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Ladder making

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Ladder making

 

The making of timber ladders.

 

Status Endangered
Historic area of significance
Area currently practised
Origin in the UK
Current no. of professionals (main income) 6-10 (in two businesses)
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees 1 (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers

 

History

Until the 1960s wooden ladders were widely manufactured in the UK. With the introduction of aluminium ladders the wooden ladder trade declined. There was still demand for the wooden type, but it was cheaper for customers to purchase on the second hand market – a supply that was plentiful with so many users converting to aluminium.

Today, Network Rail and many UK electricity companies will only use timber ladders as no other material does the job, ensuring that there is a market. Timber is non-conductive and is nicer to user in adverse weather than glassfibre (also non-conductive), and timber ladders are more economic because they can be easily repaired (rather than having to be replaced).

 

Techniques

Films showing the process of making a wooden ladder, along with technical drawings, can be found on the Heritage Crafts Association’s Wooden Ladder Making project website.

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

There is a strong and stable market for timber ladders. Network Rail and many UK electricity companies will only use timber ladders as no other material does the job, ensuring that there is a market. Timber is non-conductive and is nicer to user in adverse weather than glassfibre (also non-conductive), and timber ladders are more economic because they can be easily repaired (rather than having to be replaced).

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

Individual makers:

  • Stanley Clark, Northampton, now retired. As part of a Heritage Crafts Association training programme, Stanley passed on his skills in a workshop and there are now several people with the basic skills to make bespoke wooden ladders completely by hand.

Crafts businesses that employ two or more makers:

  • A Bratt & Son Ltd, founded in 1895. Make timber steps, ladders and platforms (as well as glassfibre, aluminium and steel ladders). Make timber ladders for the electricity industry and for fruit picking, as well as specialist ladders for bespoke commissions. Have 12 people in the factory, 3-4 of whom specialise in timber ladders, and one trainee. Make timber ladders to British Standard kitemarks.
  • LFI, Gloucestershire. Make some timber ladders, as well as aluminium and steel ladders.

It is believed that there are also one or two companies who repair timber ladders.

 

Other information

Number of trainees: A Bratt & Son Ltd have one trainee who will learn all aspects of the ladder making trade (including timber, glassfibre, aluminium and steel). In 2014, 10 experienced woodworkers took part in a workshop to make a wooden ladder with Stanley Clark, a retired timber ladder maker which was recorded. While this was only a short course, the basic skills have been transferred.

 

References

Save our Skills Appeal

Until the 1960’s many wooden ladders were made in the UK, one of the largest makers being John Ward and Son Ladder Makers, where Stanley learnt his craft. Overnight with the introduction of aluminium ladders the wooden ladder making trade died. There was demand for the wooden type but it was cheaper for these customers to purchase in the second hand market – a supply that was plentiful with so many users converting to aluminium.

Fifty years later there is still demand for wooden ladders, from historic buildings, open air museums and heritage craftspeople such as thatchers. However, the supply has now dried up as the old ones reach the end of their lifespan and no new ones have been made. The issue was highlighted last year when BBC TV wished to film a ladder maker for their Edwardian Farm program but none were to be found. At the time we launched this appeal, we knew of no practising ladder makers in the UK (but read more below).

But, the knowledge and experience still remains with at least one man, and he is willing to help. In 2014 HCA will organise a two day workshop so Stanley can pass on his skills to professional woodworkers. The workshop will be filmed and an instructional film produced so that these rare skills can be disseminated further via the internet. Stanley has also produced a series of paintings and written on the subject which we would publish to further preserve the craft for the future.

We are aware of other crafts which need support, and welcome donations to continue this work.

An update on wooden laddermaking, August 2014.  In part as a result of taking this project forwards, we are now aware of several people who make pole ladders ‘for fun’, and several companies who continue to make standard leaning ladders from timber, timber stepladders and timber loft ladders.  We are also aware of one company making pole ladders, LFI (http://www.britishladders.co.uk) – although they do not appear to offer the bespoke laddermaking which is one of the advantages of wooden ladders.