Mike Salter is in his mid sixties and has lived in an eighteenth century cottage on the side of the Malvern Hills since he escaped his birthplace of Wolverhampton in 1990. Apart from history, maps, old buildings and long distance walking trails Mike is interested in geocaching, railways, folk music and dance – especially morris dancing. Mike is available to give guided tours of old buildings for groups and individuals. He can give talks about brass rubbings, castles, churches, friaries, the history of Morris dancing, town walls and also about walking from Land’s End to John O’Groats (which he did in 2004).
A clerk at a steelworks until made redundant, Mike started up Folly Publications in November 1988 with the aid of the Government Enterprise Allowance Scheme intended to get unemployed people back to work. It has always been a one-man business although production of some of the titles has only been possible through generous help from many others in donating photographs (especially for remote parts of Ireland and Scotland), sorting out computer problems and providing accommodation or transport during field trips.
The first few books were printed and bound in Walsall, and in the 1990s a few titles were printed by a now long-defunct company in Upton-upon-Severn. Since 1994 almost all of the Folly Publications titles have been printed by a friendly local company, Aspect Design in Newtown Road in Malvern, within walking distance of Mike’s house.
In the days when the titles only covered counties in the Midlands and Wales Mike used to distribute the books in person by touring round on small motorbikes three times a year. In the interests of everyone’s safety (Mike has never passed any sort of driving test), and also to help pursue greater personal fitness and a greener lifestyle, motorbikes were abandoned in 1998 and replaced by that great British invention the Brompton folding bicycle. Some sales tours as far away as Cumbria, Northumberland and Devon were done by using trains and bike, but now that the series has volumes for all parts of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland the books usually travel by post. Some local distribution is done for certain areas by wholesalers, by far the most effective ones being small one or two person businesses. However the books now generally have much less of a high street presence than they did in the 1990s. They are rarely seen these days in branches of Waterstones or W.H.Smiths, partly because of the less favourable trading terms these companies now expect. Tourist offices and museums run by local councils are also tending to cut down on the ranges of things that they sell.
Thirty years on from the initial release in November 1988 of Castles and Moated Mansions of Shropshire (which has remained the best selling title of the series) there are now about eighty Folly Publications titles in print. There was never any original expectation of producing books about Scotland and Ireland, where promoting them has proved a bit of a struggle. By venturing in these territories Mike has managed to make available to others most of his collection of thousands of plans of old buildings mainly measured during the 1970s and 80s. The plans are really the raison d’etre of the books, providing something still not widely available on web-sites. With almost all their plans at a fixed scale of 1:400 the churches books allow some really useful comparisons between buildings in the different parts of the British Isles. This same scale is also used for plans of castle keeps and gatehouses, tower houses, bastles and most of the friaries.
Profit margins on the books are getting thinner year by year, especially on titles distributed by wholesalers expecting 50% or more trade discount, so it is, of course, very much a labour of love rather than a means of making a fortune. Fortunately the development of short-run digital printing and sales to a few dozen faithful customers who collect sets of either the castles or churches books have allowed the production of books that would not otherwise really be commercially viable.
Thank you for taking an interest.