Tom Broughton: from specs to boots; an unstoppable passion for the functional yet well crafted

Tom broughtonTom Broughton is part of a new breed: a rising generation of young and talented men and women that are slowly but surely reviving British ancestral crafts and adapting them to the goût du jour. With Cubitts, a modern spectacles and sunglasses company, Tom has injected a dose of rejuvenation in a craft and tradition that had, with the exception of two companies, all but disappeared from London.

postcard London bus

After a degree in Econometrics, Tom Broughton got sidetracked-what he calls career procrastination-doing all sorts of jobs in The City for about ten years. Originally from Leicester, he took up residency in the vicinity of King’s Cross Station in 2004 and very rapidly, developed a real love for London, its monuments and their history, its back alleys and hidden secrets. Living on Cubitt Street, he read about the life of the Cubitt brothers. Thomas, William and Lewis Cubitt were engineers, architects and master builders of Victorian London. They revolutionised the way buildings were made by employing all the trades under their own management.

Among the most prestigious buildings designed by the Cubitt brothers are King’s Cross Station and the Granary Building which once stored wheat for London’s bakers and that is now home to Central Saint Martins, one of the most prestigious arts colleges in the world.

horn postcardRummaging through the streets around King’s Cross Station and the Regent’s Canal, Tom came across the wrought-iron “butterfly” rivets (geometric shape designed by Lewis Cubitt) that were set in granite blocks. The cast iron rivets held together buildings and provided strength to support cranes which lifted goods from barges on the Regent’s Canal. These barges transported coal, goods and other building materials from the major industrial cities in the North of England during the heyday of the Victorian era up until the 1960s.

King’s Cross, dense with angels and histories. There are cities beneath your pavements. Cities behind your skies. Let me see. From King’s Cross poet Aidan Andrew Dunn

As a result of his countless peregrinations, Tom Broughton has developed an exhaustive knowledge of London history. But his curiosity knows no boundaries. He loves travelling, watching films, reading books, is passionate about music and poetry, loves mathematical problems ready to be solved and anything that presents a challenge to learn. Early on, he developed a passion for glasses, probably triggered by the mere fact that he had to wear some. Slowly by slowly, he started collecting them. Upon settling in Cubitt Street, what serendipity it was to learn that all around Granary Square was where all the spectacle manufacturers used to be before the creation of the NHS in the 1960s that put an end to them. Algha Works-Eyewear and Premiere Optical being the sole bespoke factory frame makers left to testify of this bygone era. The College of Optometrics has a remarkable collection of eyewear that inspired Tom in his research for the perfect understated yet stylish spectacles and it has now its own Cubitts section.

The Cubitts Shop:meGrowing tired of his 9-5 routine, he started dreaming of a life more attuned with his likings and interests. That’s when the idea of making spectacles emerged. He wanted to make meticulously crafted eyewear making good use of modern technology while retaining a spirit of the old fashioned world in their design and final touches (custom pin-drilled rivets, mitred joins and hand polishing) and all that at a fraction of the price of the market. Tom spent a lot of time researching how glasses were made, what was the best material to produce them and where to get it from. He talked to numerous spectacles manufacturers in England and elsewhere and came to the conclusion that premium acetate sourced from the world’s leading supplier in the Lombardy region of Italy was the answer. He tested prototypes on a 3D printer and used CNC technology to make them. In the autumn of 2014, he launched the Cubitts brand online and a year later the Cubitts shop opened its doors in the heart of Soho.

rivets symbolsCubitts spectacles take their inspiration from the iconic British styles of the 1920s up to the 1970s. Each pair of spectacles features five or seven-barrel hinges, solid metal cores and exposed custom pins that are inspired by the “butterfly” rivets he discovered on one of his walks. The rivets’ design is now the Cubitts logo. Its graphic being a direct reference to the common abbreviation KX used for King’s Cross. The first model was the Marchmont named after Marchmont Street. Recently, they launched their first Cubitts handmade sunglasses and optical spectacle frames made from genuine buffalo horn. They have 16 spectacle styles in total and each frame can be mounted as spectacles or sunglasses.

Thomas Cubitt
The finishing touches come in the shape of premium accessories such as custom hand made cases-the folding design of which are inspired by the traditional art of origami-a pouch, an optical screwdriver and a cloth by illustrator Lucy Dalzell. Lucy went, painstakingly, up and down King’s Cross area sketching the contours of every single one of the buildings that the Cubitts brothers had designed in their time and combined them all lovingly in a beautiful drawing.

Always on the look out to share his passion for spectacles, Tom Broughton has teamed up with the second year students on Central St Martin’s Fashion Communication and Promotion course. Together, they have worked on a number of projects from frame design to photoshoots. And what better way to perpetuate the tradition of spectacle manufacturing than to pair this younger generation with the savoir-faire of the old guard? Tom made sure of that by pairing senior spectacle manufacturers near retirement with youngsters eager to learn the trade.

MarchmontIn Tom’s view, there is nothing more exhilarating than to be with creative people. He believes in the propinquity effect, i.e. a kinship between people that means that because they share the same interest, they can bounce ideas and galvanized each other’s creativity. He champions places like London Hackspace where people from all parts of the creative spectrum can share equipment and ideas. Nettil House, a hub for creativity and innovation, is another place dear to his heart. Bearing that in mind, Tom has surrounded himself with a team of about 8 people amongst which counts Joe Bell, his faithful sidekick from the early days.

cubbitts

Being into everything and bubbling with excitement about pretty much anything he is not familiar with, it was just a matter of time before Tom Broughton would launch into some new ventures. Broughton Boots, his new side project, came out of a desire to revive a family trade. Tom Broughton’s great-great-grandfather, Elijah, used to work in the mine. Two decades down the mine left him limping for life. In 1907, he decided to make the first pair of boots to be worn by miners. It was a success and ultimately received a Royal Warrant. The closing down of mines in the early 1980s signed the death of Broughton Boots. Tom has just successfully relaunched the brand thanks to the funding platform Kickstarter. After all, Broughton Boots has more than one common denominator with Cubitts. Spectacles and shoes are both utilitarian objects. Their functionality doesn’t prevent them from being beautiful but it has to be in an understated way. Hence, the discreet rivets tag on the arms of the spectacles or the steel quarter-heel on the boots’ sole.

Who knows what else Tom Broughton has up his sleeve: socks, trainers…  We will be sure to be on the look out for his next venture. In the meantime, be sure to pay the Cubitts Shop (37 Marshall Street in Soho) a visit on your way to The French House where Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon used to hang out or else at The New Evaristo Club, a speakeasy open until the wee hours of the morning.

 The Broughton Boots

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