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50 years of craft skills at the Weald & Downland Living Museum

by Lucy Hockley

Museum“Celebrating 50 years since the first opening of the Weald & Downland Living Museum was not as originally planned, as 2020 changed for everyone. The Museum team had to adjust arrangements for this anniversary weekend last September, yet we were very grateful to be open and mark this milestone. Central to the Museum’s mission from its earliest days to today has been the objective ‘to stimulate public interest in ancient crafts, trades and manufactures’. This happens in a huge variety of ways, and is also the reason from first hearing about the formation of the HCA, over a decade ago, the Museum team has been keen to collaborate and support this likeminded organisation.

“The simple point of raising awareness can be powerful in so many ways. It may be a child seeing a skilled craftsperson at work with the chance to ask their question directly and, when possible, have a go. Charcoal burningIt is always exciting to hear from adult whose craft work choices were sparked by a Museum visit. When we had low-level thatching frames for school groups alongside thatchers working on two roofs at the Museum, young people clearly did see the skill in a different light due to their hands-on experience. One lad even offering to go up to help the thatchers out! Around the same time, the Museum hosted an ‘alternative careers forum’ focussed on the heritage sector and craft skills, which was quickly fully subscribed by adults, with a strand for secondary age pupils woven into the day. In a normal year the Museum has well over 120,000 visitors each year, with many opportunities for connection on-site as well as in outreach work.

“Our artefact collection is an inspiration as well as a reference point for tools, particularly those of our region and rural occupations. Of course the historic buildings themselves tell of so many crafts skills in the past and today, both from the activity of workshops and also in the construction of the buildings themselves. WDLM WheelwrightingThroughout the year, and particularly in a series of Historic Life Weekends, we also have demonstrators at the Museum who share their own craft skills.

We understand the value of informal conversations with depth of knowledge sharing that comes from them, for the demonstrators amongst themselves also. Topics in the Historic Life Weekend series vary each year, with our Heritage Crafts and Skills at Risk weekend planned (again) this August. This is in collaboration with the HCA and will also have a linked exhibition.

WDLM Sarah Goss“Beyond sparking interest and conversations, the Museum has offered, for over 25 years, the next steps – workshops in a vast variety of skills. These range from 1 day to 5 day courses, including many skills on the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts, to University masters programmes in Timber Building Conservation or Building Conservation. Perhaps therefore also no surprise that when the producers of The Repair Shop were looking for a venue, the Museum was on their shortlist and filming continues in Court Barn today.

“The Museum experience is not static; experiences will change daily and we try to ensure that essential maintenance and building conservation work happens in visitor view and with discussion whenever possible. This season work is underway on the House from North Cray, a 15th century hall house, which stands in the market square. As with each exhibit building, this house is only at the Museum as there was no future for it where it originally stood and was faced with demolition. In fact, in this case it has already been dismantled by the local council and lay in storage for some years, before it was offered to the Museum in its very early years.

WDLM House from North Cray“Over the years the Museum has been open, there has both been a growth in interest in heritage craft skills and an awareness number of craft skills at risk.HCA members will be only too aware of this also. The many benefits of traditional skills are being recognised rightly for their contribution to an urgently needed sustainable future, as well as their wellbeing aspect. That inspiration needs to continue with many individuals and organisations coming together to raise awareness of heritage crafts skills, their uses today and for the future.”

The Weald & Downland Living Museum is an independent museum and educational charity located in West Sussex, just north of Chichester. More details about the Museum can be found on the website or via social media.

A resource that might be of interest are articles in the Museum magazines, which can all be found online here, with a few recent examples mentioned below:

Statement on the fire at the Notre-Dame

We offer our deepest sympathies to the people of Paris at the devastation to the magnificent Notre-Dame.


These terrible events remind us that our shared cultural heritage is hugely important to our sense of identity.  As we consider where the skills will come from to restore the tangible heritage of the building, we also come to understand the value of the intangible cultural heritage, that is the traditional knowledge and skills that created such beautiful buildings. The Heritage Crafts Association exists to ensure that this knowledge is preserved and passed to new generations. We are already working to support the craft industries that will be so in demand in the coming years to restore buildings, their decorative interiors and contents that suffer in such circumstances. We are working to ensure that young people have access to learn these skills so that they may pursue a positive and fulfilling career.


When a tragedy such as this strikes, it is easy to consider only the physical cultural heritage. But quietly, our intangible heritage is being lost at an alarming rate, which ironically puts the physical heritage at even greater risk.  We must put a greater value on the skills of craftsmen and women and appreciate their enormous contribution to our shared heritage.

Julie Crawshaw
Executive Director – Heritage Crafts Association


A Place for Craft – the HCA Conference 2015

Genevieve SiokaA Place for Craft was the theme for 2015’s conference which was held on Saturday 9th May at the V&A Museum.

The conference highlighted the relationship between crafts and location – focusing on those crafts which have developed in particular regions or locations, and why craftspeople have chosen to live and work in areas with a special tie to their craft. Speakers included Sir Christopher Frayling and Genevieve Sioka, artisan buyer for the National Trust, and makers and craftspeople were able to bring and exhibit the tools of their trade at the conference.


Speaker Biographies

Sir Christopher Frayling

Sir Christopher Frayling has a deep interest in art, design and craft, and has written extensively on the subjects, including his book On Craftsmanship. He was Chairman of Arts Council England 2005­–2009 and has also been Chairman of the Design Council, Chairman of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee, and a Trustee of the Victoria & Albert Museum. He was a governor of the British Film Institute in the 1980s.

Christopher Frayling was awarded a knighthood for Services to Art and Design Education in 2001. He has written and presented television series such as The Art of Persuasion on advertising, and Strange Landscape on the Middle Ages.

Genevieve Sioka

Genevieve is Artisan & Craft buyer for the National Trust, last year launching their Artisan & Craft collection featuring the work of Sasha Wardell, Sue Binns, Scott Benefield and Wallace Sewell to name but a few.

Tasked with sourcing products with provenance, authenticity and spirit of place, Genevieve works closely with established and emerging makers alike to develop pieces for the National Trust shops, forging sustainable and profitable relationships for both parties in order to continue to support the National Trust in looking after special places for ever and for everyone.

With a background in lecturing Textiles and Printmaking and with a Masters in Multi-Disciplinary Printmaking, Genevieve now thoroughly enjoys being able to bring great British craftsmanship to the National Trust audience, encouraging shopping for a cause whilst telling the stories of great makers.

Felicity Irons

Her passion for all things rush led her to start designing and making. She and her team now cut 4-5 tons of rush a day during the summer harvest. They hand weave a range of work: rush floor matting, tableware, log baskets, handbags, cushions, hats and shoes.

Their work can be seen in National Trust properties in the UK, the Chateau Azay le Rideau in France, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY and they work with many designers, architects and shops here in the UK and overseas. She also teaches her craft here and in Europe. Felicity was made a Yeoman of The Worshipful Company of Basketmakers in 2009 and in 2011 Rush Matters was awarded the CPRE Mark in the Living Countryside Awards.

Richard Eaton

Richard Eaton, who was born and brought up in London, initially came to Denby Pottery in rural Derbyshire as an enthusiastic young student on work experience for his Master of Arts degree.  Richard instantly felt an affinity with Denby’s stoneware clay, designing and putting into full production a unique, and now collectable, range of giftware.

Richard returned to Denby in August 1987 after completing his M.A. in Ceramics and a B.A. in 3 dimensional design.  Within a short time Richard was promoted to Head of Design and subsequently Design Director.  Over successive years Richard has built up the Denby Design Team which comprises six designers and five technicians.

In addition to his work for Denby, Richard encourages the work of young new designers.  He has been a member of the panel of Judges for the Royal Society of Arts design competitions and an advisor on the Princes Youth Business Trust.  Richard was until recently an external assessor for M.A. in Ceramic Design at Staffordshire University and is currently undertaking special projects with a number of Universities.

Veronica Main

Over one, under two – Straw plaiting for the hat industry was an occupation for tens of thousands of men, women and children throughout the United Kingdom in 1800s but with the introduction of imported straw plait from the Far East in the 1870s the skills began to die. By the 1930s the number of plaiters in the country could be counted on one hand. Veronica’s presentation will tell her personal journey to rediscover these skills. Her journey, started in the 1970s has taken her around the world and leads her to become a museum curator looking after the nationally important Hat Industry and Headwear collection at Wardown Park Museum, Luton.

Tool Tales – the HCA Conference 2014

Tool TalesSaturday 22 March 2014, 10.00am-3.30pm

We returned home to the roots of traditional craft by going to Carpenters’ Hall, one of the main Livery Companies of the City. Unless you are a Liveryman, you don’t get to see the inside of this beautiful building, and if you like wood, then this was heaven!

We had a marvellous programme focusing on craft tools. In the morning Professor Trevor Marchand spoke, amongst other things, about the ways in which a maker uses tools, and he was followed by Dr Phil Harding of Channel 4’s Time Team who is a renowned flint knapper and made the tools for the new Stonehenge Exhibition.

In the afternoon there were three craftspeople at the top of their game which will be explaining about the tools they use: Roger Smith, who makes hand-made watches, Daniel Harris who established London Cloth using British wool, and Grace Horne who not only makes knives but also corsets. There was also an Instant Gallery featuring makers’ favourite tools, with an explanation of how they are used.

Then we had the very first Heritage Craft Awards presentations, where those who were recognised as the very best in their field were announced and presented with certificates and cheques.

Manifesto for Making – the HCA Conference 2013

Heritage Crafts Awards Winners 2013.

Heritage Crafts Awards Winners 2013. Back row – Angela Brown (volunteer winner), Nick Carter (Marsh Christian Trust), Paul Martin (HCA Patron), Brian Hill (volunteer runner up)
Front row – Anna Atkins (volunteer runner up), Phil Barnes (trainer runner up), Tracy Franklin (trainer runner up)

The theme for the third annual HCA conference was ‘Manifesto for Making’. With a fantastic line up of speakers, we asked delegates and speakers to contribute to the Manifesto for Making before and on the day. We asked:

  • Why is Making Important?
  • Where Should Crafts Be?
  • How Do We Get There?

Most importantly we asked our speakers what making actually means to them at a very personal level, why do they do what they do?

With input from the audience and speakers, together we are creating a Manifesto for Making that will inspire a new generation of craft enthusiasts and help us explain to press, government and others why craft is important. We are currently working on collating all the comments into the manifesto and will post all the results here soon.

Manifesto for Making Video (Artisan Media):

HCA Conference 2013 from Artisan Media on Vimeo.



Paul Martin of BBC’s Handmade Revolution. Talking about his passion for the handmade from his childhood experience of building a traditional wooden boat with his father to filming the Handmade Revolution for the BBC.

David Hieatt, founder of Howies clothing, the Do Lectures and most recently Hiut Denim. “My town used to have the biggest jeans factory in Britain. And then one day it closed. I have started a small factory to make my own brand of jeans and to get our town making jeans again”. 

Phill Gregson, a traditional time served wheelwright, makes all aspects of wooden wheels, vehicles, metalwork and tools/equipment for re-enactment societies, craftsmen and tradesmen.

Mila Burcikova, creator of ‘Misense’ fashion label is also a PhD candidate at Charles University, Prague. Her thesis investigates the role of craft as an agent of social change and the relationship between craft, social transformation and utopianism. In particular,  the link between the ideas and work of poet, designer and political activist  William Morris and the currently flourishing ‘Craftivism’ movement.

Deborah Carre, founded carréducker with James Ducker in 2004. carréducker is known for handmade shoes that combine traditional craft skills perfected over generations, with a distinct, contemporary aesthetic. In addition to their own atelier, carréducker runs the bespoke shoemaking department at the world renowned Savile Row tailor and gentleman’s outfitter, Gieves & Hawkes.