A coppersmith, a Highland thatcher and a trainee sailmaker are among the recipients of a new round of grants to help safeguard some of UK’s most endangered craft skills.
Heritage Crafts has awarded the grants through its Endangered Crafts Fund, which was launched in 2019 to increase the likelihood of at-risk craft skills surviving into the next generation. Five of this round’s grants are funded by The Radcliffe Trust and were selected with special consideration of the impact of the energy crisis on our most vulnerable crafts.
In 2021 Heritage Crafts published the third edition of its groundbreaking Red List of Endangered Crafts, the first research of its kind to rank the UK’s traditional crafts by the likelihood that they will survive into the next generation. The report assessed 244 crafts to ascertain those which are at greatest risk of disappearing, of which four were classified as extinct, 74 as ‘endangered’ and a further 56 as ‘critically endangered’. A new edition will be published on 11 May 2023.
The seven successful recipients are:
- Scot AnSgeulaiche from Perthshire, to train an apprentice in the craft of Highlands and Islands thatching and encourage the use of locally-grown thatching materials.
- Birgit Frietman and Robyn Smith from London, to set up a hub for horn working in London and reduce their carbon footprint by completing more processes in-house.
- James Slaven from Glasgow, to train in sailmaking with Mark Shiner and set up a workshop at the GalGael Trust making and repairing sails and repurposing old sailcloth.
- Steve Hogarth from Derbyshire, to add the skills of leadworking and flint masonry to his steeplejack business, maintaining the usefulness of traditional buildings without the impact of scaffolding.
- Samantha Dennis from Shetland, to catalogue and replicate historical coiled baskets of Shetland and create a market for small crofters to sell locally-grown oat straw.
- John Wills from Northamptonshire, to set up a tinsmithing and coppersmithing workshop that will also provide teaching, using renewable charcoal to heat the traditional soldering coppers.
- Nicholas Konradsen from Lincolnshire, to research and make Lincolnshire bagpipes in a new workshop with more energy-efficient equipment.
These seven projects follow 50 others awarded in previous rounds, covering endangered crafts such as clockmaking, tinsmithing, kiltmaking and many more. Along with The Radcliffe Trust, which has been the major funder in this round, other funders have included The Sussex Heritage Trust, The Pilgrim Trust, The Dulverton Trust, The Swire Charitable Trust and others, as well as individuals who have donated sums from £5 right up to several thousands of pounds.
As usual the fund was oversubscribed, and Heritage Crafts hopes to work with many of the unsuccessful candidates to identify other funding and support opportunities.
Mary Lewis, Heritage Crafts Endangered Crafts Manager, said:
“The current energy crisis means that our craft skills are at more risk than ever before. We are delighted to be working in partnership with the Radcliffe Trust and other funders to address the specific challenges being faced by endangered crafts practitioners at this time.”
View the full list of the 57 grants awarded to date
The working of lead, particularly for heritage building work, in roofs and flashings.
|Historic area of significance
|Area currently practised
|Origin in the UK
|Current no. of professionals (main income)
|21-50* (data under review)
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
* Heritage Crafts are planning to review this data in consultation with the sector in 2023-2024
Lead has been used since antiquity. The Romans used lead casting techniques to construct water pipes, and in England the Worshipful Company of Plumbers received its Ordinances in 1365.
Lead can be easily melted, cast, jointed and decorated which makes it suitable for a wide range of uses. Decorative plumbing leadwork was used for rainwater pipe heads, down pipes, soil, vent and waste water pipes, as well as other lead elements such as gutters, strainers and supplementary lead cellar bin labels, sculpture or plaques. After the dissolution of the monasteries, decorative leadwork was principally confined to the embellishment of country houses. In the eighteenth century leadwork was added to churches in a more reserved fashion and it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that there was a resurgence of interest in decorative architectural leadwork (P T J Rumley).
Traditional leadworking skills include: Such traditional skills include wiped soldered joints (underhand, upright, splash joints), lead pipe fabrication, gilding, wrought lead, tinning, soldering, pipe bending, repoussé work, casting (in all its forms), incised work, filigreé work etc.
Solder wiping: Solder is melted in crucible and the hot metal is ladled around the prepared joint with one hand, while a moleskin cloth is used in the other hand to work the hot solder. This technique is dying out.
Lead burning: A more modern technique, dating from circa 1900, in which a fine flame from an acetylene blowtorch is used to melt the lead and fuse the two pieces together at the same temperature. It is possible to cut out a section of the defective lead and lead burn (or weld) in a new piece.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Training issues: All training in plumbing leadwork ceased around 1950, when copper was becoming more prevalent, and today technical colleges have thrown out traditional leadworking in favour of copper and plastic installation techniques. The colleges have discarded all their traditional leadworking plumbing tools and there are no lecturers or craftsmen to teach the skills except two or three old plumbers. The Lead Sheet Association and Lead Contractors’ Association run a ‘heritage training course’ but this concentrates on replacing new lead on historic buildings and not the training of conservation of historic leadwork and those traditional plumbing skills associated with it.
Lack of awareness: The architects, surveyors and specifiers do not understand historic leadwork as they have no training in this niche area.
Loss of skills: There traditional plumbing craft skills training associated with decorative leadwork have almost completely disappeared. The craft skill set required for the plumber is wider ranging than for lead sheet roofing.
Ageing workforce: Within another 5-10 years the senior practitioners who may have had training in traditional plumbing craft skills will have passed away and the skills lost.
Craftspeople currently known
Listed buildings are protected by law and plumbing leadwork repairs have to be done on a like for like basis. However, modern lead welding has taken over wiped points and soldering (as few people can do these skills) and this changers the character of the piece.
The basic principle of good architectural conservation is to preserve as much of the original fabric as possible by only undertaking work that is essential to a building’s survival. Where fabric has deteriorated, effective and honest repair should be the first consideration. Replacement is the last resort (P T J Rumley).
- Rumley, Peter T J, ‘Church Leadwork’
- Rumley, Peter T J, ‘An Important Heritage Initiative’, Historic House, Summer 2012
- Rumley, Peter T J, (2006) The Conservation of Decorative Leadwork, Technical Pamphlet 17 (SPAB)
- Rumley, Peter T J, Plumbing Leadwork: Joints and Pipes (SPAB)