Our History

Held of Harrogate began life as part of the Harrogate Arts and Handicrafts Centre family business founded in 1953 by Edwin and Nancy Balmforth.

The Family Business – 1975

When Edwin’s health began to fail in 1973, only son Chris, 30 at the time, returned home to join the business after 10 years in Germany where he worked as a Software Engineer for IBM, Hewlett Packard and finally Adolph Held KG on the edge of the Black Forest.

Clock Kits

As a sideline to their main engineering business, they also produced a fascinating range of ancient wooden-wheeled clock kits, which Chris later marketed in the UK under the grandiose title of Held Products International Marketing which was soon shortened to Held of Harrogate.

During these early years, the company imported porcelain from both Germany and Japan and we were the first in the UK to offer a mail order service for the china painter.  Dad was very sceptical about sending china through the post but using wood wool and double-walled boxes, we had little problem with breakages.

Shop Interior

The business expanded rapidly and at its peak in the 1980′s, we were a team of 13.  As well as continuing to market the clock kits we also imported literally millions of wooden beads for the macrame craze.




Macrame Beads

Macrame Beads

In 1978 a group of us from the UK attended the IPAT show in Los Angeles and met many of the American teachers and suppliers who were really responsible for introducing china painting to a wider market.

I would be really interested to know who could take credit for being the very first teacher, outside of the factories, to get a group together and start it all going?  Here are a few pictures and I guess some of the ladies below would have known the answer.

Since then, we have successfully followed the changing trends and have gradually downsized and are now only involved with ceramics and glass.  The decal printing side of the business has blossomed and we have also introduced several new products such as white velvet, the mini piper, non-ping off paste, water based medium along with a large range of texture decals.  Shortly, a new range of “colour-change” mica colours will be introduced, so keep your eyes open on the “INFORMATION” section of www.held.co.uk for breaking news. With a little help from the boys, Clair and I now run the business from our home which is a converted village school at the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales.

Chris and Clair

After 5 steady years, sales have suddenly rocketed mainly due to  new business from abroad.  Rather than take on extra staff, we are now looking for someone to join us, learn the ropes, with a view to taking over all or part of the business in the future.

As long as Clair and I remain fit and healthy and continue to enjoy the challenge, we have no plans to retire for several years.  One day we will have to hand over the reins and it makes sense to start looking for a suitable successor now – so if someone you know springs to mind do ask them to contact us.

We are indeed very fortunate to live and work where we do and to have made so many creative and interesting friends over the years.

Thanks to china painters everywhere for all your questions, orders and suggestions and helping us earn our living in such an enjoyable way.

Visitors are always very welcome but please let us know in advance of your arrival so we will be able to entertain you properly and also provide you with directions.

The Ideas Room


The latest arrival is the new “Kota” creative ideas room – every man needs a shed!