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Somerset: the new gateway to Australia!

The sawmills at Buckland Down near Frome are an extremely long way from Melbourne in Australia. 

Yet recently 178 large wooden five bar gates have just been loaded on to a container to be taken to Tilbury Docks and then on to Melbourne, Victoria.

Buckland Down is the home to local firm Charltons Gates and Fencing, a leader in the sector, supplying the National Trust estates, the National Arboretum at Westonbirt, Longleat Safari Park as well as the royal households. In 2000, the company was granted the Queen’s Royal Warrant. The firm was founded more than a century ago and is still owned and run by the same family, now in its fifth generation.

The chairman and CEO at the company is AJ Charlton, known by everyone as ‘AJ’. Last month saw AJ celebrate his 84th birthday and a remarkable 70 years working for the family firm. He remains very much the ‘hands on’ active executive, early into the office most days and a familiar sight in and around the yard and sawmills with his trusted iPad in hand. Over those 70 years AJ has seen the company grow and prosper, but the export order to Australia is still very much a first for him.

AJ said, “Of course we export, but even 10 years ago I would never have envisaged shipping gates to Australia. However, we are absolutely delighted to be doing so and with further orders in the pipeline we look upon this current order as one of the first of many.

“Clearly, wherever in the world, customers want to buy quality. Customers buy our gates and fencing products because they are quality, hand assembled by craftsmen using traditional joinery skills. With the age of containerisation and reduced shipping costs, we really are now looking at a global market.”

The buyer of the gates for export is Australian businessman Adrian Reis, who has now set up his own firm in Melbourne, Westbury Gates, to import and distribute the gates. He plans to launch the product in Australia at the big Red Hill Agricultural Show in March.

Last year whilst on holiday in the Cotswolds with his family, he noticed the number of same timber gates that were in front of properties as well as fields and yards. A bit of research and a later visit to Buckland Down soon saw the first order placed from Westbury Gates of Melbourne.

Adrian said, “At first sight it may seem unusual to ship gates from Somerset to Australia. However, many English products have a brand that stands for integrity, probity and quality. In Australia, as anywhere else, customers want quality and to be associated with a respected brand.  Charltons are able to supply us with a great quality product on schedule and at a price that even after transport costs is still affordable here in Australia.”

Above: the Charltons team with British and Australian flags by the loaded container, now en route to Melbourne