The family of the late master hand grinder Brian Alcock have received a posthumous British Empire Medal in the King’s Birthday Honours in recognition of his service to the Sheffield cutlery trade and heritage crafts.
Brian, who passed away less than three weeks ago, was one of six makers nominated by Heritage Crafts to receive national honours, alongside clockmaker David Poole MBE, boatbuilder Ronald John Maclean MBE, blacksmithing trainer Delyth Done MBE, marbler and woodgrainer Robert Woodland MBE, and knitwear designer Jeanette Sloan BEM, in recognition of their unparalleled craftsmanship and tireless work in ensuring their skills are passed on to current and future generations.
The six were nominated for this year’s Birthday Honours, following 24 previously successful nominations from Heritage Crafts since 2013. In May, the charitable organisation – which was set up in 2009 to support and champion traditional craft skills – published the fourth edition of its groundbreaking Red List of Endangered Crafts, the only report of its kind to rank UK craft skills by the likelihood they will survive into the next generation.
Heritage Crafts was deeply saddened to learn of Brian Alcock BEM’s passing on 30 May. As a jobbing grinder working up to a week before his death, Brian was an unparalleled repository of knowledge and skill in the craft of hand grinding. He exemplified the honest work ethic of a skilled master craftsman, and even at the age of 81 he would work 40 hours a week, starting at 6.30am each morning through all four seasons. No job was too small for him; even putting an edge on a simple pocket knife was handled with the care and concentration of a man who relished the craft he had learnt so well.
What set Brian apart was how freely he shared his knowledge and skill. Five years ago founding Heritage Crafts Chair Robin Wood MBE was concerned that once Brian stopped he would have nobody to grind axes for his growing business, and that this important part of Sheffield’s cultural heritage could be lost. At this point Brian offered to train Robin’s apprentice Zak Wolstenholme. He had been passing his knowledge of how to grind tools and maintain the machinery to Zak, free of charge, right up until his passing. Zak admired him greatly and he had become a very significant life mentor.
Thankfully, Brian learned of his forthcoming honour before he died, knowing the esteem in which he was held. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.
David Poole MBE has been clock maker of the highest standard for over forty years. He has made critical contributions to horological education, establishing remote learning, support and examinations through the British Horological Institute and organising apprenticeships through the George Daniels Educational Trust. Between 2016 and 2019 David set up the Watchmakers Trailblazer Apprenticeship Scheme, one of the first of its kind under the government-backed initiative to promote craft apprenticeships, overcoming many obstacles with devotion and total service.
Ronald John MacLean MBE represents an unbroken line of boat builders who, over 150 years, have provided as many as one thousand workboats to the island communities of the Hebrides. He has preserved an entire style of vernacular boat building (the Grimsay workboat of Scotland) through his craft skills, teaching and interpretation of the tradition. He has designed accredited courses in Traditional Boatbuilding Skills, and with his gifts as a teacher devised a curriculum to transmit the Grimsay boat tradition through Gaelic boatbuilding terminology.
Delyth Done MBE has been unparalleled throughout the past decade in ensuring that the next generation of blacksmiths have the high-level skills they need. As head of the blacksmithing degree programme at Hereford College of Arts for over ten years, she has been directly responsible for improving the training standards so that graduates are recognised and sought after as employees by master blacksmiths around the world.
Robert Woodland MBE is one of the most highly-skilled ornamental artists, woodgrainers and marblers in the UK today. His work can be seen in a variety of buildings across the country, including the Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, the Tower of London, Grand Lodge, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Kensington Palace, Bagshot Park and the Mandarin Hotel. Robert has a passion to keep his trade alive and shares his knowledge openly with students from around the world, enthusiastically demonstrating his craft whenever he has a chance.
Jeanette Sloan BEM is one of the most prominent and successful Black knitwear designers in the UK today, and has done a huge amount to promote and celebrate the contribution of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) to British textile crafts. Among a career of achievements, she devoted her time and expertise, unpaid, to found the ‘BIPOC in Fibre’ project, to celebrate and raise awareness of the contribution of BIPOC to British textile design.
Heritage Crafts Executive Director Daniel Carpenter said:
“We are thrilled that six of our nominations have been recognised in this the first Birthday Honours of King Charles III’s reign. Having traditional craftspeople up there with other great luminaries of public life in this way is vitally important, as UK is still one of only 12 of the 193 UNESCO member states yet to ratify the 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage.”
Heritage Crafts encourages anyone who supports the continuation of traditional craft skills, whether or not they are makers themselves, to become Heritage Crafts members via its website www.heritagecrafts.org.uk.
The charity has 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 is currently seeking donations to save more of Britain’s most endangered crafts from oblivion – visit www.heritagecrafts.org.uk/ecf to find out more and to donate
In October 2022 the Wooden Boat Builders Trade Association and Heritage Crafts held a Symposium on Traditional Wooden Boat Building. It was a well-attended event and raised some very interesting points for discussion.
There was a clear message from the boat builders, trainers and other boat building organisations in the room that it is important that we promote, celebrate and continue our heritage skills of wooden boat building in the UK.
As a follow up to the Symposium we are carrying out a survey of traditional wooden boat builders and skills in the UK. If you are a wooden boat builder or work with wooden boat builders, it would be very useful to get your input.
You can access the survey here: https://forms.gle/TEtLz7tJkytqbNNG7
The closing date for completing the survey is 31 January 2023
When: Saturday 8 October 2022, 10am to 4pm
Where: Bristol Create Centre, Smeaton Road, Spike Island, Bristol BS1 6XN and Underfall Yard
Cost: Entry to this event is free and refreshments will be provided. Please bring your own lunch or purchase from the Underfall Café.
We have a rich maritime tradition in the UK and a vibrant community of craftspeople building a wide range of boats, but are our traditional wooden boat building skills at risk?
Heritage Crafts and the Wooden Boat Builders Trade Association are bringing a group of experts and stakeholders together to ask this question and to consider the case for traditional wooden boat building being added to the Red List of Endangered Crafts, with the generous support of the Pilgrim Trust.
We will be joined by a panel of industry experts who will give presentations, participate in a panel discussion and be on hand for questions during the day. The aim for the day is to engage attendees in discussion and to actively consult with all participants. You will be asked to complete a survey when booking in order to gather boat building data to inform our discussion.
- Gail McGarva is a traditional wooden boat builder. Her specialist area is the building of replicas, or as she prefers to call them ‘daughterboats’, breathing life into a new generation of traditional boats. Gail integrates her work as a traditional boat builder with her work as a speaker and workshop facilitator, bringing to life the stories all boats have to tell about their communities and their shores.
- Colin Henwood is a boat builder with 40 years of experience in building, restoring and caring for wooden boats on the Thames. He is the current Chair of the Wooden Boat Builders Trade Association. He also writes, teaches practical boat building skills and provides consultancy on traditional wooden boats.
- Eivind Falk is Director of Håndverksinstituttet the Norwegian Crafts Institute. In 2019 he was instrumental in supporting the nomination of Nordic clinker boat traditions for inscription on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, an international acknowledgement that the building and use of Nordic clinker-built boats should be preserved for the future.
- Stephen Beresford is Senior Conservator, Chartered Engineer and Maritime Heritage Consultant at Windermere Jetty Museum. He is also a skilled traditional boat builder with a passion for conserving historic vessels.
- Will Reed is Principal of the Boat Building Academy Lyme Regis. Will is a passionate maker and has spent many years working professionally as a furniture designer/maker and boat builder. Teaching has always been an important part of life and through the BBA Will helps to pass on the knowledge through first class training.
There will also be a tour of Underfall Yard and an opportunity to visit the maritime businesses that are based in the historic site. Underfall Yard was restored from a derelict state into a thriving boatyard of separate small companies around a Trust operated Slipway. It also has a visitor centre and café.
How to find the Create Centre
The Create Centre is in one of the three large red brick warehouses in Cumberland Basin, halfway between Clifton Suspension Bridge and the SS Great Britain.
- The city centre is only 1.8 miles away – a pleasant 30-minute walk along the docks.
- Temple Meads railway station is about 2 miles and Broadmead bus station 2.5 miles.
- From the city centre the Festival Way cycle track runs alongside Cumberland Road (riverside) to Create and on to Long Ashton.
- From Bedminster the cycle track crosses Greville Smyth park, crossing the old railway bridge and on to Create.
- From Pill the cycle track runs along the old rail track, under the suspension bridge and over the old rail bridge and on to Create.
- Plenty of cycle parking is provided inside and outside the building, and showers and lockers are available for visitors.
- Visit www.betterbybike.info for bike route maps and to read about their fantastic loan bike scheme.
- Long Ashton Park & Ride to city centre operated by First West of England
- The m2 serves Long Ashton Park & Ride, Ashton Vale, Ashton Gate, Cumberland Basin, Spike Island, Redcliff Hill, Temple Meads, Cabot Circus and Broadmead. Please visit https://metrobusbristol.co.uk/m2/ for more information.
- The 505 Wessex Connect bus stops at Merchants Road, Hotwells. This service runs from Southmead to Bower Ashton via Redland, Clifton and Hotwells.
- A number of out of town bus services run regularly from Broadmead bus station and the city centre along Hotwells Road, stopping just before Junction Lock Bridge, marked by the red dot above. Buses that stop here are the 71, 505, 903, Portway Park & Ride, X1 all the way through to X9, including X3A, and X54.
For full details of the bus timetables and routes, please call TRAVELINE South West on 0871 200 22 33
- Temple Meads railway station, serviced by trains from across the country, is situated around two miles from Create, approximately 45 minutes walk or a short taxi ride. You can also hire a Brompton folding bike from Temple Meads Station, available 24/7 from fully automated docks. For more information please visit Brompton Bike Hire at https://bromptonhire.com.
- There is very limited permit parking at the Create Centre as well as 3 hour Pay and Display. As an environment centre they positively encourage other forms of transport. If you must come by car, please allow plenty of time to park as you may have to park within a five minute walk of the centre.
- The car park immediately adjacent to Create includes 5 accessible bays; a ‘blue’ badge must be displayed when using these and your badge will act as your permit.
- Long Ashton and Portway Park and Ride services are available with the buses stopping on Hotwells Road. For more information visit http://travelwest.info/parkandride.
The building of wooden boats such as yachts, workboats and superyachts using a range of techniques including wood, laminate and composite materials.
See also Coracle Making, Curragh Making, Spar, Oar and Mast Making, Sail Making, and Boat Building (traditional wooden).
|Historic area of significance
|Area currently practised
|UK (but very much reduced and shipbuilding has vanished from some of its historic locations)
|Origin in the UK
See Traditional Wooden Boat Building
- Traditional wooden boat building
- Laminated construction methods
- Composite materials
Historically, there were many regional forms of boat building in the UK.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- Cost of training: there are three private colleges teaching boatbuilding – the International Boatbuilding Training College (IBTC) in Lowestoft and in Portsmouth, and the Boatbuilding Training Academy in Lyme Regis. The Lowestoft course costs £16,000 for a full-time 47-week training course – this is a cost that many people can’t afford. For example, it is difficult to get young people into the industry not because they are not interested but because they cannot afford to get properly trained. Many people who do the course are mid-life career changers or retirees. There are some grants available from City & Guilds and the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights, but these do not cover the cost of the whole course. Modest grants for the purchase of tools are awarded by the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights through its Billmeir Award Scheme.
- Lack of investment in training by the government: while the IBTC was established by the government in the 1970s, it is now a private college with no funding from the government, which is too reliant on trusts and charities to fund craft training.
- Lack of investment in training by the sector: the industry doesn’t invest in itself – it wants qualified boatbuilders but does not invest in their training, and boatyards do not subsidise the training of boatbuilders. It is this lack of investment that will cause the craft to die.
- Apprenticeships: The Boatbuilder level 3 apprenticeship standard, developed by employers for employers, is a comprehensive and quality 4 year programme which helps to provide the sector with qualified boatbuilders, covering all aspects of the trade including the use of composites, metal and wood. A government funded apprenticeship, means employers can train an apprentice for a minimal cost, and sometimes completely for free. Most SMEs will pay a 5% contribution (£1,350), with the Government contributing the remaining 95%, with no cost being passed on to the apprentice. The apprenticeship is also supplemented by the level 2 and level 3 City and Guilds 2473 certificates in boatbuilding, with the cost of this being included in the cost of the apprenticeship.
- Certification of courses: City & Guilds offers a Level 3 qualification in Marine Construction, Systems Engineering and Maintenance (2463) – this is the highest vocational qualification in boatbuilding. This is awarded as part of the course at the IBTC, in addition to an IBTC certificate which is industry-recognised, but not government-recognised. The IBTC course also includes three months of intense boat joinery, but City and Guilds have said that this is too niche a course to run and so there is no qualification available in it.
- Transferrable skills: there is more than enough work within the industry, and everyone who has done a boatbuilding course is able to find work if they want to. However, there are people who do the course who go on to work in other industries such as furniture-making or design, and also retirees who do the course because they want to spend a year making boats with no intention of going into the industry.
- Raw materials: some timber has increased in cost.
- Talent gap: the industry is making positive progress in addressing the knowledge and talent leaving the industry, by utilising quality apprenticeships and training courses to train our boatbuilders and workforce of the future.
Craftspeople currently known
- A & R Way Boat Building
- Henwood & Dean Ltd
- Bristol Classic Boat Company Ltd
- Butler and Co Traditionla Wooden Boats Ltd
- Casse Tete Marine Ltd
- Character Boats (UK) Ltd
- David Moss Boatbuilders
- Devon Wooden Boats Ltd
- Gail McGarva
- H J Mears & Son
- M B Yachts Ltd
- R B Boatbuilding Ltd
- Spirit Yachts Ltd
- Stirling & Son Ltd
- W Howard Traditional Boat Builder
A national directory of skills and services is provided by the Shipshape Network, run by National Historic Ships UK.
Shipwrights per se have decreased in number with the UK’s shipping industry but continue to exist. Boat-building skills continue to be used and there are some boat-building schools and academies which keep those skills alive. However, boat-building in the leisure industry continues apace and the UK has some of the top leisure craft manufacturers.
Most general boat building apprentices will gain some traditional wooden boat building skills throughout their training and on the job – the Boatbuilding Standard can be found here, it would be worth a read through to see what it now consists of.
Scotland have developed a SVQ in Boat Building and Repair, the details of which are, as of January 2019, being finalised to be included in a Modern Apprenticeship.
Data supplied by British Marine.