Introducing the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

Delivered by Greta Bertram, HCA Secretary, at the launch of the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts, 3 May 2017 at the House of Lords:

Greta Bertram

Photo by Lesley Butterworth

In Cambridge, where I’m lucky enough to live, we are surrounded by beautiful and historic buildings, many of which are unique. If just one of them was threatened with demolition or was allowed to fall into disrepair, people would be up in arms. There would be protests, demonstrations and it would no doubt make the national news.

Within the last ten years, we have lost four of our heritage crafts in the UK. These didn’t hit the headlines, yet these crafts are just as much a part of our rich heritage as our historical buildings. These extinct crafts include gold beating and sieve and riddle making. Only last month the Heritage Crafts Association was asked where British hand-made sieves could be bought, and the answer was, sadly, nowhere.

Historic England has a listing system for historic buildings. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has a red list for endangered species. But this is the first time that anyone has looked at traditional crafts in the UK and identified those most at risk. Generously funded by The Radcliffe Trust, the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts looks at every single heritage craft taking place in the UK today, focusing on those where there is a significant reliance on hand-work and with high levels of hand skill.

We have looked at 169 crafts in total (although we’re bound to have missed some) and, after careful consideration, have assigned each craft to one of four categories: extinct, critically endangered, endangered and currently viable. Where we didn’t have enough information to make a classification, we put them into a data deficient category.

Seventeen crafts have been identified as critically endangered – this means that they’re at serious risk of becoming extinct. These crafts have very few practitioners, generally spread across just one or two businesses, and usually with no trainees learning the skills. We sincerely hope that none of these seventeen join the four that have already gone.

There is one skilled master vellum and parchment maker in the whole of the UK. There are two skilled clog makers (and there’s currently a revival in clog dancing), and four skilled horse collar makers. There are two businesses making coaches and wagons, one person making fans, and two businesses making hat blocks. There are three people marbling paper (indeed, we heard only heard about the third one last week), and only one piano manufacturer. And there are just a handful of trainees across these seventeen crafts! (All of this information is in your booklets).

So, what are the problems and challenges? Well, they are, typically, many and varied, and often connected. For some crafts it’s an ageing workforce, a shortage of training opportunities or difficulties in recruiting trainees. For others it’s a fluctuating market, competition from overseas or the unwillingness of customers to pay that little bit more for handmade British items. Some crafts have problems with the supply of raw materials and tools (think of all the timber diseases we keep hearing about) and others point out that people just don’t know they still exist. For yet more it’s the myriad obstacles that have to be overcome if you are self-employed (which nearly 80% of craftspeople are) or running a microbusiness.

Sadly there isn’t a magic bullet cure-all solution, but the research has highlighted how precarious the future of all heritage crafts are when they are in the hands of only a few skilled craftspeople.

So, now that we have identified the most critically endangered crafts, and understand more about the challenges they, along with all crafts, are facing, what next?

We feel it’s crucial for the government to clarify the role of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in supporting heritage crafts, as they do for contemporary crafts, and to make the necessary changes. For too long we have been bounced between heritage – which means historic buildings and museums – and arts – things that you can put on a shelf and admire.

In 2003 UNESCO produced a Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This focuses not on the physical things like buildings, monuments, and artefacts, but on the non-physical aspects of our heritage like traditional performing arts, festivals, and, importantly for us, craft skills. The UK is one of only 22 countries out of 194 that haven’t ratified the convention, the government saying only that ‘it isn’t their priority’.

We would like to be pro-active in ensuring those seventeen critically endangered crafts don’t become extinct, and also in preventing any other crafts from entering that category. For that, the broader issues of the heritage crafts sector need to be addressed, particularly relating to training, recruitment, and market issues. And that requires proper funding and support.

Finally, this is a significant piece of research which should not be shelved and forgotten. Like Historic England’s listed buildings register, or the red list of endangered species, The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts needs to be regularly monitored and a thorough (and funded) review conducted every 3–5 years.

We are incredibly grateful to everyone who has supplied information about the crafts, and cannot thank the Radcliffe Trust enough for funding this research, which has enabled us to shine a light on this important part of our shared cultural fabric. We sincerely hope that the Red List will serve as a starting point to encourage future interest and research into heritage crafts, and to ensure that these rich and diverse craft skills carry on into the future.

Wood turning

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Wood turning

 

The craft of hand-turning wooden items on a mechanical lathe. See the separate entries for bowl turning and pole lathe turning.

 

Status Currently viable
Craft category  Wood
Historic area of significance  UK
Area currently practised  UK
Origin in the UK
Minimum no. of craftspeople required
Current no. of trainees  0 commercial turners / 51-100 hobby/amateur turners (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  30-50 commercial turners / 201-500 hobby/amateur turners (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Current total no. of craftspeople  30-50 commercial turners / 201-500 hobby/amateur turners (see ‘Other information’ for further details)

 

History

The history of turning wood can be traced back many thousands of years, and wood turning has been used to produce a wide variety of items, including turned items include domestic utensils, farm tools, handles, furniture, musical instruments, and sports equipment. The earliest lathes being those rotated in a reciprocal motion such as strap lathes, bow lathes and pole lathes. The first record of a mechanical continuous revolution lathe is in the form of a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci, c.1480. – and this may have already been an established piece of equipment. The industrial revolution led to the development of high-output machines to meet the ever-increasing demand for turned wooden items. Today many of the items which were traditionally turned from wood are no longer needed, or are made from alternative materials. (For a full history of wood turning see the BWTA website).

Today’s wood turners can be divided into two groups:

  • Industrial/commercial wood turners who earn their living from wood turning. While many of these turners will use a copy lathe to produce large volumes of high quality, high definition pieces, hand turning on a hand turning lathe is used for one-offs, prototypes, very small batches, large components, or patterns, and there are some items that cannot be turned by machine.
  • Hobby/amateur wood turners, who turn pieces on a much smaller scale and do not make a living from the craft.

For more information about commercial turning and the work done, see the BWTA website.

 

Techniques

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

Commercial/industrial turning

  • Market issues: The market is shrinking all the time – many companies have closed over the past 20-30 years.
  • Foreign competition/Market issues: Cheap imports from abroad (from both Eastern Europe and the Far East) are the biggest challenge/threat to commercial hand turning.
  • Market issues/recruitment issues: There is very little money in the trade of commercial hand turning so very few people want to go into it.
  • Market issues: It is also very hard to make a living from hand turning on a hobby/amateur basis – the cost a piece will sell for does not equate to the time spent making.
  • Market issues: Tool handles have not been made by hand in any volume since the 1920s/1930s – firstly due to mechanisation, then to the introduction of plastic handles, and then the remaining hand turned wooden handles were affected by foreign competition.
  • Ageing workforce: Most of the skilled commercial hand turners are in their 60s or older.
  • Training issues: Hand turning is a very difficult trade to learn – even in the 1970s, very few people who started learning stuck to it. There is no one learning the trade commercially today.
  • Training issues/recruitment issues: Lack of woodworking, metalworking and exposure to craft skills in schools.
  • Changing tastes/Market issues: Turned items always come in and out of fashion, affecting demand.
  • Automation: Automation has become part of the trade and has taken over much of the hand turning trade – although hand turning is still required for one-offs, prototypes, very small batches, large components, or patterns, and there are some items that cannot be turned by machine.

Hobby/amateur turning

  • Wood turning is largely practised as a highly skilled leisure activity – however leisure time is under threat from many other pressures.
  • Dilution of skills: Many of the courses for hobbyists/amateurs are run by people with very little experience.

 

Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known

The British Wood Turners Association maintains a list of members, which outlines what area of wood turning each craftsperson/company specialises in.

 

Other information

Number of trainees: The British Wood Turners Association estimates that there are probably 0 trainee commercial/industrial hand turners. The Association of Wood Turners of Great Britain estimates that there are probably 50-100 trainee hobby/amateur hand turners.

Number of skilled craftspeople: The British Wood Turners Association estimates that there are probably 30-50 highly skilled commercial/industrial hand turners. The Association of Wood Turners of Great Britain estimates that there are probably 201-500 highly skilled hobby/amateur hand turners.

 

References

Wood carving

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Wood carving

 

The carving of designs into wood or the carving of objects out of wood.

 

Status Currently viable
Craft category  Wood
Historic area of significance  UK
Area currently practised  UK
Origin in the UK
Minimum no. of craftspeople required  51-100
Current no. of trainees  11-20 There are currently 17 British Woodcarvers’ Association members aged under 25 who are learning the skills
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  21-50
Current total no. of craftspeople  51-100

 

History

Wood carving dates back to when we learned how to make sharp tools. The earliest examples are lost to the decay of the material. Some may consider that wood carving achieved its pinnacle in the UK in the late-17th century with the naturalistic style of Grinling Gibbons and his contemporaries. There have however been exceptional carvers in all the periods between then and now.

Wood carvers today fall into two groups, amateur and professional. The amateur or hobbyist carving group is thriving with many participants taking it up in later life. This group depends solely on their own enthusiasm. The professional group has been in decline in the early-21st century.

 

Techniques

The art or skill of wood carving can be simply put as the removal of surplus wood using variously sharped hand tools. Woodcarving is usually done using a knife (one hand) or a chisel (two hands), and results in a wooden figure or figurine, or in sculptural ornamentation of a wooden object.

 

Local forms

There are regional variations in the styles of carving. These are generally considered the difference between metropolitan and rural carving within any given style. There are exceptions of specific objects such as Welsh love spoons etc.

 

Sub-crafts

  • Drawing
  • Modelling
  • Joinery
  • Cabinet making
  • Chair making

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

The professional group of woodcarvers has been in decline in the early-21st century. This is due to:

  • Changing tastes: The lack of decoration required for the current vogue in interior design and the collapse of the general antiques trade; the former being a major source for new works and the latter that for restoration. Both areas (new work and restoration) amongst others such as ecclesiastical or heraldic carving are still active but to a lesser degree and so support fewer craftspeople.
  • Foreign competition: Much of the basic repetitive work is now carved overseas in places where incomes and the cost of living are low. This proves problematic when considering training and having the confidence that the volume of work will be consistent to employ the trainee.
  • Training issues: The apprenticeship regime broke down and disappeared in the 1960s. This had been of seven years duration and had included tuition in drawing and modelling. The term ’improver’ was applied to apprentices. Apprenticeships are being re-introduced but are far shorter, three years at most, and leave the apprentice with much experience to be gained before they can be fully considered a professional carver. The Master Carvers’ Association (MCA) and other interested parties formed the National Working Group for carving under the auspices of the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). This group developed the National Occupational Standard (NOS) for carving in both wood and stone. At the MCA’s request Cskills Awards (CITB) now offers a level 3 NVQ Diploma for carving. This is presently the first and only in-work qualification for carving.
  • Cost: Hand-carved decoration can be expensive and time is money.
  • Lack of awareness: Sponsors have limited knowledge of the workings of woodcarvers versus current technical innovations. Potential clients have poor understanding of what is possible, e.g. decoration being designed out of projects because the designer is unaware of the skills available.
  • Advances in CNC routing and latterly 3D printing.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

 

Other information

 

References

  • Master Carvers Association

Wheelwrighting

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Wheelwrighting

 

The construction and repair of wooden wheels.

 

Status Currently viable
Craft category  Vehicles / Wood
Historic area of significance  UK
Area currently practised  UK (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Origin in the UK  Bronze Age
Minimum no. of craftspeople required  21-50 (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Current no. of trainees  2 (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  21-50
Current total no. of craftspeople  21-50

 

History

The wheelwright’s craft is amongst the oldest known to man. Some of the earliest examples of solid wheels date back to 5000 BC, while spoked wheels were in existence in Asia Minor by 2000 BC. A complete wheel dating from the Bronze Age was discovered in Peterborough. Other ancient preserved specimens have been found in various parts of Britain, for example preserved in Irish bogs, and of Roman date from Somerset (where a wheelwright was active in the Glastonbury Lake Village) and Edinburgh. There are records of trade in wheel parts among finds at Vindolanda, a Roman fort and settlement near to Hadrian’s Wall.

In the nineteenth century almost every village had a wheelwright for he was essential to the movement of goods by cart, but with the advent of motorised transport and metal wheels the need for the craft declined. The craft has developed over time reaching the point in the Victorian era which furnishes most antique vehicles being preserved by wheelwrights today, and the designs upon which most modern wooden wheeled vehicles are based.

The basic wheel making technique now practised was developed in the mid-eighteenth century, using a tyre shrunk onto the wheel to hold it together by compression. This technique had previously been used by Celtic peoples but it disappeared in western Europe after the end of the Roman Empire. Late-nineteenth century developments include fitting solid rubber cushioning onto the iron tyres, which were formed into a channel shape to receive it.

 

Techniques

A wide range of woodworking skills are used, as well as those of the blacksmith. The techniques differ in some details from other wood trades because of the forces acting upon wheels when in use. The wheelwright has to appreciate these forces fully, so it is desirable that he/she is familiar with the vehicle being worked on and seeing it in action.

 

Local forms

The wagon and cart builders from one county to the next would have made distinct designs, which were locally acceptable. Coach builders within England tended to follow the example of London designs closely as they were a fashionable commodity. Slight stylistic differences can sometimes be detected between Scottish and English patterns, and from country to country across the Continent. This would be true of artillery pieces as well, but in all areas of the trade, such as guns, carriages, farm vehicles, still more distinct differences exist across time.

 

Sub-crafts

It should be noted that the wheelwright’s trade depends on other trades for the complete construction of vehicles. These include engineers (for axles and other parts), spring makers, foundrymen, coach painters, coachbuilders, upholsterers and coach trimmers.

At one time there were separate disciplines for making different types of wheels e.g. for carts, coaches/carriages and motor cars. Nowadays they are frequently made or repaired by the same person

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: Much of the work of the wheelwright is associated with the maintenance and conservation of vehicles that are an important part of social history and their upkeep is dependent upon the availability of private/public funding. In times of economic restraint the availability of funding to carry out the work is likely to be constrained. At the same time there is competition from abroad (e.g. Poland) to take on the work traditionally carried out by wheelwrights in the UK.
  • Training issues: Most wheelwrights in the UK either work alone or with one or two other people. This makes it difficult for a wheelwright to take time out to train an apprentice and pass on the skills, without detriment to their business. Through government funding, the Livery Companies Skills Council, the Wheelwrights’ Livery Company and its associated Charity, it has proved possible to support two wheelwrights to provide training to two apprentices over a 3 year period. The Wheelwrights’ Livery Company are currently putting together proposals to enable such apprenticeships to be sustained in the future, are planning for up to 20 apprentices over the next 40 years. This number of apprenticeships is believed to be sustainable and will maintain the current healthy position of the craft – there is currently enough work for everyone, but too many new people entering the craft would mean less work for all and would be detrimental to the skills.
  • Shortage of raw materials: There are serious issues relating to the woods traditionally used by wheelwrights, such as sudden oak death syndrome, Dutch elm disease, and ash dieback. However these do not currently seem to be affecting the supply of raw materials to the trade.
  • Dilution of skills: There is a huge issue with the dilution of skills and ‘have-a-go men’ in the craft. There are quite a few people practising the craft, but the quality varies.
  • Dilution of skills: In the 1970s the craft was at its nadir and many people taught themselves. These people are now retiring and are passing on their skills. However, because they were self-taught they do not have the lineage behind them and are not passing on a depth of knowledge because they’ve never had it.
  • Market issues: Many wheelwrights are now diversifying their market and expanding into producing gun carriages.

 

Support organisations

  • The Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights. In 1630 the Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights (‘Wheelwrights’) along with the Coachmakers & Coach Harness Makers applied jointly for a Royal Charter but it was not granted. However In 1670, the Wheelwrights on their own applied again and were successful. The Company governed the operation of their trade in the City of London by ensuring that wheels were made of good material and properly constructed. They also looked after the well-being of the Master Wheelwrights, their journeymen and their apprentices. Today, the ‘Wheelwrights’ still maintain an interest in the craft of making wheels by supporting, promoting and maintaining close contact with ‘working wheelwrights’ and their apprentices. In conjunction with the Livery Companies Apprenticeship Scheme the Company have administered and maintained the Wheelwrights’ Apprenticeship (2013 to date). The Company has been supported in this endeavour through funding provided by its associated wheelwrights’ Charity and government. Over the next few years the Company proposes to establish stronger links with wheelwrights across the UK in order to support the craft and better gauge the level of activity.

 

Craftspeople currently known

  • See the list of ‘Working Wheelwrights‘ on the website of the Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights, compiled in 2009. The list currently undergoing a review.

 

Other information

Area craft currently practised: Wheelwrights are currently spread thinly across the UK in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As far as can be ascertained in England they are located in a number of Counties including Bucks, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Kent, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Shropshire, Somerset, Suffolk, Sussex, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire. Some are also based in our major cities, such as Birmingham, Durham, Sheffield and Southampton. That said a number of them are approaching retirement age and some are not fully employed as wheelwrights.

Minimum number of craftspeople needed: The Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights estimates that the current number of craftspeople is in the range 21-50 and that level is just about sufficient to make the craft viable.

Number of trainees: The traditional progress of the craft was from wheelwright to wainwright to coachbuilder. As of September 2016, there are two apprentices – one working with Mike Rowland & Son (coachbuilders and wheelwrights), and the other working with Phill Gregson (wheelwright and wagon maker) – who are going through a formal training programme and they should complete their 3 year apprenticeship in 2016/2017. There is also one wheelwright who has recently passed on his wheelwrighting skills to his son.

 

References

  • Felton, William. A Treatise on Carriages.
  • Berkbeile, Don H. Carriage Terminology: an historical dictionary.
  • Philipson, John. The Art and Craft of Coachbuilding.
  • Jenkins, Geraint. The English Farm Wagon.
  • Sturt, George. The Wheelwright’s Shop.
  • Bennett, Eric. The Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights of the City of London 1670-1970.
  • Wright, John and Hurford, Robert. (1997). Making a wheel, how to make a traditional light English pattern wheel.