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.
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.
The management of hedgerows by partially cutting through the stems, laying them over and weaving them together to produce a thick living barrier, which re-grows from the base.
Historic area of significance
Area currently practised
UK, mainly in livestock areas
Origin in the UK
Over 2,000 years
Most people will be familiar with the theory that hedge laying began thousands of years ago with the first farmers; from archaeological evidence we know that these ancient people were very skilled at using hazel and other materials to make hurdles and wattle fencing, there is of course no evidence remaining to illustrate their skills at hedge laying. The first positive record of hedge laying is found in the book by Thomas Tusser (1557-1580) where he makes a passing reference to hedge laying or ‘plashing’. The word comes from the French to cut, as in ‘pleaching’, but plashing is certainly not hedge laying as we know it, and simply indicates awareness that hedges needed to be managed. John Fitzherbert in 1573 gives a much more detailed description of cutting and laying.
Not until 1652 is there a real reference to hedge laying when Gervase Markham in his book records that there are different styles of ‘plashing’ in different parts of the country; this was simply a reflection of different people interpreting the practice in their own way to suit local circumstances. Thomas Hale’s book of husbandry in 1757 makes the first mention of using stakes in the hedge, where he urges the husbandman to survey the hedge before he starts work, picking out the straight stems to be used for the hedge and then cutting others to use as stakes where there is insufficient material to strengthen the hedge.
The Agricultural Revolution, which gathered momentum from the mid 18th century, saw many developments in agricultural practice and one of the ploughman’s responsibilities was to look after the hedges and ensure that they were stock proof, not so much to keep livestock in, but to prevent them encroaching on valuable food crops.
There is no indication of ‘style’ developing until the 19th century, when in the age of large estates, vying with each other to show off their wealth owners began to demand the best of their workmen; estates developed their own styles. It was not until the end of the 19th century that the styles we know were invented, growing not from regular agricultural work but from competitions. Judging at these competitions was a very subjective affair done by respected craftsman from the area. Their preferences for particular ways of laying were well known and so competitors adopted techniques to suit the judges, thus various styles developed which although related to agricultural practice in the area perhaps owed more to the judges at particular ploughing societies rather than to scientific study.
The advent of the First World War had a devastating effect on agriculture in general. Shortage of labour and demand for food meant that many of the niceties of managing the land were neglected. After the war a continuing shortage of labour and an economic downturn exacerbated the situation. The war had introduced an economical alternative to hedgerow management – barbed wire – invented in the USA in the 1880s and it soon became an economical alternative to good hedges. The Second World War lead to a further decline in hedgerow management and hedge laying on farms was now far less significant although the skills were being maintained by the many competitions which continued to flourish.
After the Second World War the demand for food created a major change in agricultural techniques, hedgerows were no longer considered of any value. Hedge laying was a costly and unnecessary process which could be replaced simply and cheaply by running barbed wire around a field, attaching it to any tree or shrub that was available. Tractor mounted flails were introduced which could trim a hedgerow to manageable proportions very easily.
Not until the late 1960s was there a general awareness of the damage that was being done to the countryside, and the alarm bells were sounding all over the country, with an increasing demand for tighter control of agriculture and the environment. It took another ten years before legislation was introduced to protect hedgerows and attention was once again drawn to hedgerow management techniques.
There are different styles of hedgelaying across parts of the UK. Each style has been developed over many years to cope with the climate of the area, different farming practices and the type of trees and shrubs that grow in the hedge.
Hedges consist of different species of trees and bushes including hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, oak, sycamore, ash and field maple and others. So they need to be treated by different techniques which gives rise to the many varied styles across the country. There are more than thirty styles recorded in the UK plus others in France, Germany and Holland.