Sadly, Trevor Austen passed away in 2010. The following text is from a case study from 2009.
Trevor Austen was a rake maker from Smeeth in Kent, whose workshop had been in continuous production since 1871. What made Trevor unique was that he was the last rakemaker who was using locally-sourced timber. He used coppiced ash for all parts of the rakes and cut the trees up and made all parts of the rakes in a one-man business.
Trevor took over the business and saved it from closing in 1966. He had seen the ups and downs typical of many a rural craft over the years, but kept going. He would make up to 100 rakes a week and sell them direct to the public at crafts shows, and had more recently been exporting rakes to the USA, Germany and Japan. It was a viable business working without any subsidy, contributing to the economy, but not strong enough to take on staff, train apprentices or expand.
Trevor had hoped to continue working as long as possible and finally to attempt to pass the business on as a going concern, but sadly after several years of illness Trevor was diagnosed with motor-neurone disease. Whilst there is no support network for rare craft businesses when they are running, there is money to record them when they close down, so two short films have been made of Trevor’s rake workshop: one by the Museum of English Rural Life and another funded by a £16,950 Heritage Lottery Fund grant to the Agricultural Museum at Brook.
Trevor has lost power and co-ordination of his body, yet his mind is active – a difficult position for a craftsman. Here he is explaining how the rake works came to close down:
“I had hoped that my brother would take on the workshop but my landlord died, making his son the new landlord. He sees the site as development, alongside the redundant farm yard next door, so has not been keen to have the tenancy change names.
So our machinery is finding new homes with people who will use it at shows etc. Hand tools are finding homes for use when barters are offered. A few pieces will enter a local museum.
Little room was left for us save it, other than for others to pick the bones clean, then try to break it all up giving my family a bit of money for their efforts – little that it will bring. Sorry I have a bitter tone with me – I will get more amenable as the disappointments wear off.”
It seems sad that this viable business should close its doors at a time when many folk would love to work in such a fulfilling job. There are many more businesses like this that will go in the next ten years. Our aim with the Heritage Crafts Association is to highlight their plight and create conditions that enable the skills to be passed on before they are lost forever.