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MBEs for three heritage craftspeople in the Birthday Honours

Plaster worker Geoffrey Preston, basket maker Hilary Burns, and coppice worker Rebecca Oaks have been awarded MBEs in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2021, in recognition of their unparalleled craftsmanship and tireless work in ensuring their skills are passed on to current and future generations.

The three were nominated by the Heritage Crafts Association for this year’s Birthday Honours, following 20 previously successful nominations since 2013. Last month, 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.

Geoffrey PrestonGeoffrey Preston MBE spearheaded the reintroduction of the endangered craft of stucco to the UK, a style of pargeting whereby designs are moulded directly onto a wall or ceiling, and is categorised as endangered on the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts.

He has been a sculptor and decorative plaster worker for fifty years, after being apprenticed as a stonemason in London, working as a carver on the West Front of Exeter Cathedral in the 1980s, and being trained in modelling under Professor Robert Baker. Francis Terry, one of the UK’s leading classical architects, called him: “England’s best modeller of architectural detail in stucco and moulded plaster”.

Hilary BurnsHCA Maker of the Year 2018 and Yeoman of the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers, Hilary Burns MBE is a craftswoman, teacher, writer, researcher and advocate with a passion for passing on her skills. Working with humble materials, she produces stunning functional and sculptural pieces inspired by her study of traditional basketry techniques.

An instigator of the largest international basketmaking conference held in the UK in 2013, Hilary has continued to promote the craft globally, with her own work exhibited in New York and Japan, as well as organising skills exchanges to countries such as the Azores and Cyprus.

Rebecca OaksRebecca Oaks MBE is the founder and driving force behind the Bill Hogarth Memorial Apprenticeship Trust, set up in 2001 in honour of her mentor, to provide training in sustainable woodland management that benefits biodiversity and wider society. She developed a structured three-year apprenticeship that has awarded diplomas to 18 apprentices, most of whom now run their own coppice craft businesses.

Rebecca went on to develop a partnership with the Small Woods Association to run the National Coppice Apprenticeship Scheme, and was a founder director of the National Coppice Federation, which gives a national, unified voice to regional coppice groups.

HCA Operations Director Daniel Carpenter said:

“We are extremely delighted that Geoffrey, Hilary and Rebecca have been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Having traditional craftspeople up there with other great luminaries of public life in this way is vitally important, as unlike countries such as Japan and Korea we have no Living National Treasures scheme to celebrate master craftspeople, and the UK is one of only 13 of the 193 UNESCO member states yet to ratify the 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage.”

The Heritage Crafts Association encourages anyone who supports the continuation of traditional craft skills, whether or not they are makers themselves, to become members. 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.

Coppice working

Currently viable crafts

 

Coppice working

 

The management of woodland such that young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level to produce long straight shoots for harvesting, and the making of products using these shoots. Many of the coppice crafts have separate entries.

 

Status Currently viable
Craft category Wood
Historic area of significance South East; South West; Cumbria (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Area currently practised UK (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Origin in the UK Paleolithic
Current no. of professionals (main income) 201-500 (coppice workers who make a proportion or all of their income from working coppice woodlands)
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Proportion of the above
Current no. of trainees 11-20
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required 501-1000

 

History

‘Coppice crafts’ is a broad term to describe the making of a wide variety of products including: pea sticks, hurdles, barrel hoops, clothes pegs, tent pegs, rakes, handles, spars, scythe snaiths, furniture and charcoal. Historically some craftsmen would have specialised in particular products, while others would have made a range of products. Today, coppice workers and woodsmen tend to make a range of items.

 

Techniques

 

Local forms

  • Oak coppice: Cumbria, Argyll, West Midlands for tan bark
  • Hornbeam coppice: Essex etc
  • Mixed coppice (birch, alder, willow, hazel, ash) for bobbin works: Cumbria
  • Ash coppice
  • Hazel coppice
  • Sweet chestnut coppice

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Cheap imports of coppice crafts.
  • A shortage of in-rotation coppice – and there are high costs involved in restoring coppice.

 

Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known

 

Other information

Historic area of significance: The heartlands are now Kent where the chestnut industry is still viable, Southern counties such as Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire, Dorset where the hazel industry was associated with historic sheep industry. However most counties have some connection with a coppice history Cumbria being another that has a remnant industry today.

Current area: The National Coppice Federation has coppice groups affiliated from most areas of England and some in Wales. There are fewer in Scotland but there is some coppice.

Several organisations run coppiceworking apprenticeships, such as the Bill Hogarth Memorial Trust and the Small Woods Association.

 

References

  • Jenkins, J Geraint, (1978) Traditional Country Craftsmen (Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd)
  • Tabor, Raymond, (1994) Traditional Woodland Crafts: A Practical Guide (B T Bastford Ltd)
  • Edlin, Herbert L, (1973) Woodland Crafts in Britain (David and Charles)
  • Oaks and Mills (2010) Coppicing and Coppice Crafts – a comprehensive guide .