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Eight more grants awarded to help save endangered crafts

Apprentice sailmaker Matt. Photo copyright Ratsey & Lapthorne.

An apprentice sail maker, boot tree maker and folding knife maker are among the recipients of the latest round of grants awarded to help safeguard some of the UK’s most endangered craft skills.

The Heritage Crafts Association (HCA), which last year published the second edition of its groundbreaking HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts, has awarded a further eight grants from its Endangered Crafts Fund, which was launched in July 2019 to increase the likelihood of endangered crafts surviving into the next generation.

This round of the HCA Endangered Crafts Fund has been offered with support from Allchurches Trust and The Radcliffe Trust. The eight successful recipients are:

  • Ratsey & Lapthorne – to train an apprentice sail maker to craftsman level while making sails for a historic yacht (Isle of Wight).
  • Horace Batten – to train an apprentice boot tree maker who will go on to work in-house at the boot making firm (Northamptonshire).
  • Michael May – to equip his folding knife making apprentice with the tools he needs to learn all aspects of the trade (Sheffield).
  • Justine Burgess – to train in Teifi and Tywi coracle making so that she can pass on the skills to others (Carmarthen).
  • Eve Eunson – to record the skills of Fair Isle straw back chair making in a film that can be used to train others (Shetland).
  • Coates Willow – to forge new tools for an apprentice working with one of the last practicing basketwork furniture makers (Somerset).
  • Tom Boulton – to do a feasibility study into creating new wooden type for letterpress printing using CNC machining (West Sussex).
  • Lorna Singleton – to buy a boiler and swiller’s mares (a special type of shave horse) to enable her to teach oak swill basket making to small groups (Cumbria).
Oak swill basket - Photo copyright Lorna Singleton copy

Oak swill basket. Photo copyright Lorna Singleton.

These eight projects follow five awarded in the previous round, covering the endangered crafts of scissor making, damask weaving, cockle basket making, neon bending and fan making. Again the fund was massively oversubscribed and the HCA hopes to work with many of the unsuccessful candidates to identify other funding and support opportunities.

HCA Endangered Crafts Officer Mary Lewis said:

“When we first published the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts the task of safeguarding so many at-risk skills seemed overwhelming. Thanks to the support of our donors and funders like Allchurches Trust and The Radcliffe Trust we now have thirteen projects underway, but there is still so much to do to ensure that future generations can continue to benefit from this important part of our culture.”

The Endangered Crafts Fund has been set up thanks to a number of generous donations from organisations including Allchurches Trust and The Radcliffe Trust, as well as individuals, who have donated sums from £5 right up to several thousands of pounds.

Paul Playford, who heads up the heritage grants programme at Allchurches Trust, said:

“It’s fascinating to see the wide range of endangered craftspeople and places that are represented in the latest Endangered Crafts Fund cohort, and we’re proud that our funding will help ensure that these at-risk crafts can be handed down, along with the tools and training needed to enable their protection in the longer term. We’re looking forward to hearing more from these skilled craftspeople as they develop their skills and hope to play our part in telling their story, raising awareness of ancient practices that are so important to preserve for future generations and hopefully inspiring others to follow their lead.”

The HCA has also announced that its President HRH The Prince of Wales has established a new award for endangered crafts. Each year the President’s Award for Endangered Crafts will present £3,000 to a heritage craftsperson who will use the funding to ensure that craft skills are passed on. The Award will be presented at a special reception at Dumfries House, home of The Prince’s Foundation, as well as at a prestigious winners’ reception at the Houses of Parliament. Applications are invited via www.heritagecrafts.org.uk/presidentsaward by Friday 1 May 2020.

The HCA continues to seek further donations to save even more of Britain’s most endangered crafts from oblivion. Donations are welcome at any time – for more information visit www.heritagecrafts.org.uk/ecf. Applications for grants are accepted on a rolling basis, with the next deadline for consideration 28 August 2020.

Basketwork furniture making

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Basketwork furniture making

 

The making of furniture using willow basketwork techniques (see also basket making).

 

Status Critically endangered
Craft category Wood; Plant fibre
Historic area of significance Somerset
Area currently practised Somerset
Origin in the UK
Current no. of professionals (main income) 1
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees 3
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Basketwork furniture has been produced in the willow-growing area of the Somerset levels for centuries. The basketwork furniture industry thrived into the 20th century, to the extent that Athelney station in Somerset was extended around 1906 purely to cope with the growth of the industry.

 

Techniques

There are a number of basic patterns of chair, such as the ‘Cottage’, ‘Croquet’ and ‘Nursing’ chair, all of which can be adapted in size and proportion to meet individual requirements.

 

Local forms

 

 

Sub-crafts

Allied crafts:

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • The market for basketwork furniture is quite small at the moment, but could conceivably be built up with the help of influencers in high-end retail etc. However it would be a mistake to do this before capacity was created through the training of apprentices. On the other hand, if apprentices were trained and the market wasn’t then realised then those trainees could be made redundant. The mitigating factor is that they could fall back on other basket making activities, despite the fact that historically these crafts were always separate.
  • Due to the reduction in the industry, tree sticks of the right specification are no longer being produced. PH Coate & Son Ltd pollard and boil their own tree sticks but anyone else getting into the craft would have to source a supplier of this four-year growth material.
  • The nails used to construct the furniture are no longer produced in the UK and it is often not cost-effective to import them other than in vast bulk.
  • The craft requires a great deal of upper body strength.
  • Straightening irons are not available off-the-shelf and would have to be blacksmith-made to specification.
  • There is a great deal of financial risk in taking the time away from production to train up an apprentice who may then leave. This is not so much about them setting up in competition, but more to do with the lost investment of time.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

  • Jonathan Coate, P H Coate & Son Ltd – was taught by and inherited tools from Albert (Alby) Champion, born around 1900. Coates employ two Polish trainees making both baskets and basketwork furniture.
  • Jonah, trainee at PH Coate & Son Ltd – currently being training by Jonathan Coate. Tools were created for Jonah by blacksmith Dave Budd thanks to a grant provided by the HCA.
    There are now two new willow basketmaking trainees employed at Coates and they are
    both eager to learn how to make willow furniture in time.

Terry Ashford worked for Coates but has now retired. Many of the old basketwork furniture companies centred around Bridgwater and North Petherton in Somerset, such as Slocombes, have long since ceased trading.

 

 

Other information

 

 

References