LUXURY beauty brand Bath House is marking 20 years in the Yorkshire Dales with new shops in the North. Sarah French meets its owners

The Northern Echo: Bath House

Abigail Brooks, Nigel Brooks, Pauline Marshall, Glyn Marshall, Gareth Marshall

Loading article content

THE Howgill hills are illuminated in winter sunshine and the crisp, still air is so peaceful you can hear the leaves as they drop in the churchyard in Sedbergh. It’s not always this tranquil, of course, and the remnants of damage caused by the latest seasonal storm still lay scattered at the roadsides, the full becks and streams evidence of the extremes of weather this part of the North is equally well known for.

Come rain or shine, this environment has both informed and inspired the passionate owners of bathing, skincare and fragrance company Bath House over two decades. The feel-good spirit of the outdoors; the unflinching cycle of nature as all else is reactive to change; the romantic drama of landscape and its effect on the human psyche are all captured in the Bath House brand.

The bath and beauty products company is marking 20 years in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. In that time, it has grown into a business of around 60 people, and built a discerning and loyal customer base.

The range of high quality products strike a clever balance between beautiful gift or special treat, but at a cost that means they can be a daily indulgence. In other words, luxury without the price tag. In a competitive market Bath House products do stand out and it’s only when you hear how the company was born that it begins to make sense.

Directors Nigel Brooks and Pauline Marshall met at art school in Birmingham where they were both studying a Masters in textiles. Nigel had met his wife Abigail when she was studying sculpture, and Pauline’s husband Gareth is a professional photographer.

Having had separate businesses as couples – the Brooks in a consultancy designing mostly textiles for the likes of Laura Ashley, M&S and Wedgwood, and the Marshalls in a card design business – all this artistic and creative talent came together in 1997. With Gareth’s brother Glyn joining a couple of years later as finance director, it is a true family business.

Pauline explains: “We’d all been doing our own design work but we’d also all worked together as well. We were looking to expand into other areas and, with our experience in packaging design, it was a natural progression to turn our passion into creating Bath House, although it’s changed a lot since we started.”

The tipping point, Nigel says, was when they started to manufacture themselves, and everything, bar soap, is still produced in the former grain store in Sedbergh.

Nigel adds: “We’d gained a lot of technical knowledge along the way and creating natural products and perfumes came out of working alongside our suppliers to the point where we can say, ‘we can find that extract for that perfume if you can’t’.”

Gareth is the company’s alchemist, helping to source the special natural ingredients and mastering the skill of creating the perfect combinations that result in gorgeous product collections.

Those ingredients include delicious things like ginger root, Italian sweet orange oil, frangipane flower and brown sugar that are lovingly turned into body lotion and creams, bath soaks and salts, body washes and fragrances. In the case of lip balms, every one is poured by hand in small batches at Sedbergh, while the fragrances are created at the company’s new perfume-making facility at Rise Mill, in nearby Dent.

Bath House is very unusual in doing everything itself. Typically product design companies outsource manufacture, and manufacturers employ freelance designers. Between the directors, their independent formulator and their team, from packing and product design to sourcing and manufacturing, from styling and photography to the website, marketing, sales and distribution, everything happens at Sedbergh.

The landscape in which they work, together with the natural ingredients, and the directors’ backgrounds in design manifested in beautiful packaging, Bath House truly lives up to its strapline: Artisans of Natural Beauty.

Their self-sufficiency has given the directors much greater control and ensures Bath House remains a niche business rather than a corporate entity, yet one which is still able to compete with much bigger names on the high street.

People who live in or visit the Lake District, Sedbergh, Kirkby Lonsdale or Knutsford, where it has shops, and others online, return again and again for collections that include frangipani and grapefruit, Spanish fig and nutmeg and patchouli and black pepper, the latter created for Bath House by Ruth Mastenbroek, a classically trained perfumer and a former president of the British Society of Perfumers. They are the little luxuries with which customers continue to spoil themselves even when money is tight.

In addition to the ‘classic’ collections, they wholesale to around 1,000 retailers a range with a fun image – think prosecco bath salts, gin and tonic lip balm and the new sloe gin soap.

When it comes to Bath House shops, their choice of location and character premises is no accident with small, affluent towns that appeal to tourists providing both regular and refreshed footfall.

New shops on the horizon in York and Ilkley, presented in the same sumptuous and welcoming style created by Nigel and Abigail, will expand the Northern territory, while a carefully selected London location will follow eventually.

It takes up to two years from initial inspiration through sample stage and non-animal stability testing before a new formulation is released. If a product is successful, such as their dry body oil, it can be replicated into other ranges.

“New products come out of us seeing gaps in our collections or customers asking for something. Sometimes that might mean losing other products but experience has given us the confidence to do that, just as it’s made us pare back on our packaging,” explains Nigel.

Among the newest and very successful, collections, are women’s fragrances Life Is, Faith Is, Heaven Is and Worship.

Pauline says: “It’s been really exciting to see it develop. I think people have gone from choosing well known, celebrity-backed perfume brands to wanting something that’s more unusual and unique to them, that says something about them as an individual.”

Nigel, who has become increasingly appreciative of the spirit of the local landscape that attracts and affects people in equal measure, says: “It brings lots of opportunities. The freshness of the water but also the drizzle and the heavy rain we get here, the woods, oak moss, sun on the leaves… it’s an exciting challenge trying to capture those things and recreate them in a perfume.”

It’s encouraging to hear that, even after 20 years, the passion behind Bath House is only deepening. Outside, as one season fades and another prepares to tighten its grip, the inspiration keeps on coming.