Review: Smith The Roll Pack

Ernest editor Jo tests out the first in Millican's new Mavericks range: Smith the Roll Pack is a simple, functional bag made with lightweight weatherproof canvas. Neat enough for the city, tough enough for the great outdoors, he's a worthy companion for those who like to mix work and adventure

Ernest editor Jo testing Smith on the Isles of Scilly. Photo: Oliver Berry

Ernest editor Jo testing Smith on the Isles of Scilly. Photo: Oliver Berry

I’ve been a fan of Millican bags ever since they launched back in 2009. Trusty Dave the Rucksack has accompanied me on wintery trips to Iceland and Norway, as well as wild swimming rambles in Montenegro and many a muddy festival. Along the way I’ve overstuffed him, sat on him and quite possibly used him as a pillow. I'm proud to say he's taking it all in his stride and there’s barely a scratch on him.

So having followed Millican for the past six years, I was intrigued when they previewed their new Mavericks collection in our second print edition (p106-107). Smith the Roll Pack is the first in the Mavericks line and it looks like he’s taken the makers in a new direction.

Before I introduce Smith, here's a quick introduction: Lake District based Millican use sustainable materials to make functional bags for travel and outdoor living. Their thoughtfully designed bags are made with specialist canvas fabrics, minimum plastic and recycled materials and are intended for lifelong use. They named their company after local Lake District legend Millican Dalton, who left a conventional life in the 1900s to live in a cave in Borrowdale, finding all he needed (apart from decent coffee) in nature. Oh and they name their bags after their Lakeland heroes. Dave is a local farmer and (Andy) Smith is a mountain biking creative fellow who's just taken over an abandoned carpet factory and turned it into a community space for local artists and craftspeople. A hero indeed. 

Millican has pared down their design for Smith. The bag is constructed simply, using just a few panels of lightweight and weatherproof Bionic® Canvas (57% recycled and 30% stronger than regular canvas). This modest design aims to reduce production waste, with minimal seams for maximum strength and durability. The canvas is impregnated rather than coated with weatherproof wax, to keep the weight down and the rain out, and to retain that tactile canvas feel. He also has everything else you’d expect: padded ergonomic shoulder straps, removable waist straps for cycling and a breathable back panel – as well as nice aluminum buckles. Plus, I hate to say this sort of thing, but he’s also got a rather pleasing retro feel. So, moving on…

Smith strikes a good balance between city bag and adventure pack. He’s neat enough for meetings, but tough enough for exploring. Over the past two months, I’ve taken Smith on all of my research trips for our upcoming third issue: hare spotting in the Kent Marshes, meeting makers in Margate and exploring deserted islands in Scilly. I've also used him to cart books, notes and magazines to various cafes around Bristol when I got too restless to work at my desk.

Smith's versatile design makes him ideal for this sort of trip. There’s a concealed 15” padded laptop pocket on one side and a notebook-sized pocket on the other, with space for your phone and pens. The main belly of the bag has more pockets (for magazines, iPad and other important things), but mainly a large expandable space, which was really handy when I needed to stuff in another layer, or chuck in a station-bought supper on the last train home. However, my favourite thing about Smith is the grab handle on top of the bag, which is reinforced with leather and handy for picking the bag up like a pannier when hopping on and off trains. All in all, this is a cracking bag and well recommend for those of you who like to mix work and adventure. 

Millican's Smith The Roll Pack comes as a 18 litre pack for £95 and 25 litre for £110. We tested 18 litre in Rust. For more information, visit the Millican website.



Age of Reinvention #4

It's the fourth phase of our Age of Reinvention competition in collaboration with Pedlars and The Good Life Experience. This time, we're offering a box of wooden spools – what would you make?

Wooden crate containing 30 wooden spools, from a factory in  Jaipur, India

Wooden crate containing 30 wooden spools, from a factory in  Jaipur, India

A century ago, Britain was known as “the workshop of the world.” It was a hotbed of invention and industry. After a 100 years of decline, we’re seeing a real resurgence of craftsmanship – a return of traditional industries, swathes of makers taking risks to set up businesses based on doing what they love and buyers who value the story behind the products they buy.

To celebrate this new age of innovation, we are launching the Age of Reinvention competition – a chance for amateur inventors to furrow their brows, doodle on graph paper and transform old items into unique and practical products. The competition is brought to you in collaboration with our friends at Pedlars, purveyor of wonderful homewares, gifts and quality vintage, and The Good Life Experience, a festival of music, food, culture and the great outdoors.

Between January and August 2015 we're offering eight items for reinvention. Each month, Ernest Journal and Pedlars will choose their favourite design concept then post the item to the inventor so they can work their magic. We will then exhibit the eight completed items at The Good Life Experience (18-20 September 2015) and give each successful inventor two free tickets to the festival and a subscription to Ernest Journal. The fourth item on offer is a box filled with 30 wooden spools, from a factory in Jaipur, India – but what would you turn these into?

The box is 36cm x 19cm and each spool is 15cm x 6cm (diameter).

For inspiration, have a look at the winning designs from our first and second rounds: 

Age of Reinvention #1: a maker's smock

Age of Reinvention #1: a military groundsheet turned into a maker's smock, by Francli

Age of Reinvention #1: a military groundsheet turned into a maker's smock, by Francli

Age of Reinvention #2: pair of fireplace sides turned into a cooking set, by Grain & Knot

Age of Reinvention #2: pair of fireplace sides turned into a cooking set, by Grain & Knot

How to enter 

Simply share a sketch of your proposed design with us on Twitter or Instagram, mentioning @ernestjournal and @PedlarsWorld and using #AgeofReinvention.

The deadline for your design idea is 10 May 2015. 

If you have any queries, email

Terms and conditions:

1. The closing time and date is 11.59pm on 10 May 2015. Entries after that date will not be considered. 2. The winning entrant will be posted the item for them to reinvent and display at the Good Life Experience. 3. The prize is two tickets to The Good Life Experience and a subscription to Ernest Journal. 3. The prize is non-transferable and no cash alternative can be offered. 4. See our full terms and conditions.

The craft apron: butchery

7th Rise set a simple brief: a comfortable, durable and wipeable butchery apron, with a heritage aesthetic. Francli knew what to do

Together, as part of Francli's Live Projects, Francli and 7th Rise – off-grid outdoor adventure and wild food specialists – have created a multi-functional butchery apron, hard-wearing enough for when gutting, skinning and filleting meat and fish. It needed to be comfortable and versatile to lend protection for other activities such as wood chopping and indoor cooking.

Francli had this to say about their work:

"Our Live Projects are purely explorative and collaborative works fuelled by our fascination and respect for other creatives and outdoor enthusiasts. 

Each project works closely with a creative professional to make bespoke workwear for their chosen craft. This collaborative process of designing, sampling, testing and developing such specific pieces gives us the opportunity to expand our design knowledge and skills. These projects keep us constantly challenged and inspired so that we stay creatively fresh for other areas of our brand, such as our studio design service and craft-wear shop."

The Francli studio is made up of purely explorative, creative and collaborative projects fuelled by their fascination and respect for other creatives and outdoor enthusiasts.

The priest hole maker

With ingenious craftsmanship and derring-do, Nicholas Owen - patron saint of illusionists and escapologists - saved the lives of many priests in the 16th century, as Mark Blackmore relates

Design: Tina Smith

Design: Tina Smith

England at the time of the succession from Elizabeth I to James I was not the best place and time to be a Catholic. Having had their rather brief day under the reign of Elizabeth’s predecessor Mary I, or Bloody Mary, Catholics were now viewed by the ruling powers as dangerous at best, as kindling at worst. So if you were a Catholic priest it was a good idea to have a hiding place available. 

Fortunately, at this time there lived a man who mixed genius with derring-do, who would have won an All-England hide-and-seek competition with ease, who overcame great physical disability to show such courage and resourcefulness that in 1970 he was canonised by Pope Paul VI. 

Nicholas Owen was, according to contemporary reports, barely larger than a dwarf. He suffered from a hernia and a severe limp, one leg having been crushed by a horse. He travelled the country under the name of ‘Little John’, and on his travels he built priest holes so cunningly placed it is believed many still exist, undiscovered, to this day. 

A priest hole is a tiny concealed chamber built into a house – in the panelling, under a staircase, behind a false fireplace. Catholic priests would use them to evade pursuivants, or priest-hunters. 

Owen, always working alone at night, was a master of concealment. A good example of his work can be seen at Harvington Hall in Worcestershire. There, on a staircase, is one step that, if pressed to a certain angle, opens an entrance to a small room in which someone with enough food and water could stay for weeks. 

Little is known of his early life – the best guess is that he was born around 1550 in Oxford to a devoutly Catholic family, becoming a carpenter by trade. He worked most of his life in the service of a Jesuit priest call Henry Garnet, and was himself admitted into the Society of Jesus as a lay brother. 

Owen was first arrested in 1582, after publicly proclaiming that the Jesuit priest Edmund Campion, who had been found guilty of high treason and hanged, drawn and quartered, was not guilty. After his release he managed to evade arrest until 1594. This time he was tortured, but revealed nothing of his work, and was released after a wealthy Catholic family paid a hefty fine. The authorities at this time believed him to be a man of no significance, who simply happened to have some wealthy friends. 

A figure of stealth 

If only they’d known they had a wee Elizabethan James Bond on their hands. On the night of 4 October 1597 Father John Gerard escaped from the Tower of London along with a colleague and, astonishingly, their gaoler, who would have been punished for their escape. They climbed from the Tower on a rope that had been strung across the moat. The man who planned and directed the entire daring escapade was of course Nicholas Owen. 

In 1603 James VI of Scotland became James I of England, but things didn’t improve for Catholics. Just three years later Owen and three priests, two of whom had been involved in the Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot, were surprised by pursuivants at Hindlip Hall in Worcestershire. They bolted in pairs into two priest holes that Owen had already constructed, but had little in the way of supplies, and the pursuivants had come prepared. Though searches were predictably fruitless, the hunters included a full complement of carpenters and stonemasons. They simply began deconstructing the house, brick by brick, panel by panel. 

With discovery imminent Owen gave himself up in the hope of distracting attention from the priests, but it was to no avail. All four were uncovered, and Owen’s capture in particular was widely celebrated. 

Secretary of State Robert Cecil said “It is incredible, how great was the joy caused by his arrest... knowing the great skill of Owen in constructing hiding places, and the innumerable quantity of dark holes which he had schemed for hiding priests all through England.” 

Nowhere to hide 

Off to the Tower of London went Nicholas Owen, and this time there was to be no escape. Here was a man who could give information on the hiding places of many of the most dangerous enemies of the state, and the full weight of the era’s interrogatory methods were brought to bear upon him. 

Owen was a brave man, but his body was not built to withstand such treatment. He was hung on a rack from iron gauntlets, and weights added to his feet. Even strapping an iron plate to his stomach could not keep his body from rupturing. He died, disembowelled, having provided his captors with no useful information. The government, finding itself somewhat embarrassed at having tortured to death a celebrity prisoner, claimed he had committed suicide, but this was met with public disbelief. The Venetian ambassador wrote home: “Public opinion holds that Owen died of the tortures inflicted on him, which were so severe that they deprived him not only of his strength but of the power to move any part of his body.” 

He is now one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, known to Catholics as Saint Nicholas Owen, patron saint of illusionists and escapologists. His friend Father Gerard wrote of him: “I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who laboured in the English vineyard. He was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular.”

Discover more about priest holes and where to find them.

Mark Blackmore has written for many diverse publications including Men’s HealthBBC HistoryCountryfileFocus and Sabotage Times. He recently published The Wager, a novel about a bet between God and Lucifer.

To read more curious history tales buy our second print edition of Ernest Journal

Introducing KEEN

We're proud to introduce our latest Directory member KEEN, who produce quality, durable footwear for outdoor adventures, while having their finger on the social and environmental pulse

Introduce us to KEEN – what do you guys do?

Based in Portland, Oregon, KEEN footwear was founded in 2003, with the mission to provide high quality products to an inclusive, outdoor community while demonstrating integrity and leadership, especially on social and environmental commitments.

What's important to you? 

Community, environment, the desire to dare to do things differently, and acting with respect and integrity. KEEN's operations and company culture reflect a stand out commitment to build a strong community and healthier planet where we can all create, play and care. In 2004 KEEN established a giving program called Hybrid, which has since donated more than €6 million in cash and resources to not-for-profit organisations around the world. Our latest initiative – the KEEN Effect II program – encourages KEEN fans and the general public to nominate non-profit organisations that align with the company’s outdoor-focused, core values for one of 10 grants. Through KEEN Effect II, KEEN is looking forward to supporting organisations that inspire responsible outdoor participation as a way towards building strong communities, creative and sustainable thinking, and introducing new audiences to the outdoors. 

What inspires you and your products?

Innovation. It's in our DNA. KEEN was launched with the industry defining Newport sandal – a product internationally renowned for its forward thinking hybrid design and patented toe protection.  This unique sandal revolutionised the sport sandal industry and provided the catalyst to launch the brand's outdoor causal and performance footwear lines. That one radical departure for sandals inspired an overriding philosophy for KEEN footwear: original hybrid products that allow consumers to connect with the outdoors in its entirety. From that break-through moment, KEEN quickly expanded to include closed-toe footwear and has continued to grow ever since. KEEN now produce eight categories of footwear incorporating men’s, women’s and children's products as well as bags and socks, that can be found online and in more than 5,000 retail locations in more than 60 countries around the world.

What should we look out for this year?

Our new UNEEK sandal epitomises KEEN's defining philosophy of innovation. Created from two cords and a sole, UNEEK has an entirely new footwear construction that challenges the convention of footwear manufacturing. KEEN started by examining the foot and redesigned every single piece of the shoe to best compliment the foot's shape. We started with one material – the cord – and built off of that – adding only what was absolutely necessary. There is beauty and elegance in its simplicity, which promises one of a kind fit, feel and comfort that is unique to UNEEK. 

Find out more in our directory or by browsing the KEEN website.