Why did we start making tents? Because we hate camping that's why. It occurred to us one day in 1991, that if we HAD to spend the summer travelling around with children, dog, cat and Crisis Cafe, then we could at least do it in style
Crisis Cafe was one of those really brilliant ideas that was sure to make our fortune. With a large pile of ex-forces dung-coloured canvas, making the marquee for the cafe was a combination of skill, ingenuity and extreme ignorance, and ended up looking like something like the mess tent from M*A*S*H*. It was then lined in beautiful gold satin hangings from a film set and lit with a motley collection of lights well gelled up; then old gas cookers and, most importantly a bar, were installed.
In an old tour bus that once belonged to Motorhead, this wonderful creation was then carted around to various festivals as a mobile 'green room' to keep the crew and performers so jollied up that they forgot that they were working 24hrs a day for peanuts. This was all well and good but was doomed to failure because we would all stay up all night drinking the profits. Not what Michael Hesseltine at the time would have called good business sense, but then he was not exactly known as an authority on Fun was he?
After a brief drying out period, we got a bit excited about this tent making, it definitely had potential. Well obviously we were experts at it, hadn't we just made a marquee right off first time? This time we would make one for ourselves to live in, again from army canvas only a lovely creamy white. It made a very nice round shaped tent about 10' (3m) in diameter; just enough space for ourselves, dressing table, fitted carpets, cat, dog and the inevitable gold satin curtains. The children were cruelly relegated to an ugly frame tent. We just wish that someone had told us that the canvas we had made our tent from wasn't water-proofed! Still, it looked OK. Fortunately we only make stupid mistakes once and now use only the very best materials and have the construction down to a fine art.
We like to have parties. We don't mean those nice ones with the chairs in the front room pushed back and the ornaments put away in the sideboard in case someone waves their arms about when illustrating a point about Greek architecture. We mean the full-on parties with a couple of bands, barrels of xxxxx and every local surfer and his ironing board.
This sort of bash, unless you live in Kensington Palace, has got to be held in the great outdoors in order to make sure that the neighbours receive the full benefits of the noise pollution. Unfortunately it also means you, your guests and your gate-crashers are at the mercy of the famous British Weather. We have got round this problem by creating a 'toggle' of tents. By erecting a large marquee with a circle of our smaller tents attached around the outside, we realized that a single venue with various 'rooms' could be created, each with a different theme. A kiddies play tent to keep them out of our way, a bar tent to hang out in, a front room tent with ornaments for those wishing to discuss Greek architecture, a sleaze tent exuding decadent luxury that filled up with very odd characters doing strange things with Zippo lighters, all surrounding the main marquee where the band does very nicely keeping the dancing contingent happy.
It's very tempting to make bigger and more fantastic marquees but, perhaps fortunately, we are constrained by the size of our workshop. Grandiose ideas are all very well but not if you haven't the room to fulfill them in. So the largest marquee width we make is the 30' (9m), which can be extended indefinitely by adding 22' (6.7m) middle sections. However, this won't prevent us from offering the option of adding tents for extra rooms all over the place to make it that bit more interesting.
Then there is colour. We're a bit tired of the bland white spans of canvas that most of the bigger manufacturers are enamoured with. Then they go and line them with peach nylon!
Shape is important too. Curves are alluring and curves are Belle Tent's speciality; why have a straight tent if you can get a curvy one?
After all, looking good is what it's all about - but most of all it's about fantasy.
Laura Ashton & Dave Rothwell, summer 1995
2004: We had another busy season despite all the rain and nearby Boscastle getting flooded. Fortunately, the land is very well drained here and so we suffered no damage ourselves. We happened to be living in one of our tents in our orchard at the time and yet stayed nice and dry!
We made three of the 24' x 48' Triple Pole Marquees (pictured above)
See Here for a customer review for this marquee
2005: In the Spring we made a second 52' x 30' marquee for the marquee hire company Ashley Events. They purchased their first from us in 1999, and added a second centre section in 2001 to make a 74' x 30' Triple Pole Marquee. As Simon, the owner, says "If I had had the two marquees last season I could have rented them both out every weekend!" Ashley Events can be contacted at www.ashleyevents.co.uk
We had a ridiculously busy summer and even had to turn work down. Yet another 24' x 48' Triple Pole Marquee was made in July and is now in Menorca.
Also The Rattle Bags, an early years music & theatre company, now have a 18' x 14' tent to do workshops in.
See Hire Tents for contact details for either of the above.
2006: We made a variety of tents in the summer including a 24' x 48' marquee with extension, a 24' diameter marquee and an 18' pavilion tent.
At the same time we made lots of camping tents for our own campsite, here at Owls Gate, to allow camping in a fully kitted-out Belle Tent. This was a new venture for us and was very exciting. It proved a great experience, we met a whole bunch of new people and had a lot of fun.
Go to Belle Tents Camping for more information.
2007: It was a very busy summer for tent making. In May we completed a charcoal grey and white 52' x 30'marquee.
And in June a red and charcoal grey 20' x 32' marquee (pictured above) for The Great Voltini, an electrifying show.
See www.voltini.com for details.
2008: All of our camping tents were up in Battersea Power Station during February for the shooting of an episode of Trial & Retribution. The tents had a lovely time and came back full of themseves thinking that they're now TV stars.
We made lots of small garden tents for people plus camping tents and a marquee.
2009: Along with some small garden tents, we made a 20' x 30' olive green and blue marquee for a community theatre in Northern Ireland and a red and white 18' x 14 pavilion tent for the University of Oxford Botanic Gardens.
A plain white 18' x 24' tent with scalloped valance is now for hire in the Oxford area. It was made for the hire company Canvas & Wood and joins their existing 18' red and white pavilion tent.
2010: After 3 months away in the south pacific islands, Australia and New Zealand, which we thoroughly enjoyed, we madly worked our way through two new large marquees plus walkways for Ashley Events.
We also made a 24' blue and white marquee for the London Wildlife Trust.
We then went on to make another small marquee and two large garden tents.
Having completed the above, we then made two more small marquees, including a red and blue one (pictured above) for the Gateshead Community Farm.
Ashley Events had two marquees up at the St Andrews Celebrations in Edinburgh at the end of November. The poor things had 2ft of snow dumped on them which snapped a main pole, and then temperatures of minus 12 degrees which froze them to the ground.
2011: A brand new hire company, Wills Marquees in Yorkshire, had a 24' x 46' marquee made. Their details can be found on our Hire Tents page.
We also made a 24' x 36' marquee with scalloped valances for Penpont, a beautiful guest house in the Brecon Beacons, it will be erected in the grounds for weddings and other events.
A 20' x 32' marquee in white with scalloped valance plus various smaller tents completed a pretty busy year.
2012: We were commissioned to make a 24' canopy for Amber Valley Yurts.
And yet another 50' x 30' marquee for Ashley Events - they have quite of few now.
Mashed Tea Tent ordered a 12 pavilion to attach to their 18' x 14 pavilion tea tent that they take to festivals.
We also made another 24' span centre section for Wills Marquees making their marquee a 24' x 60'.
Apart from all that, we have re-designed and made three new kitchen tents, plus two replacement bedroom tents, for our camping site.
We then made a red and blue 24' x 48' marquee canopy for a company called Holy Cow in Melbourne, Australia and they sent us the picture below. The sides and poles are not ours as we made just the canopy with the scalloped valance.
2013 so far...
We are making another 24' x 60' marquee for Wills Marquees in Yorkshire. Next winter they are going to have a 30' x 70' made for the 2014 season.
We are also making a 18' x 14' pavilion tent which will go to Jersey in the Channel Islands.
Belle Tents Camping
Our summer campsite was very popular again last year despite the poor weather. All the additions and improvements, including more paths around the site and solid floors in the new kitchen tents, made sure everyone had a good time anyway.
We are now taking bookings for for summer 2013: see Belle Tents Camping for more information.