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Lawrence Neal, Richard Platt and Sam Cooper

Lawrence Neal, Richard Platt and Sam Cooper

Heritage Craft Training Case Study – Lawrence Neal, Richard Platt and Sam Cooper

 

Bringing a craft back from the brink

 

Marchmont VenturesThe Gimson ladderback chair is a classic of the Arts & Crafts Movement, made by an unbroken line of craftsmen. Gimson was inspired and taught by the village chairmaker Phillip Clissett, born in 1817, and the skills were handed down through Edward Gardiner, Neville Neal and then to his son Lawrence Neal. In 2018, master craftsman Lawrence was approaching retirement age and, as the last in the line of chair makers, his skills and this important lineage were in danger of being lost. Hugo Burge of Marchmont Ventures became aware of this and commissioned a film, The Chairmaker, to tell his story. From this, and the attention that the film attracted, the idea of recruiting an apprentice was formed.

The apprenticeship opportunity was promoted through the HCA’s social media and other green woodwork networks. Two talented young makers, Sam Cooper and Richard Platt, were selected and began their eighteen months of training with a focus on equipping them with the practical skills to make rush seated ladderback chairs to a very high standard. They were supported financially by Marchmont Ventures during their training which covered their living and accommodation costs.

Spring 2020 saw them move to the newly equipped Marchmont Workshop, Berwickshire, where they will build their business. This exciting opportunity will enable them to develop a sustainable business using locally sourced materials from the estate and surrounding area. The workshop is one of seven units for makers and creators with an aim to create a community of highly skilled makers at Marchmont. Hugo’s aim, through Marchmont Ventures, is to invest in arts, crafts and early stage businesses that support sustainable creativity.

Sam and Richard are optimistic about their future making rush seated chairs and developing new complementary products. The apprenticeship has been hugely positive and constructive with both apprentices becoming highly skilled in a valuable heritage craft. As Lawrence says: “It’s a credit to Sam and Rich that they were able to grasp the craft in such a short period of time”, and it is evident that the commitment shown by Sam, Richard and Lawrence, combined with a realistic level of financial support through Marchmont, has been the key to the success of this project. The traditional skills and lineage of the Ernest Gimson and Phillip Clissett chair now have every chance of surviving and thriving in the stunning surroundings of the Scottish Borders.

“We’re very thankful to both Hugo and Lawrence for giving us the opportunity to learn the craft and the rich history it carries, as well as trusting us to continue such an important legacy. We can only hope that our story inspires other makers and their supporters to ensure endangered crafts are not lost.”

 

Apprenticeship Structure

  • Length – 18 months
  • Qualifications gained – No formal qualifications were gained as it wasn’t considered necessary
  • Financial support – Supported and funded by Marchmont Ventures
  • Payments to apprentice – The apprentices were employed throughout their training period by Marchmont Ventures.
  • Recruitment process – Advertised by the Heritage Crafts Association. Recruited through an application and interview process by the HCA, Hugo Burge and Lawrence Neal.

 

Photo © Hugo Burge

Winners of the 2020 Heritage Crafts Awards

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.

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.

 

Watch the ceremony

Watch the recording of the Awards ceremony on YouTube

 

Finalists

The finalists were as follows:

President’s Award for Endangered Crafts (£3,000): (more details)

  • Paul Jacobs – Ernest Wright scissor makers, Sheffield
  • Jim Patterson – Two Rivers Paper, Somerset
  • Helen Johannessen – industrial ceramics practitioner, London

HCA Marsh Trainer of the Year (£1,000)

  • Achilles Khorassandjian – shoe maker, Middlesex
  • Jim Patterson – paper maker, Somerset
  • Nigel Turton – thatcher, Dorset

HCA Marsh Trainee of the Year (£1,000)

  • Manuel Aragon Gimeno – guitar maker, Nottinghamshire
  • Richard Platt and Sam Cooper – chair makers, Berwickshire
  • Yasmin St Pierre – lapidarist, London

HCA Marsh Volunteer of the Year (£1,000)

  • Ann Day – The Lace Guild, Surrey
  • John Savings – The National Hedgelaying Society, Oxfordshire
  • Young Quilters Fundraising Team – The Quilters’ Guild of Great Britain

HCA Marsh Made in Britain Award (£1,000)

  • Jacqueline Cullen – Whitby jet worker, London
  • Method Studio – furniture makers, West Lothian
  • Two Rivers Paper – paper makers, Somerset

 

 

Once in a lifetime opportunity to become the next in a historic line of chair makers

An amazing opportunity has come up for two people to learn from one of the country’s top traditional craftspeople and carry forward an important traditional craft.

Lawrence Neal has spent his life making rush seated chairs, a trade he learned from his father Neville, who in turn learned from Edward Gardiner. Gardiner had learned from the famous architect and designer Ernest Gimson who had was taught by country chairmaker Philip Clissett. Lawrence is now approaching retirement and is looking to pass on his skills, knowledge and tools many of which were originally owned by Gimson.

Heritage Crafts Association supporter Hugo Burge has taken a personal interest in Lawrence’s chairs and is going to fund the training process for Lawrence to pass his skills on. Not only that but once the successful new chairmakers are trained he can provide a workshop and subsidised accommodation on the Marchmont Estate in Scotland… all-in-all a once in a lifetime opportunity for the right person.

Hugo said:

“I fell in love with the Ernest Gimson’s Bedales Library and its chairs over 20 years ago when I bought six Bedales chairs from Lawrence Neal in 1994. Much more recently, I have been working with Lawrence Neal, who continues to make rush seated chairs today in a 100 year tradition from Ernest Gimson, still using Gimson’s tools. We are now looking for two individuals to learn from Lawrence directly (as apprentices), in Stockton, Warwickshire for one to two years, before moving the whole workshop up to Marchmont House stables in Berwickshire to let Lawrence retire and take the business forwards within a charitable structure.

The business will generate a good living and offers the opportunity to grow and evolve, with an incredible lineage, using the actual tools of Ernest Gimson from Daneway – one of Britain’s greatest architect designers and pioneers of The Arts and Crafts Movement. There will be a base salary and the opportunity to grow your income, taking subsidised accommodation on the Marchmont Estate when you establish the workshop. This is a unique opportunity to build and create a new legacy; a new chapter of chairmaking – it will require commitment and long term dedication, so will be highly selective and not for everyone, but for two people with a real passion for taking the legacy of this traditional process into the twenty first century…..it will be ideal”

If you think this may suit you, download the application form here (deadline for applications 31 March 2018).

Orkney chair making

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Orkney chair making

 

The making of ‘Orkney chairs’, a type of chair with a wooden base and a straw back.

 

Status Endangered
Craft category Wood; Straw
Historic area of significance Orkney Islands
Area currently practised Orkney Islands
Origin in the UK
Current no. of professionals (main income) 1-5
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
1-5
Current no. of trainees 0
Current total no. serious amateur makers
1-5
Current total no. of leisure makers
10-15
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

It is not known when Orkney chairs were first made, but it is possible to chart how they evolved from simple stools to the full blown chair associated with the islands today.

Orkney does not have enough indigenous trees to supply a furniture making industry, so furniture and other household items were made from reclaimed wood or driftwood, along with the leftover straw from the black oats grown to feed livestock. The early stools were made almost entirely of straw, with the only wood being used in the feet. Gradually wood (usually driftwood) was used to form the base of the chair, although the basic design was still that of a stool covered in straw. Eventually a low woven straw back was added, and later still hoods were added to the chairs to keep out the draughts and sometimes a drawer was added under the seat.

Until the 1890s, Orkney chairs were made for use by the maker’s own family or to be sold within a small local market. However, the Arts and Crafts movement and the foundation of the Scottish Home Industries Association increased the interest in the traditional hand crafts of Scotland. At this time, a Mr David Kirkness, a joiner of Kirkwall, began to produce four standardised versions of the traditional Orkney chair. By creating standard versions he was able to increase his output, and the straw backs were stitched by outworkers. It is estimated he made about 400 chairs per year, far more than other makers. The new publicity and increased output led to the Orkney chair becoming a must-have item of the upper classes.

Today, locally grown straw is still used to make the backs of the chairs, which still have to be stitched by hand. The chair frames, originally made from driftwood, are now more often made from the best quality wood available.

 

Techniques

The making of the frame of an Orkney chair is a fairly skilled job and consists of making about 26 separate components. The main joint used to make the frame is a mortice and tennon joint; this is also combined with shaping various components and sometimes a drawer is required to be made and fitted. The technique used to stitch the back is very similar to techniques used in coiled basket making where each row is stitched onto the one below. Differing from basket making, each row is tied onto the chair uprights before being folded back onto itself to start the next row. The needle is angled in various ways while stitching to shape the back. The oat staw used for the chair backs is harvested using traditional methods. It is either cut with a scythe or binder.

 

Local forms

Most of the current chair makers have diversified from making just traditional style chairs to make more contemporary designs

 

Sub-crafts

  • Straw work

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

Other information

 

References

  • Reynolds, Rachel, (2012) The Orkney Chair (Potter, Wright and Webb)
  • Cotton, Bernard, Scottish Vernacular Furniture
  • Park, Jeanette A, Simmans, Sookans and Straw Backed Chairs

Chair making

Currently viable crafts

 

Chair making

 

The making of wooden chairs, including Windsor chairs and frame chairs. See the separate entries for Orkney chair making and for general furniture making.

 

Status Currently viable
Craft category Wood
Historic area of significance High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Area currently practised UK

 

History

  • Windsor chair: solid plank seat, with the legs tenoned into the seat.
  • Frame chair: a woven seat, with all the components tenoned into each other

Chairs only became a part of general domestic furniture in Elizabethan times, and the demand for chairs began to grow in the seventeenth century. The Industrial Revolution and mechanisation led to a new middle class which provided customers for chairs. While fashionable chairs made from imported woods such as mahogany were mainly obtainable in London and provincial towns, rural people relied on locally made furniture from the ‘wilder’ woods of beech/elm.

Chair making became separated from other woodworking trades through its development as a wood-turner’s chair rather than a joiner’s chair.

 

Techniques

Windsor chairs have solid plank seats which are generally hollowed slightly for comfort. A tool called an adze is used for this, and a travisher is used for finer shaping. All the other components of the chair are socketed into this seat. The legs and spindles are generally turned on a lathe, and fixed into the seat using round tenons. Traditionally, these components were made from unseasoned or ‘green’ timber, which are then thoroughly dried before assembly. Often Windsor chairs incorporate curved pieces. These are generally steam bent, a process which makes wood pliable after being placed in a box containing steam for some time. Often the parts of the chair are finished with a cabinet scraper, a small metal tool with a fine burr edge. Traditionally Windsor chairs were dyed with a mixture of shellac and oil. Many contemporary Windsor’s are often left in their natural state.

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: There are not a lot of chair makers around (perhaps 30 highly skilled makers) – but the market can only support a certain number
  • Market issues: Hard to find the market
  • Market issues: Need for business skills, marketing skills etc.
  • Market issues: The time it takes to make a chair means that a certain amount has to be charged (e.g. £800 for an armchair which takes a week), which significantly reduces the number of potential customers
  • Dilution of skills: There are probably only 30 highly skilled chair makers, but many more fairly inexperienced makers are teaching the craft and passing on their skills
  • Training issues: Chair making courses are very popular with lots of people doing them, but very few of those go on to become serious/professional chair makers

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

 

Other information

 

References

  • Mayes, L J, (1960) The History of Chairmaking in High Wycombe (Routledge & Kegan Paul)
  • Sparkes, Ivan G, (1973) The English Country Chair: An Illustrated History of Chairs and Chairmaking (Spurbooks Limited)
  • Jenkins, J Geraint, (1978) Traditional Country Craftsmen (Routledge & Kegan Paul)
  • Williamson, Laureen, (1986) Woodcrafts in South Oxfordshire: Chair Bodging & Tent Pegging (Oxfordshire Museums), Information Sheet 21
  • Area Museums Service for South Eastern England (August 1975) Exhibition Information: The Country Chair
  • Cotton, Bill, ‘Windsor Chair making: an Oxfordshire tradition’, published in Oxfordshire Country Life, n.d., pp.7-11
  • Cotton, Bill, (1973) ‘Country Chairs’, published in Antique Finder, October 1973
  • Cotton, William, (1980) ‘Vernacular Design: The Spindle Back Chair and its North Country origins’, published in Working Wood, 1980, pp. 41–50
  • Cotton, Bill, (1981) ‘The North Country Chair Making Tradition: Design, Context and the Mark Chippindale Deposition’, offprint from Furniture History, vol XVII, 1981, pp. 42–51