We are pleased to announce a new six-month research project funded by the Pilgrim Trust, which will provide a major update and expansion of our groundbreaking Red List of Endangered Crafts, first published in 2017.
The 2019 Red List of Endangered Crafts brought the plight of these skills to national attention, with coverage across the national press and BBC Radio on the day of publication. It identified 71 endangered and 36 critically endangered crafts, which, for a number of reasons, including a lack of effective training routes and an ageing workforce, faced an uncertain future.
We have spent much of 2020 supporting the sole traders and micro-businesses that make up the UK heritage crafts sector through a particularly difficult time, as opportunities for direct selling and teaching their skills have been curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 edition of the Red List will consider the knock-on effect of this on the viability of the crafts skills themselves.
HCA Endangered Crafts Officer Mary Lewis will take up the role of Research Manager for the project, thanks to funding of £15,000 from the Pilgrim Trust. The funding will also contribute to a series of endangered crafts symposia gathering together experts in particular craft disciplines to more fully investigate the rarer skills and local variations that make up their craft.
The 2019 version of the Red List is available to view at www.heritagecrafts.org.uk/redlist. If you would like to contribute information for the new version, please email Mary Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org. The updated Red List will be published at a press launch in May 2021.
Mary Lewis, HCA Red List Research Manager, said:
“COVID-19 has only exacerbated the challenges facing endangered craft skills, and our mission is to bring to light the knowledge and practices that are now on the brink, so that as a society we can have an informed debate on which parts of our intangible cultural heritage we want to keep as a resource for the future. Over the next few months I will be reaching out to craft practitioners to renew and supplement the existing data, with both accuracy improvements and real world changes. Please feel free to contribute by contacting me at email@example.com.”
Sue Bowers, Director of the Pilgrim Trust, said:
“We are delighted to support the continuing development of the Red List which is so important in tracking the state of heritage crafts in the UK and creating the platform for discussions about how we can bring about positive change in the future.”
About the Pilgrim Trust
The Pilgrim Trust aims to preserve and promote Britain’s historical and intellectual assets and to provide assistance to vulnerable members of society. Sixty percent of its funding is directed towards projects aimed at preserving the fabric of architecturally or historically important buildings, or projects working to preserve historically significant artifacts or documents.
The Heritage Crafts Association is delighted to announce a partnership with the Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship to bring the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts to a European level.
The new partnership launched with a presentation at Somerset House on 28 February 2020. Alberto Cavalli (Co-Executive Director of the Michelangelo Foundation) and Patricia Lovett MBE (Chair of Heritage Crafts Association) introduced the partnership, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Oliver Stratford (Editor-in-chief of Designo) exploring different perspectives regarding endangered crafts and their place in contemporary craftsmanship. The panel is composed of Daniel Carpenter (Red List Research Manager at the Heritage Crafts Association), Rosy Greenlees (Executive Director of the Crafts Council), Kate Hetherington (collar and harness maker) and Mark Webb (Fundraising and Development Manager at The Prince’s Foundation).
The partnership between the two organisations aims to build collective awareness of the threats facing traditional heritage craftsmanship and to seek new and innovative ways to usher endangered crafts safely into the future, ensuring the continuity of practices and the adaptation of crafts to meet contemporary demands.
To celebrate the partnership the Michelangelo Foundation commissioned three short films by Swiss film maker Thibault Vallotton that highlight three British singular talents who are pursuing crafts in the UK that are classified as endangered. The films give an intimate insight into the worlds of these treasured British artisanal talents who are striving to uphold their cherished skills.
The featured craftspeople were:
- Kate Hetherington, collar and harness maker
- Derek and Timothy Staines, orrery maker
- David Adrian Smith MBE, reverse glass sign maker
One of the films is part of a new series, featuring 12 exceptional craftspeople from across all of Europe which will be unveiled in an exhibition entitled Singular Talents – The Red List at the second edition of Homo Faber, the crafts biennalé being held in Venice this autumn. The specially commissioned films draw back the curtain on these master artisans and their unique or rare professions.
The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts provides a vital research methodology, identifying and classifying endangered crafts in the United Kingdom. It assesses the viability of such crafts and categorises those most at risk of disappearing. The Michelangelo Foundation, inspired by the grassroots-led bottom-up research methodology of the Heritage Crafts Association will enlist its wide network of European members to extend the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts to a European level.
By drawing on the expertise of organisations involved in their specific local communities, the Foundation hopes the initiative has a far-reaching impact, successfully identifying and classifying endangered crafts across Europe. In turn, this facilitates the mapping of European crafts considered to be at risk of disappearing.
Following the launch of the Red List of Endangered Crafts 2019 edition, the story was picked up across a range of print and broadcast media.
The Daily Mail ran with a double-page spread entitled ‘Save our skills’, with the its online edition opting for ‘Holding on to Britain’s heritage’.
The Express featured ‘Ancient crafts under threat as vital skills not passed on’ and it was also reported on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme and BBC Alba.
Magazines including Country Life, Homes & Antiques and the Countryman also covered the story, with Reclaim magazine producing a special 16-page supplement on at-risk heritage crafts.
Here’s a selection of the coverage:
The New York Times
‘Just How Endangered Is Watchmaking?’
20 Feb 2019
‘Holding On to Heritage Crafts’
20 Feb 2019
‘British Heritage Crafts’ (16 page supplement)
March 2019 edition
‘Heritage Crafts Conservation’, pp. 40-44
March 2019 edition
Homes and Antiques magazine
‘The art of survival’, pp. 130-135
April 2019 edition
‘Holding on to Britain’s heritage’
8 March 2019
‘Save our skills!’ pp. 36-37
9 March 2019
‘Ancient crafts under threat as vital skills not passed on’, pp. 20-21
9 March 2019
‘Last in Line’, p.11
9 March 2019
BBC Radio 4 Today (from 1.49:24)
9 March 2019
’36 old crafts set to vanish’, p. 33
9 March 2019
‘Dozens of ancient crafts are now listed as dying arts’, p. 10
9 March 2019
‘Extinction threat to UK crafts’, p. 34
9 March 2019
‘On the danger list’
13 March 2019
An Là (News) (from 24:18)
14 March 2019
New research by the Heritage Crafts Association has unearthed dozens more traditional craft skills on the verge of extinction in the UK, in the first major update of its pioneering project, the Red List of Endangered Crafts.
Zoe Collis, apprentice paper maker at Two Rivers Paper (photo by Alison Jane Hoare)
Sixteen new crafts have been added to the ‘critically endangered’ category of the Red List, meaning that they are at serious risk of dying out in the next generation, including withy crab pot making, millwrighting and commercial handmade paper making. They join 20 other critically endangered crafts, including five (bell founding, flute making, scissor making, tinsmithing and watch making) that have been reclassified as being at a higher level of risk than when the research was first published in 2017.
Critically endangered crafts include those with very few practitioners, few (if any) trainees and a lack of viable training routes by which the skills can be passed on. Often they serve very niche markets, and craftspeople cannot afford to step away from production to train their successors for fear those markets will disappear.
It’s not all bad news, however, as the craft of sieve and riddle making, which was listed as extinct in 2017, has now been revived by two new makers devoted to bringing it back, both of whom are now beginning commercial production. In addition, the organisation behind the research, the Heritage Crafts Association, has, with funding from The Dulverton Trust, employed an Endangered Crafts Officer to look for practical ways to safeguard these crafts skills, and has set up an Endangered Crafts Fund to provide the means to do so.
Daniel Carpenter, who led the research on behalf of the Heritage Crafts Association, said:
“The Red List of Endangered Crafts is vital in drawing our attention to parts of our shared cultural heritage we are at greatest risk of losing. What we as a society decide to do with that knowledge is up to us, but at the Heritage Crafts Association we believe that the country’s skills and practices can be just as valuable as its historic artefacts and monuments… perhaps even more so as they may offer opportunities for future generations to create their own sustainable and fulfilling livelihoods in ways we cannot yet imagine. If we allow these crafts to disappear then we seriously diminish these opportunities.”
Whilst the UK has been a world-leader in the preservation of tangible heritage (museum collections, buildings and monuments), it has fallen behind the rest of the world when it comes to the safeguarding of intangible heritage (knowledge, skills and practices). It is among only 15 of 193 UNESCO members that has not yet ratified the 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage, and government responsibility for heritage crafts falls in the gap between agencies set up to support arts and heritage.
Julie Crawshaw, Director of the Heritage Crafts Association, said:
“In an age of hyper-digitisation these skills can offer a viable alternative workplace and a lifestyle that can bring a sense of accomplishment and increased wellbeing. As examples of tacit knowledge that cannot easily be passed on in written form; they survive only through practice and the transmission of skill from one person to another. The Heritage Crafts Association, which is celebrating its tenth year in 2019, is dedicated to safeguarding heritage crafts skills for the benefit of everyone.”
All 212 entries featured in the Red List of Endangered Crafts 2019 edition are available to view online at http://redlist.heritagecrafts.org.uk.
About the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts
Steve Overthrow, sieve and riddle maker (photo by Daniel Carpenter)
The 2019 edition of the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts was led by Daniel Carpenter, on secondment from his doctoral research on craft heritage at the University of Exeter, and supported by the South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership. The project runs alongside the work of the Heritage Crafts Association’s Endangered Crafts Officer Mary Lewis, whose post, funded by The Dulverton Trust, has been created to identify and develop interventions to improve the prospects of such crafts.
For the 2019 edition, 212 crafts have been assessed to identify those which are at greatest risk of disappearing. Of the 212 crafts featured in the research, four have been classified as extinct, 36 as critically endangered, 70 as endangered and 102 as currently viable.
Drawing on information such as the current number of craftspeople and trainees, the average age of practitioners, opportunities to learn, and other issues affecting the future of the crafts considered, the research assesses how likely it is that the craft skills will be passed on to the next generation. From armour making and arrowsmithing to wig making and woodturning, each has been assigned to one of four categories: extinct, critically endangered, endangered or currently viable.
Four crafts are known to have become extinct in the UK in the last ten years (cricket ball making, gold beating, lacrosse stick making, and paper mould and deckle making) with one more (sieve and riddle making) brought back from extinction. At the other end of the spectrum, viable crafts are defined as those for which there are sufficient craftspeople to pass on the craft skills to the next generation, though crafts in the currently viable category face real challenges and require continued monitoring.
For the purposes of this research, a heritage craft is defined as “a practice which employs manual dexterity and skill and an understanding of traditional materials, design and techniques, and which has been practised for two or more successive generations.” The research focuses on craft practices which are taking place in the UK today, including crafts which have originated elsewhere.
The 2017 Red List of Endangered Crafts, funded by The Radcliffe Trust and led by Greta Bertram, was the first to rank traditional crafts by the likelihood they would survive the next generation. It brought the plight of these skills to national attention, with coverage across national newspapers and broadcast media including Countryfile, The One Show and Radio 4 Woman’s Hour.
About the Endangered Crafts Fund
The Heritage Crafts Association’s Endangered Crafts Fund has been set up to ensure that the most at-risk heritage crafts within the UK are given the support they need to thrive. The Fund will be used to support makers and trainees who wish to develop or share their skills in the crafts that have been identified as being most at risk.
Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may do so securely online via the web link below. Alternatively, please send a cheque made payable to ‘Heritage Crafts Association’ with an accompanying note specifying ‘Endangered Crafts Fund’ to: Heritage Crafts Association, 27 South Road, Oundle, Peterborough PE8 4BU.
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:
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.