EVEN in his wildest dreams Brian Rourke could not have imagined the success of the little ironsmith's business he set up in an empty hen house in 1961.

In his first year of trading the business had a turnover of £534.

Now, as it celebrates its 40th anniversary, it has a turnover of £4.5million and has supplied decorative ironwork to some of the world's most famous people -- including boxer Mike Tyson, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and Bianca Jagger, former wife of Rolling Stone Mick.

Brian employs more than 100 people at B Rourke & Co wrought ironsmiths. Friendly and modest, he gives talks to visitors about the business and enthusiastically tells them stories about his work.

But it's a family affair, with his wife, Betty, looking after the books and daughter, Margaret, working in the showroom in Accrington Road, Burnley.

Brian said: "My wife looks after the money. We rarely see each other at work. She does not criticise or interfere in what I do and I do not criticise or interfere in what she does"

Bacup-born Brian was 23 when he started his business in a hen hut on his sister's farm at Deerplay Moor 40 years ago. He left school at 15 and he and his mother moved to Nottingham after his father's death, where Brian's brother was a policeman.

At 15 he was 6ft 2in and considered a police force career but lacked the necessary qualifications, ending up in a small engineering works. "All of them in those days had a forge and I remember the first day I walked in the door and saw this man beating iron with sparks flying everywhere," he said.

Brian was called up for National Service and became a blacksmith/welder in a small workshop which, he said, 'fired' his ambition to have his own business. The hen house served him for six months, until he rented a forge in Blakey Street, Burnley, where he stayed throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

"There wasn't much money then and it wasn't profitable," Brian said. "I did it for love and because I couldn't do anything else. If my wife hadn't been working as a teacher we wouldn't have been able to continue the business. She subsidised the business for some time." But about the time Margaret Thatcher came to power Brian received a visit from an Australian man who was driving through Burnley on the way to his wife's family's home in Yorkshire.

The man, who owned a ranch in New South Wales, asked Brian how much a pair of 12ft by 12ft wrought iron gates emblazoned with a stallion would cost.

Brian sent drawings to Australia and won the £15,000 order.

"He came from Australia and there were a lot of ironworks in between," Brian said. "It inspired us to have a higher ambition and I think that was really the start of it."

The business began to snowball and Brian bought bigger premises in Church Street, Burnley, where he stayed for six years until the business outgrew the site 12 years ago. He then bought the Accrington Road site.

"When I got the big showroom in Church Street I thought that was the ultimate," he said. "I have always been a dreamer, but this is quite beyond anything I have dreamed about."

The showroom is an Aladdin's Cave of beautiful objects for inside and outside the home, with superb gates and fences, ornamental signs, patio furniture, hand-forged fire grates, candle holders, wine racks and mirrors.

Among the workforce producing decorative ironwork objects is John Payton, only the second person employed by Brian in the early days of the business, who has been with the company for 38 years.

The Bob Paisley memorial gates at Anfield were also forged in Burnley and Mrs Jessie Paisley, widow of the former Liverpool manager, was at a 40th anniversary celebration for the company.

One of Brian's favourite stories is of a couple who visited the showroom last year who had a £50 bet riding on Brian's answer to their question.

They had been walking on a beach in Barbados when they saw some wrought iron gates and the woman said "that's Mr Rourke's work."

Her husband disagreed but was forced to pay up the £50 when Brian showed him photographic evidence.

He still does a little ironworking and enjoys it. "I am still very much involved in the design and it is the people, either staff or customers, I mostly get involved with."