by Helen Chislett
This autumn, David Linley (the Earl of Snowdon) and I are delighted that our book, Craft Britain: Why Making Matters will be published. We began talking about this idea pre-COVID, but the pandemic and its consequences inspired us to bang the drum for making and makers across all aspects of craft from heritage to cutting edge.
Of course our past defines us as a nation, as we stress in the chapter dedicated to History & Heritage, “Our cities, towns and villages are crammed with portals to the past in the shape of cathedrals, castles, palaces and monuments. We are blessed to live in a place where we are never more than a few miles from a piece of our human history, from the stateliest of country houses to the humblest of country churches. We have around twenty thousand scheduled monuments; upwards of sixteen hundred registered parks and gardens; over thirty World Heritage sites, and almost half a million listed buildings. These add up to a built heritage of cultural, religious, archaeological and industrial significance, dating from circa 4000BC to the twentieth century. The fact is we are awash with history to the point we barely register it.”
Researching and writing such a wide-ranging book meant reaching across all the different organisations that represent makers and making in Britain, some concentrated on traditional and heritage – others on collectible and contemporary – plus everything in between. Naturally, Heritage Crafts was an important body for us to talk to, most particularly because we wished to highlight the importance of the Red List of Endangered Crafts. The Red List may have begun as a grim recording of declining craft professions, but it has now ignited a conversation nationally about what can be done to support a sector that we are in danger of losing skill by skill.
In 2021, the Red List included 244 crafts. Of these four are now officially extinct: cricket ball making, lacrosse stick making, paper mould and deckle making (a deckle being the wooden frame used in manual papermaking) and gold beating. The critically endangered list – those with a shrinking base of makers, little financial liability, limited training opportunities or no mechanism to pass on skills and knowledge – include twenty newcomers. These range from barometer makers and sporran makers to horsehair weavers and pointe shoe makers (as worn by ballerinas). The endangered category – those with sufficient craft skills to transmit to the next generation of makers, but with an ageing demographic and shrinking market share – also included some ‘new to 2021’ categories. For the first time hat makers and kilt makers are listed, as are type founders and lithographers.
Throughout the book, we have tried to highlight the status of the crafts mentioned where applicable. Craft Britain is themed across twelve subjects, including a chapter dedicated to Rare & Endangered. Within this, we have spotlighted the work of two makers: oak swill maker Owen Jones and diamond cutter Ilana Belsky – two crafts on the critically endangered list. However, there are many others we have included in other sections of the book from neon bending, professional paper marbling and parchment making to wheelwrighting, shoe last making and bell founding.
However, it is important to stress that our book is not a directory and we have been anxious not to imply that it is in any sense definitive. As we say in our acknowledgements, “We would like to thank the many craftspeople who have helped us put together the content of this book. We would also like to acknowledge those who may have been disappointed not to be included. We hope by raising the subject of craft so widely, everyone involved will ultimately benefit.”
Our heartfelt thanks to Heritage Crafts and everything this unique organisation does to highlight the plight of imperilled crafts.
Craft Britain: Why Making Matters by Helen Chislett and David Linley (OH Editions)