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Heritage Crafts and The Royal Mint award five craft bursaries

The Royal MintEarlier this year The Royal Mint and Heritage Crafts announced their partnership to award four bursaries to preserve and champion traditional craft skills related to precious metals.

Heritage Crafts and The Royal Mint received 80 applications from aspiring precious metal crafters, keen to learn from some of the greatest craftspeople across the United Kingdom. Following shortlisting and interviews, five successful recipients were selected, all of whom show huge potential but require additional support in order to progress their careers. The additional bursary was added at the discretion of The Royal Mint, following a very close and competitive application and interview process.

Later this year, The Royal Mint will open an additional bursary scheme for those looking to hone their skills precious metals and learn from some of the best in the industry.

The five successful applicants of the bursary scheme will benefit from up to £4,000 in funding each, as well as having the opportunity to spend time with The Royal Mint’s master craftspeople, including Gordon Summers, Chief Engraver, and Paul Morgan, The King’s Assay Master.

Precious metal bursary recipients 2023 Claire Mooney from Newry, Northern Ireland, and Caius Bearder from Glasgow will train in silver spinning with Sheffield-based Warren Martin. Silver spinning is the process of shaping a flat silver disk into a hollow item on a lathe, shaping it over a former known as a ‘spinning chuck’. It is a critically endangered craft on Heritage Crafts’ Red List of Endangered Crafts with fewer than 15 practitioners in the UK. Claire will use her new skills to offer one-off and production work to silversmiths across the UK and Ireland. Caius will use the skills he learns to help reduce the production costs of his beautiful engraved silver vessels which have until now been laboriously hand raised.

Iona Hall from Bristol and Emma-Jane Rule from Leicester will train with Kent-based silversmith Ray Walton. Both will spend their time with Ray making silver boxes, with Iona focusing on various techniques of hinge construction and Emma-Jane specialising in chasing and repoussé, the process of shaping silver by hammering from the reverse side to create a design in low relief. Iona plans to take her box making to the highest level, creating unusual objects that evoke a strong emotional connection. Emma-Jane is a second-career silversmith who plans to combine commercial practice with teaching the craft to others.

Rosie Elwood from Whitley Bay, Tyneside, is a jewellery maker who will train in the craft of metal thread embroidery with goldwork embroiderer Hanny Newton and through various short courses offered by the Royal School of Needlework. Rosie plans to incorporate goldwork embroidery into her jewellery, as well as seeking employment in the embroidery itself. The manufacture of metal thread is another critically endangered craft in the UK, and Rosie’s work will help raise awareness of this unique material.

The Royal Mint’s expertise in precious metals spans over a thousand years. Known as the home of precious metals in the UK, The Royal Mint offer products including gold, silver and platinum commemorative coins, bars for investment, and a digital gold saving option, backed by metal held in their vault. Last year they announced plans to build a factory to recover precious metals from electronic waste, currently active at lab level. Recovered metal is being used to create beautiful jewellery pieces in their latest business venture, 886 by The Royal Mint.

Paul Morgan, The King’s Assay Master said:

“As an exemplar of British craftsmanship, we believe we have a duty to promote, protect and celebrate British craftsmanship. I am extremely proud to announce the successful recipients of the bursary scheme in partnership with Heritage Crafts. Our long-term mission is to spearhead the resurgence of precious metals craftsmanship in the UK. By doing this we hope to provide more job opportunities for future generations and offer a more sustainable, viable manufacturing alternative to international suppliers – qualities which are increasingly important.”

Daniel Carpenter, Executive Director of Heritage Crafts, said:

“Our partnership with The Royal Mint speaks to the very core of our mission in safeguarding and celebrating traditional craft skills as being of vital importance to the cultural, social and economic life of the UK. We are thrilled to have joined together to enable Claire, Caius, Iona, Emma-Jane and Rosie to overcome the barriers they faced and set them on the path to mastering their chosen crafts.”

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Photo credits:

  • Claire Mooney (top) by Ruairí Jordan
  • Emma-Jane Rule (second from bottom) by Yatish Chavda Photography

Metal thread making business for sale

William Kentish BarnesThe Golden Threads workshop in East Sussex, one of only two remaining UK producers of metal threads for embroidery, is currently up for sale as a going concern, as owners William and Diana Kentish Barnes plan to retire.

Metal thread making, which is used extensively in military dress uniforms, as well as church altar frontals and vestments, has been listed as ‘critically endangered’ on the Heritage Crafts Association’s groundbreaking HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts since 2017. The Red List is the first research of its kind to rank the UK’s traditional crafts by the likelihood that they will survive into the next generation.

Golden Threads, which is described by the current owners as thriving, has a worldwide customer base and potential for growth. The successful purchaser will be provided with training in the craft of metal thread making and receive ongoing support from the current owners in an advisory capacity.

For more information about the sale, email HCA Endangered Crafts Officer Mary Lewis at mary@heritagecrafts.org.uk.

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Metal thread making

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Metal thread making

 

The making of metal threads for embroidery.

 

Status Critically endangered (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Craft category Precious metals
Historic area of significance
Area currently practised Bedworth, Warwickshire
Origin in the UK
Current no. of professionals (main income) 1-5
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
0
Current no. of trainees 0
Current total no. serious amateur makers
0
Current total no. of leisure makers
0
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Metallic embroidery threads are made using round or flattened wire, usually gold, silver or copper, which may or may not have a core of another material. Machines are used to plait and combine the wire. Metallic threads are used for embroidery, particularly in historical costumes, the theatre, and for insignia. The Royal School of Needlework’s training in gold thread embroidery also provides a big market.

 

Techniques

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Training issues: there are no trainees in the craft.
  • Training issues/business issues: cost of training an apprentice and their wages, whilst also paying full time employees still have two full time people.
  • Market issues: competition from low-wage economies in Pakistan and India.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

  • Benton & Johnson (part of Toye, Kenning and Spencer), Birmingham – 3 full-time staff, one of whom is due to retire
  • Golden Threads – This has been recently taken over by Alex Birdwood who has been trained in metal thread manufacture by William Kentish Barnes.

 

Other information

  • Status: Metal thread making has always been a very small industry, but while the numbers involved are small the two firms are both doing well.

 

References

Bevan, Katy, ‘Gold Standard’, Selvedge, 79, November/December 2017:  P30 – p33

Article on Toye, Kenning & Spencer: Wallop, Harry (8 April 2012). “A trip back in time to our industrial heritage at Toye, Kenning & Spencer”. The Daily Telegraph. London, UK.

A tour of the Benton & Johnson factory by Catherine of Hill View Embroidery

Video clip of the Toye, Kenning & Spencer Factory in 2014: From Hidden Histories. Britains oldest Family businesses. Episode 2 of 3:  Toye the Medal Maker. 2014. BBC.

Account of conservation of a piece of medieval goldwork, with great information about threads and techniques: Zenzie Tinker, 2016.