Monica Cass weaving a ‘tau tray’ using skeined willow in Norfolk. Photo copyright Katherine Mager.
A chair seater, a concertina maker and a brick and tile 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, which is due to publish the third edition of its groundbreaking HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts in May, has awarded a further nine grants from its Endangered Crafts Fund, which was launched in 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 the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Dulverton Trust, the Sussex Heritage Trust, Allchurches Trust, the Radcliffe Trust and the Swire Charitable Trust. The nine successful recipients are:
- Duncan Berry, from West Sussex, to buy tools to enable him to pass on his skills as a flint waller.
- Ben Bosence, from East Sussex, to develop and make bricks and tiles from waste clay that has been excavated locally.
- Monica Cass, from Norwich, to train a chair seat weaver in skeined willow techniques, and document the process.
- Collette Davies, from Monmouth, to help revive the craft of lipwork straw basketry.
- Tom Frith-Powell, from Cumbria, to develop a gelatine sized paper as part of his commercial handmade papermaking charity.
- Bob Green, from Brighton, to buy tools to enable him to develop and pass on his skills as a flint waller.
- Jake Middleton-Metcalf, from Buckinghamshire, to be trained in making the critical working components of the English system concertina.
- Tony Millyard, from Northamptonshire, to pass on flute making skills and to develop a new model of flute.
- Dominic Parrette, from East Sussex, to build shave horses to allow him to teach trainees how to make Sussex trug and Devon stave baskets.
A hand made Anglo-German Concertina by Jake Middleton-Metcalfe. Photo copyright Jake Middleton-Metcalfe.
These nine projects follow 18 awarded in previous rounds, covering endangered crafts such as scissor making, sail making, damask weaving, boot tree making, cockle basket making, folding knife making, neon bending, coracle making, fan making and swill basket making, coppersmithing, withy pot making, disappearing fore-edge painting, plane making and kishie basket making.
As usual the fund was 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:
“The impact of COVID-19 in the last twelve months has only compounded the pressures on those at-risk craft skills that were already on the verge of being lost, but have so much to offer a post-COVID future, as productive and fulfilling ways to rebuild a sustainable economy. These projects will realise some of that potential.”
The Endangered Crafts Fund has been funded through generous donations from organisations including Garfield Weston Foundation, the Dulverton Trust, the Sussex Heritage Trust, Allchurches Trust, the Radcliffe Trust, as well as individuals who have donated sums from £5 right up to several thousands of pounds. The forthcoming 2021 edition of the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts is funded by the Pilgrim Trust.
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.
Devon stave basket making
The making of Devon stave baskets, an assembled basket made of wooden splints fixed to a wooden base.
|Historic area of significance
|Area currently practised
|Origin in the UK
|Current no. of professionals (main income)
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required
The Devon stave basket is an assembled basket made of wooden splints attached to a wooden base. The base was traditionally made of elm, but following the arrival of Dutch elm disease has been made from other woods. The basket is held together by nails and ash bands, and the two end staves form the handles. This type of basket was traditionally used in the fields, to take feed to cattle and to collect potatoes and apples after harvesting. Devon stave baskets were made on a jig to five standard sizes, the larger of which were known as ‘maunds’. There are nine sizes in total. Jack made 1-5 and the size 9. 7, 8 and 9 are the maunds, with carved end stave handles. 1-6 have bent ash top handles. Sizes 4-9 all have an additional central band.
Jack Rowsell was one of the last people to make Devon stave baskets, having learnt the craft from his father. He died in 1997. Rowsell made the baskets in his spare time (rather than as a primary profession) for over 40 years and made about 25-50 a year which he sold.
The Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading holds detailed information on how to make the baskets, and has a set of slides showing the construction process. Much of this information is available to the public via the online catalogue (MERL 96/118).
Coppice management, timber selection, green woodworking skills, draftsmanship for producing jigs and templates.
The larger centrally banded baskets (4-6) and the baskets known as maunds (7-9) require different and additional skills, processes and tooling not necessary in the often made size 2. The size range and associated differences are a key characteristic of the stave basket, providing insights into the heritage of agricultural Devon as well as potential new markets and opportunities for practitioners to build on their skills.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- Raw materials: Ash dieback is a threat to the craft. It is likely that this resource will significantly reduce. Stave baskets require young ash which is particularly susceptible to the disease. Coupled with the decline of ash coppice in general, this is the largest threat. Whilst other species work tolerably well for the smaller sizes, ash is required for the longer banded maunds.
- Basketmakers’ Association
Craftspeople currently known
– knows how to make the baskets, but doesn’t make on a regular basis, and has original jigs.
- Steve Tomlin – won the 2018 HCA/Marsh Endangered Crafts Award to revive the craft of Devon stave basket making, and has trained with Mark.
- John Williamson – producing stave baskets in a range of sizes in their home county of Devon since 2019.
- Dominic Parrette – is teaching around 2 courses per year in Devon stave basket making at the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire.
- Hilary Burns – researcher