Veronica Main from Hazelmere in Buckinghamshire has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours List 2021, in recognition of a lifetime spent researching, practicing and teaching the craft of straw plaiting for the hat industry.
Veronica was nominated by the Heritage Crafts Association in this year’s New Year Honours, following 19 previously successful nominations since 2013. Last year, the charitable organisation – which was set up in 2009 to support and champion traditional craft skills – published the latest edition of its groundbreaking HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts, the first report of its kind to rank craft skills by the likelihood they will survive into the next generation.
Once an important trade in the UK, straw hat plaiting is now critically endangered on the Red List, with only a few remaining craftspeople. Veronica has made it her life’s mission to ensure that these skills are not lost, and only last week was on BBC Radio lamenting the closure of Luton hat firm Olney Headwear.
Veronica has been involved with Wardown House Museum and the Culture Trust in Luton for over 30 years – first as volunteer, then ‘Hat Plaiter in Residence’, and finally as Curator – becoming the go-to expert for the history of women’s hats and hat making. She has been a consultant on straw work to museums across the world, including the V&A and the Museum of London.
Hat made by Veronica in collaboration with Lucy Barlow for the ‘Royal Ascot at Home’ millinery auction 2020 to raise money for NHS Charities.
Over the years Veronica has taught many hundreds of people the skills of straw plaiting in the UK, US, Europe and Bangladesh, where she taught straw work to the women of Sreepur village, to increase their repertoire of craft skills.
Veronica is a Queen Elizabeth Scholar, Wingate Scholar, City & Guilds Gold Medallist, and member of the Guild of Straw Craftsmen and the National Association of Wheat Weavers (USA). She is a founding member of the British Hat Guild, a group of 33 professional milliners at the top of their game, each selected for their highly individual contribution to millinery. In 2003, she published Swiss Straw Work, a comprehensive guide to straw plaiting and other techniques that were common in Switzerland and across Europe.
Veronica continues to innovate and find new ways to share her knowledge of straw hat plaiting. Concerned that skills and knowledge could be imminently lost, she has created a website to share her knowledge and has embraced social media as a tool to disseminate her skills.
HCA Operations Manager Daniel Carpenter said:
“Often it is only in retrospect that we realise that particular craft skills have survived purely thanks to a few dedicated individuals, working tirelessly to safeguard the future of our intangible heritage so that future generations can use them as a basis for innovation, industry, connection and wellbeing. Veronica is a shining example of this and we are delighted that we have been able to recognise her skill and commitment through this successful MBE nomination, putting her up there among other great luminaries of public life.”
The HCA encourages anyone who supports the continuation of traditional craft skills, whether or not they are makers themselves, to become HCA members. We have set up an Endangered Crafts Fund to provide small grants to projects that increase the likelihood of endangered craft skills surviving into the next generation, and are currently seeking donations to save more of Britain’s most endangered crafts from oblivion.
Traditional British hat making skills have suffered a major hit with the announcement of the closure of historic firm Olney Headwear Ltd, makers of the iconic Peaky Blinders hats.
On Monday the company – which has produced straw boaters, panamas, fabric hats and caps since 1914 – left its factory at 106 Old Bedford Road to make way for housing developers to build 31 apartments.
Despite overseas competition leading it to focus on more artisanal production such as the hats for the Peaky Blinders TV programme, Olney was a viable company until COVID-19 saw the closure of most of its retail network. As recently as September the company announced that it would be relocating to a new site, a prospect that has now evaporated. Its termination means the end of traditional straw boater making in the UK and the end of commercially-made pattern-piece caps and hats in Luton, as well as the loss of 25 jobs and the skills that went with them.
The traditional boater has a double brim and is blocked twice, the second time on a specialist machine. Some of the Olney machines have been passed to other companies and individuals, with Culture Trust Luton Museums acquiring the iconic Brochier boater blocking machine.
As well as making Peaky Blinders caps, the company also made the famous ‘Sherlock Holmes’ deerstalker hat, and supplied hats to private schools including Eton and Harrow. The closure is bound to have knock-on effects on other Luton hat companies and allied trades, who looked to Olney as the strong and stable industry core. The town is home to the last large commercial hat block maker and the last commercial bleacher and dyer.
On hearing of the closure, members of the hat making trade are calling on the local Luton Borough Council to support and assist the remaining companies.
Daniel Carpenter, Heritage Crafts Association Operations Manager said:
“While our first thoughts are with the workers who have lost their livelihoods, as the national charity for the safeguarding of craft skills we are also concerned with the loss of an important part of our shared intangible cultural heritage: their embodied knowledge and skills. Whilst it is good that some of the machines has been saved, unused they become little more than relics of cultural loss. Finally, but not insignificantly, we also think of future generations whose repository of craft skill will be diminished as a result.”
The last operating bellfoundry in Britain has been saved just in time for Christmas, thanks to £3.45m from the National Lottery.
Since 1859, the iconic Loughborough Bellfoundry, home to John Taylor & Co bellfounders, has cast more than 25,000 bells that are hung in over 100 countries, in churches, cathedrals, universities and public buildings. 20 million people in Britain, and hundreds of millions worldwide, hear a bell cast at the Loughborough Bellfoundry every day.
Bells from the foundry have even entered popular culture – the bells from St Thomas’s Church, in Fifth Avenue, New York, which can be heard on The Pogues and Kirsty McColl’s Christmas anthem Fairytale of New York, were cast at the site. However, the globally unique, purpose-built Victorian bellfoundry was at serious risk of being permanently lost without urgent repairs. The closure of the bellfoundry would be a huge loss to traditional craftsmanship, with bellfounding raised to critically endangered in the 2019 edition of the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts.
Now, thanks to the £3.45m grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund – and match-funding bringing the total to £5m – the site will be secured for the future and used to train a new generation in bell-making skills, deliver an engagement and outreach programme, increase access to the unique archive, expand production and develop the onsite bell museum as a heritage destination, attracting visitors from around the world.
Hannah Taylor, Chair of the Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust, said:
“This news is the best possible Christmas present and will ensure that the foundry, its buildings, the museum and rare archive will be protected, and that Loughborough bells are heard and enjoyed by many future generations around the world… As well as to protect the site, our aim is to make the Loughborough Bellfoundry the global centre for the art of bell making and learning and provide an engaging and exciting visitor experience. Thanks to National Lottery players, we can do exactly that.”
Bellfounders John Taylor & Co employ a team of 30, with a range of highly specialist heritage skills including casting, tuning and finishing bells. It produces all of the associated parts and mechanisms such as frames, headstocks, wheels, hand-bells, carillons and bell ropes.
Halnaker Windmill – restoration of windmill in West Sussex
The Heritage Crafts Association (HCA) and the Sussex Heritage Trust (SHT) are delighted to announce that they are working in partnership to provide Sussex-based applicants with grants of up to £2,000 to help save endangered crafts such as brick making, masonry flint knapping and hurdle making from extinction.
Last year the HCA published the second edition of its groundbreaking HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts, the first research of its kind to rank the UK’s traditional crafts by the likelihood that they will survive into the next generation. The report assessed 212 crafts to ascertain those which are at greatest risk of disappearing, of which four were classified as extinct, 71 as ‘endangered’ and a further 36 as ‘critically endangered’.
The Sussex Heritage Trust has recently received funding from the Ian M Foulerton Trust, alongside other donations, to fund Sussex-based grants, which will be administered through the HCA’s Endangered Crafts Fund.
Gary Campbell at Weald and Downland Museum – SHT oak timber framing bursary recipient
Craft practitioners and organisations are invited to apply for small grants to fund projects that support and promote endangered crafts (the craft must be listed as endangered or critically endangered on the current HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts). Sussex-based applications will be ring-fenced, so they will only be competing for funds with projects in the counties of East and West Sussex and Brighton and Hove, not with projects elsewhere in the UK, which are also invited through the UK-wide scheme.
There is a maximum of £2,000 available for each project and the HCA will work with applicants to develop and support their work. Projects could include training to learn a new craft or technique for the applicant or their apprentice, specialist equipment that will enable them to continue practising a craft or add a new product to their business, materials and equipment to start running workshops, or other innovative approaches to supporting and promoting endangered crafts.
The Endangered Crafts Fund is now open with a deadline of 26 February 2021. An application form is available to download from www.heritagecrafts.org.uk/ecf-apply. Eligible projects will be invited to progress to the next stage in collaboration with the HCA and SHT and all applications will be judged by a panel of representatives of both organisations. Please note that this is a competitive process and not all applications will receive funding. Potential applicants who would like to talk over a project idea are encouraged to contact Mary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Lewis, HCA Endangered Crafts Officer, said:
“During the COVID-19 pandemic our craft skills are at more risk than ever before. We are delighted to be working in partnership with the Sussex Heritage Trust to address the specific challenges of COVID-19 to endangered skills and knowledge in Sussex, a region renowned for its craftsmanship and material heritage.”
Simon Knight DL, Chairman of the Sussex Heritage Trust, said:
“Excellent architecture and design, traditional building skills and craftmanship are an important part of the rich heritage of Sussex. This partnership with the Heritage Crafts Association will address the particular challenges of these crafts and facilitate the transfer of endangered crafts, building skills and knowledge to the next generation.”
The UK-wide Endangered Crafts Fund is supported by the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Dulverton Trust, Allchurches Trust, the Radcliffe Trust and individual donors.
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 email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.”
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.
Sheffield scissor makers Ernest Wright have won the inaugural President’s Award for Endangered Crafts in this year’s Heritage Crafts Awards. The prestigious award, and £3,000 bursary, was initiated by Heritage Crafts Association (HCA) President HRH The Prince of Wales.
The President’s Award was one of five awards presented by Sir John Hayes at the HCA’s Awards Ceremony held on Wednesday 7 October. The event was held online instead of the planned Winners’ Reception due to take place at the Houses of Parliament, which was inevitably curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Paul Jacobs with master putter-togetherers Cliff Denton and Eric Stones of Ernest Wright scissor makers. Photo by Carl Whitham.
Ernest Wright was founded in 1902 and reflects everything Sheffield has become famous for – highly skilled craftspeople making supreme quality products. Following a tragedy in 2018, the company went into receivership and the critically endangered craft of scissor making was on the verge of disappearing from Sheffield. Paul Jacobs and Jan Bart Fanoy took action and bought the company, re-hired the remaining master putter-togetherers, Cliff Denton and Eric Stones, and took on several putters in training. The factory is now back in action with 12 scissor patterns currently in production. They plan to use the prize to repair machinery so that putter-in-training can have more productive time learning the craft from Cliff and Eric.
The four other awards were presented with the generous support of the Marsh Christian Trust, who have supported these awards since 2012.
The HCA/Marsh Trainer of the Year award went to Achilles Khorassandjian, shoe making tutor at Capel Manor College in Enfield, Middlesex. Achilles, known as Ash, has worked in the shoemaking industry for 57 years, and still designs and makes shoes from his home studio as well as supporting the next generation of UK shoemakers with his knowledge and skills.
The inaugural HCA/Marsh Trainee of the Year award went jointly to Richard Platt and Sam Cooper, chairmaking apprentices to Lawrence Neal at Marchmont House in Berwickshire. Richard and Sam are currently in the process of opening a rush seated chair workshop, the first of its kind since 1958. They use skills and techniques passed down from Phillip Clissett, Ernest Gimson, Edward Gardiner and Neville Neal. Without them taking up the craft, with support from Hugo Burge at Marchmont, one of Britain’s proudest craft traditions would have been lost.
The HCA/Marsh Volunteer of the Year award went to John Savings, from Appleton in Oxfordshire, hedgelayer and volunteer at the National Hedgelaying Society. John excels at promoting and encouraging others to take part in the traditional craft of hedgelaying. John lays in the South of England style but can put his hand to any style, showing young and old how to make a perfect hedge.
The HCA/Marsh ‘Made in Britain’ Award went to Two Rivers Paper. Established at Pitt Mill on Exmoor in 1987, Two Rivers is now the only manufacturer of traditional handmade, artists’ quality rag paper in the UK and one of only a handful of similar businesses in Europe. Their watercolour paper has an international reputation for excellence. Owner Jim Patterson has recently trained apprentice Zoe and plans to relocate the company to the historic papermaking town of Watchet.