Whip making

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Whip making

 

Making whips for driving horses.

 

Status Endangered
Craft category
Historic area of significance London
Area currently practised London, Wiltshire
Origin in the UK Middle Ages
Current no. of professionals (main income) Three companies (number of skilled makers unknown) and one individual
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees 0
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Illustrations from the Middle Ages usually show drop thong whips (often with two thongs) being used for carriage driving. In the Luttrell Psalter (c. 1330) there are a couple of illustrations that show bow top whips. The history of whips seems to be similar throughout Europe and ancient Greek vases show several varieties of whip as does Roman sculpture.

The zenith of whip making was the mid nineteenth century. The use of baleen in the thong bow enabled a finer whip to be made that was controllable, the energy being transferred to the lash as the whip became both thinner and more flexible from the handpiece to the tip of the thong. The woods used for the stock largely remained those that had earlier been used for superstitious reasons though the ‘witch wood’, rowan, diminished in popularity as it was less suitable than holly, yew and blackthorn. English bow topped whips were exported throughout the world in the nineteenth century but they have largely been replaced by synthetic whips which are much cheaper but not as good to use. The drop thong whip has continued to be used when driving commercial vehicles. The stock of the best of these is baleen so recently fiberglass has replaced the whalebone. With new baleen being unobtainable many bow topped whips now use fiberglass and nylon in the bows. Postillion whips were traditionally braided in very elaborate patterns as they are almost exclusively used for ceremonial purposes. Modern postillion whips are much simpler in construction but I have made several of the complicated ones for export.

 

Techniques

The classic driving whip is the English bow-topped. Form follows function in the design and it takes years to master all the skills involved.

When there were several manufacturers of whips it was common for each part to have its own craftsmen. An English bow-topped whip has a stock made of a suitable wood which has been cut in winter and seasoned for at least three years (unless it is bamboo).

The stock is usually carved with knobs down to the handpiece. The knobs imitate the natural growth knobs of the wood and the number of knobs usually indicates the quality of the whip the cheaper ones just using the natural knobs. The knobs might be branded with a keyhole shaped iron to imitate the natural pattern. The wood is steamed straight before sanding and varnishing. The handpiece is usually made over a metal sleeve and any suitable leather is used to cover it. Antique whips may be sewn up to 16 stitches to the inch but as low as five to the inch can be found in some modern whips. The butt and ferrule (collar) are made to fit from brass or silver (sometimes gold or nickel). These can be cast, turned or made from sheet metal. The thong needs to be braided from a dense resilient hide such as horse or kangaroo and the tapered profile is achieved by braiding over a leather, gut or vellum core and varying the number of laces used from four to ten (postillion whips can be braided with up to forty-eight laces). The laces for the thong are hand cut and beveled and ideally taper. Inside the bow part of the thong the leather is braided over a core of baleen and vellum. The thong is joined to the stock with four prepared goose or swan quills which are bound to the thong and stock with linen thread. The place where the thong and the stock come together is indicated by a ‘knot’ where the thongs and linen are finished off.

 

Local forms

Ceremonial whips might use coloured linen for binding. Trade turnouts have their traditional whips such as brass bound. Coaching whips may have a thong of around fifteen feet in length as the lead horses need to be touched by the collar. There are numerous other variations such as four in hand whips combining a coach horn to entertain the passengers. The little lash on the end of the thong might be in coloured silk or linen to match the vehicle. In show classes conservative traditional whips are favoured. Split bamboo whips like old fishing rods are sometimes made for hackney drivers.

 

Sub-crafts

 

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • The viability of the craft is severely compromised by the difficulty in obtaining the correct materials and the fact that good whips will last for well over a century and fill the need to supply a diminishing market for less than a whip can be economically made for.
  • Those with the knowledge of what makes a good whip are getting older.
  • Poor quality whips are being passed off as English bow topped whips and standards have fallen considerably in recent years.
  • It is difficult and time consuming and impossible to make anything close to the minimum wage.

 

Support organisations

 

 

Craftspeople currently known

Individual maker:

  • Celia Blay

The best English whip makers such as Geoff Clothier and David Walmesley are now dead. Individual saddlers often do repairs but there is no source of bow topped thongs except the ones made by Celia Blay. Most repaired whips use a drop thong and pretend it is a bow top.

 

Other information

A good whip is well balanced with the point of balance coming a little above the handpiece. A well balanced whip will sit lightly in the hand and naturally assume the correct position.

Most whips made from natural materials are now imported from Germany.

 

References

David Morgan has written a book on leather braiding but there is no book on driving whip making. Usual leather working skills apply to the making of the handpiece. Books on stick making such as Walking and Working Sticks by Theo Fossel are useful for the handling of the wood.

Watch dial enamelling

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Watch dial enamelling

 

Making watch dials using vitreous enamel on a metal base.

 

Status Critically endangered
Craft category
Historic area of significance Birmingham and London
Area currently practised Glasgow and Birmingham on a very small scale
Origin in the UK
Current no. of professionals (main income) 2
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
5-10 fine art and jewellery enamellers who have worked on watch dials from time to time.
Current no. of trainees 1
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Enamel watch dials appeared in the UK in the mid-18th century, gradually gaining popularity over the earlier chased and repoussé and chased metal champlevé dials. The UK made most of the world’s watches until the second half of the 18th century, and the manufacture of vitreous enamel watch faces was a widespread craft. Today it’s a very highly prized technique amongst collectors but the only master craftsmen producing them are in Switzerland and Japan.

 

Techniques

There are what’s called ‘soft’ or ‘cold’ enamel dials, which aren’t enamel at all, they’re resin, and people make those in the UK, but it has nothing to do with enamel other than in name.

 

Local forms

 

 

Sub-crafts

 

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • The watchmaking industry in the UK is tiny, so there is a limited number of watchmakers to sell them to. It is possible to supply overseas watchmakers, but historically enamelling would normally form part of a local watch part supply ecosystem. The Swiss make some amazing enamel dials so they probably wouldn’t source from the UK even if it were an option.

 

Support organisations

 

 

Craftspeople currently known

  • anOrdain, Glasgow – the main company making vitreous (or ‘grand feu’) enamel watch faces in the UK.
  • Struthers Watchmakers and Deakin & Francis, Birmingham have worked together to make enamel dials but on a small scale.
  • Robert Loomes has made enamel dials on a small scale.

There is one maker in England who comes from a family of enamellers and has enamelled dials in the past, but he is no longer doing so due to illness.

There may be some ‘leisure’ dial enamellers, but it’s not something you can easily do well without investing more time than a hobbyist could (in my opinion).

 

Other information

The difference between watch dial enamelling and jewellery enamelling is down to tolerances. To fit within a watch the enamel dial needs to be perfectly flat, of a uniform thickness down to a tenth of a millimetre and have a completely consistent finish. The dials also need to be much thinner than that of jewellery enamel.

It took almost 4,000 hours over three years at the bench for anOrdain to perfect their first enamel dial.

 

References

 

Wainwrighting

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Wainwrighting

 

The making of horse-drawn wagons, including ship wagons, bow wagons, bowtop wagons and gypsy caravans (see also wheelwrighting and coach building).

 

Status Critically endangered
Craft category Vehicles, wood
Historic area of significance UK
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK Bronze Age
Current no. of professionals (main income) 3-4 businesses
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Four wheeled vehicles have been made from the first days after the invention of the wheel, that is in the region of 5,000 years. The earliest British representation of a four wheeled wagon is probably the one in the Bayeux Tapestry, a special vehicle carrying a large barrel. This has wheels of equal sizes on the two axles, which suggests that it may not have had a turning forecarriage, the earliest four wheeled prestige carriages in this country, such as that in the Luttrell Psalter, were certainly made without one, in spite of the invention being known to the Hallstatt wagon builders and the Romans, though the Roman archaeology is a bit arguable, backed by some oblique textual references.

The farm vehicles of Britain in the dark ages and middle ages were mostly two wheeled carts and carts continued to be the main farm vehicles right up to the introduction of tractors.

Turning forecarriages had been introduced into British carriages by the end of the 16th century, and in the 17th century wagons were being built with them, but there is no clear evidence for their use in Britain before then, though continental ones seem to be attested by legislation and literature. The idea seems to follow the development of late medieval vehicles on the near continent, arriving in England coincidentally with industries like brickmaking and it has been said that immigrant workmen from the low Countries brought the idea. The strongest evidence suggests that wagons started the development into their final form in the Eastern counties, for use in road transport. Wagons grew in popularity with farmers through the 18th century, presumably because they could demonstrate their prowess by displaying a fine wagon. Strong local design traditions grew up and became a leading expression of the country’s craftsmanship. Wheelwrights’ workshops could demonstrate a flair for making them and some would grow to specialise more than others in producing wagons and carts. Some firms that grew in this way still exist, grown into modern agricultural engineers. Most are now gone.

The economy of a wagon making workshop ran better in the larger workshops. Wagon making was a collaborative enterprise, which is not surprising, at the very least a blacksmith needed to work with the wheelwright to make a cart. Apart from this kind of enterprise the usual route for wagons to be built was that a wheelwrights shop, busy with repairs through the summer months was gainfully occupied in the winter making a wagon or two.

In the Victorian period firms acting as factoriess grew up, supplying parts to wheelwrights much as motor factors do to garages today, and this enabled them to make a range of vehicles with fittings such as springs. Hovewever, specialisation was no new thing, as in the 15th century there were 10 or 11 or so wheelwrights shops in Lullingstone, Kent, selling wheels at a rate which apparently undercut rivals.

 

Techniques

 

 

Local forms

Wagon and cart builders from one county to the next would have made distinct designs, which were locally acceptable.

 

Sub-crafts

 

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: Changing tastes – in the 1980s there was a demand for brewers drays which has now disappeared.
  • Market issues: Farm wagons are not worth the amount they cost to repair (value of £3,000 – £4,000 compared with £7,000 – £8,000 to repair), so very few people are repairing them and so there aren’t many wagons left. This will eventually turn a corner and wagons will become so rare that their value will increase and the demand will rise.
  • Loss of skills: The skills that are most in danger of dying out are those needed to make a new vehicle from start to finish. The main market for wagon making is in restoration – very few people buy new English vehicles, they either buy English vehicles to repair, or new Eastern European vehicles. Most wheelwrights can repair a wagon (how it always was), but there are perhaps 3-4 places who can make wagons from scratch.
  • Dilution of skills: Anyone can buy a workshop and call themselves a wagon maker, without necessarily having much experience or skill.
  • Business rates: Need big workshop to fit the vehicles in, so business rates are very high.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

 

Other information

  • The traditional progress of the craft was from wheelwright to wainwright to coachbuilder. The work of a wainwright is not as fine as that of a coachbuilder, with fewer trimmings etc.
  • In the 1960s/70s wheelwrights were principally wainwrights as well but this is no longer the case as wagons are rarely built, certainly not new and restoring an existing vehicle/wagon is far easier than building from scratch.

 

References

Information provided by Robert Hurford.

  • Jenkins, J Geraint, The English Farm Wagon
  • Arnold, James, Farm Wagons and Carts
  • David Viner, Wagons and Carts
  • Sturt, George, The Wheelwright’s Shop
  • McNeill, C A, (1978) Technological Development in wheeled vehicles in Europe from prehistory to the sixteenth century (unpublished PhD thesis, Edinburgh University)
  • Museum of English Rural Life, Wagon Walk

Umbrella making

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Umbrella making

 

The making of umbrellas and parasols.

 

Status Endangered
Craft category
Historic area of significance London, Sheffield and Manchester
Area currently practised London, Croydon, Manchester, South Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire
Origin in the UK 17th century
Current no. of professionals (main income) 6-10 companies in the UK
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
1 company
Current no. of trainees
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Tradition has it that the Normans brought the umbrella to England with them (presumably some sort of canopy regalia) in 1066, but there is nothing very tangible to support this.

It is often claimed that umbrellas were introduced to England by Jonas Hanway about 1750, but this is definitely not correct. They are mentioned in Gays Trivia, The Art of Walking the Streets of London, published in 1712 and also in the Female Tattler for December 12 1709. But Jonas Hanway was the first Englishman to carry an umbrella regularly. He was pelted by coachmen and chairmen for his persistence, since they saw this craze could endanger there own means of livelihood.

At this time, umbrellas were very heavy, ungainly things made with whalebone or cane ribs, mounted on a long, stout stick of about one inch in diameter and covered with a heavy cotton fabric, waterproofed by oiling or waxing.

By 1787 the umbrella had achieved some considerable measure of popularity within a short period of time and the French ladies umbrellas had achieved remarkable elegance, and on the continent they were used as much as a sunshade as protection from rain. And it is from this period and via the sunshade that umbrellas began to develop into something lighter and more graceful.

Between 1816 and 1820 men’s umbrellas had again reached a weight of over four pounds, but ladies umbrellas continued to be much lighter, weighing less than one pound. This was partly due to the use of finer fabric of silk and by the substitution of light iron stretchers, but, in general, umbrellas in this country, until the middle of the last century, were made with ribs of whalebone for the best quality and of split cane for the cheaper quality. In the late 1800s came the development of steel ribs and frames, and so the modern umbrella was born.

Samuel Fox patented the first viable steel rib in 1847 around the same time that Singer started making sewing machines so the industry was revolutionised by the mid 1800s; no more hand sewing the canopies or heavy whalebone.

 

Techniques

  • Cutting
  • Machining (sewing)
  • Hand sewing
  • Mounting
  • Wood working

 

Local forms

  • Carriage/doorman’s umbrellas
  • Bookmakers umbrellas
  • Umbrellas for engineering industries
  • Theatre and film prop umbrellas
  • Solid stick umbrellas
  • City slim umbrellas (all metal frame)

 

Sub-crafts

  • Walking stick makers and handle makers (the people to source and bend the raw woods). There is possibly only one umbrella solid stick maker left now in the UK based in Norfolk.

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Difficulty in sourcing raw materials
  • Overseas competition and a shrinking skill base due to the majority of umbrellas making being outsourced to the Far East
  • Difficulty in finding staff with knowledge and skills of umbrella making
  • There are no external training opportunities for umbrella making with the exception of sewing machining and fabric cutting.
  • High barriers to entry – i.e. industry specific machinery no longer available, high minimum order quantities requiring significant stock/working capital investment and no trained staff available outside the traditional umbrella making companies.
  • The dependency on allied industries for components and raw materials.

 

Support organisations

  • UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) – supports the fashion industry, not specifically umbrella manufacturing.

There used to be The Umbrella Federation, which disbanded in the early 70s after members started offshoring. The organisation had been lobbying for additional tariffs on cheap imports but to no avail and as such trust between members was lost and it closed.

 

Craftspeople currently known

Makers that use traditional techniques that would have been recognised 50+ years ago. i.e. using lockstitch by skilled sewing machinists:

Makers that use assembly techniques designed for mass production. i.e. using overlocking by semi-skilled machinists:

  • The Umbrella Company
  • Booth Brothers
  • Contraldo
  • Manchester Umbrella Company (sources canopies from other makers)
  • Mane Umbrellas Ltd (sources canopies from other makers)

Individual makers:

 

Other information

Fox Umbrellas lost a member of staff this year who worked for them for 57 years. Whilst he trained their apprentices some of the knowledge on handle making/mounting has been lost and they were the last company to be able to make certain types of handles.

James Ince & Sons lost a member of staff, Terry Coleman, who retired aged 82 after over 67 years in the trade. He did pass on his skills of frame making to the business.

 

References

  • Fox Umbrellas, History of the Umbrella
  • Quilter Cheviot Presents Fox Umbrellas
  • Umbrella Frames 1848 – 1948, a centenary celebration by Samuel Fox Ltd
  • Crawford (1970) The History of the Umbrella
  • The Bag, Portmanteau and Umbrella Trader, trade journal published 1907-21.
  • Sangster (1871) Umbrellas and their History

Surgical instrument making

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Surgical instrument making

 

The making of surgical instruments for use in operating theatres.

 

Status Endangered
Craft category Metal
Historic area of significance Sheffield
Area currently practised Sheffield
Origin in the UK
Current no. of professionals (main income) 12 at Platts & Nisbett;
Unknown number at S Murray & Co
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees 3 – Platts & Nisbett apprentices/trainees
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

 

 

Techniques

Although there have been some technological advances (such as the use of laser welding and laser marking machines), surgical instruments are still largely made by hand. The filing and fitting cannot be done using machines.

 

Local forms

 

 

Sub-crafts

 

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Training issues – it takes five years (over 10,000 hours) to complete a Platts & Nisbett Apprenticeship at a total cost to the company of approximately £90,000. They currently receive only £500 funding per apprentice and no other financial help for training which is all done in house at the company’s expense.
  • Recruitment issues – it is difficult to find suitable people with a good work ethic, who want to work with their hands and make a career from craft.
  • Market issues – competing with many British supply companies who are buying cheaper lower quality surgical instruments from Asia which are flooding the market.
  • Lack of education of the end users – many hospital staff are unaware of the original source of some surgical instruments, i.e. that they are imported from Asia and sold on by British companies. Users assume it is a British made product. The quality of material and workmanship of these lower cost products is often questionable. Changes in Regulations regarding transparency in 2020 may improve this.
  • Lack of metal work being taught as a subject in schools, so young people may be unaware they have a natural ability which could be nurtured, and developed into a career.
  • Lack of awareness that this craft can offer a well-paid career. Traditional crafts take a back seat to the advanced technologies.
  • Rising cost of raw materials (stainless steel and forgings) and consumables.
  • Cost of quality systems which are essential to comply with CE Marking Regulations etc
  • Cost of insurance, health and safety systems, pensions etc for small businesses.

 

Support organisations

 

 

Craftspeople currently known

 

Other information

Surgical instrument makers must not only be able to work with their hands, but understand how things work and be traditional problem-solving engineers. This is not something which can be done by computers and machinery. Producing a quality product is vital, as there is a patient at the end of everything that is made.

 

References