It’s in our DNA. It’s what separates us from the apes.
We started with sticks and stones and made them into arrows and axes. We moved on to shovels and ploughs, ivory buttons and whale-bone needles. We came on in leaps and bounds and we started to specialise.
In 1830, in Cardigan, where we live, there were three bakers, thirteen bootmakers, two coopers, two hatmakers, three ropemakers, five dressmakers and milliners, two straw hat makers, one anchor smith, two weavers, four blacksmiths, two cabinet makers, three curriers, three lime burners, three saddlers, two shipbuilders, six tailors, one whitesmith, one corn miller, two black makers, seven carpenters, four glaziers, five maltsters, two printers, three sailmakers, two tanners, one tinsmith. And a stone mason.
At that time, Cardigan was a busy port, shipping agricultural produce and slate to Ireland and the west coast of Britain, taking human cargo to the Americas, importing fish and building boats.
But the river would silt up and the bigger ships moved up the coast to Liverpool, bringing their bales of raw cotton to the mills of Manchester, taking cotton cloth back to the colonies.
Man (or, more often, woman and child) would not make, but manufacture. And the factory was where it would happen. Eventually, we would export our industrial revolution and with it many of our jobs.
Yet even in 1980, one in four workers in Britain were employed in manufacturing, making things. A generation later, the figure is less than one in ten.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Cardigan used to be very good at making one thing in particular: jeans. There is no noble Grade II listed brick-built mill to remind you, just a grey metal-sided warehouse. But it once gave work to 325 people, mainly women, making jeans by the million.
Here, waistbands were cut, flies topstitched and serged, pockets bar-tacked. Seams would be flat-felled, trouser-legs hemmed, button-holes stitched and pocket corners riveted.
Malcolm Gladwell would say that to become expert at doing something, you must spend 10,000 hours at it. With a 40-hour working week, minus holidays, plus some overtime, you could clock that up in five years. Some people worked here for twenty years.
When the last shift clocked off on Friday 8 November 2002, one machinist described the factory closing as “like a death in the family. It will be like a funeral.”
The factory may have left but the skills are still here in Cardigan, waiting for their use to be considered valuable once more, waiting for the story to begin once again.
Waiting, to make things.