber of Commerce green awards for its approach to the environment. Its customers also have the option of multi-fuel burners, and can be happy in the knowledge that any CO2 emissions have been creatively reduced. Cedric Wells – Creative Director – reveals the inner workings of a business forged in fire and smoke.
Sublime: Just how many of your family have been involved in the company?
Cedric Wells: Seven of founder Alfred J. Wells’s sons and ten of his grandchildren have worked within the business at some point over the past 40 years. At the moment, there are eight of us.
S: How has it grown since it was first founded?
CW: Since 1972, we’ve gone from three to 170 employees. Most of our customers are from Europe, but orders from Japan, Canada and South Africa are notching up fast. All our stoves and accessories are made with British parts at our base on the Isle of Wight. The glass is from Germany – only because no one makes it in the UK any more.
S: Has the business always been environment-conscious?
CW: We set up during the oil crisis in the early 1970s, which gave us our first customers in need of an alternative fuel. The spread of Dutch Elm Disease around the same time meant a plentiful supply of wood. Then during the recession of the 1990s, we had to adapt to survive. We began to introduce greener technology, and developed our clean-burn airwash system, which reignites the harmful by-products of burning before releasing them.
S: Wood is a renewable resource, but only if new trees are planted. How do you ensure that they are?
CW: We try to work closely with wood suppliers and producers locally as well as nationally. We lobby Government hard to ensure that wood is recognised as a viable heating option, and that forests are properly managed. Wood is a renewable, sustainable and
CO2-neutral fuel, and one that we have a good supply of in the UK.
We are constantly developing ways to burn wood more efficiently by experimenting with airflow and ‘secondary burn’. Many of our stoves now produce such low emissions that they are DEFRA-approved (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) for burning wood in smoke-control areas.
S: So it’s all about stoves?
CW: Not at all! In the 1990s we invested in a vitreous enamel plant to finish our stoves, and now we also produce cladding and signs for railway stations and, very proudly, the London Underground.
S: Your adverts often feature a stunning model – who’s your star?
CW: Ah, that’s Rona, our black Labrador. She’s the company mascot and office dog – she took over last year from our previous model, Phoebe, who retired at the grand old age of 14.
S: Peering through the smoke, what does the future hold for A. J. Wells & Sons?
CW: We are optimistic. Currently the market is very strong, and the trend for stoves is growing. In addition to the environmental advantages, gas and oil prices are once again on the rise, and the stability of their supply is uncertain, so wood-burning is a safe option. People like to be in control, and there is something appealing about going ‘back to basics’, especially with the present state of the economy.