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
In 2020 Matt Robinson was awarded funding through the Endangered Craft Fund to train as a traditional sail maker with Ratsey & Lapthorn.
Matt had originally trained as a watersports instructor and grew up around boats – as he puts it, “you don’t really have much of a choice about that if you live on the Isle of Wight” – but felt that his passion was becoming a chore. He wanted to stay around boats and when the opportunity to be a sail maker came up, he realised that this could be the career for him; “the classic boats are amazing and so it ticked every box for me in what I wanted from a job. Working with my hands, being practical and keeping my brain busy”.
Matt started with some basic knowledge of leatherwork and hand sewn rings but, with the help of the Endangered Craft Fund, he was able to spend time shadowing master sail maker Gary and honing his skills. They have worked together on the classic yacht, Cynara and on a local boat Boojum, both with full classic sails. He is now working independently and feels confident enough to tackle classic sails.
Ratsey & Lapthorn owner Jim Hartley said that the financial assistance was invaluable, in that it enabled the business the time to train Matt properly. It allowed him to have some unproductive time where he wasn’t earning money and could focus on learning the skills. Matt says: “It has been very successful. There is always something that I am learning. That’s what I like about it. Every day is interesting, every sail is different”.
Jim is very positive about the future of traditional sail making at Ratsey & Lapthorn but he is also keen to stress how important it is that businesses invest in skills and the next generation of craftspeople. Their main competitor has recently retired and, with no succession plan or anyone to pass the skills on to, the business has simply closed. The loss of those skills are a loss to the craft.
Matt and Jim are already looking to the future and they hope to take on more trainees who will benefit from Matt’s expertise, thus ensuring the continuity of these otherwise disappearing skills and help in future proofing a business that is part of our maritime history. Matt says:
“I can’t think of any better way to learn than the way that I have done it. Lots of people like practical work. For the next people coming through it’s going to be even better because they will have both me and Gary to learn from. We all have our own ways of doing things and that makes our skills even better as a team.”
- Project funding: £2,000 from the Heritage Crafts Endangered Craft Fund
- Project aim: To create a project that will enable apprentice Matt to develop the hand skills required to move from a basic sailmaker to being a classic craftsman in sail making, thus ensuring the continuity of these otherwise disappearing skills and help in future proofing a business that is part of our maritime history.
Apprentice sailmaker Matt. Photo copyright Ratsey & Lapthorne.
An apprentice sail maker, boot tree maker and folding knife 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 (HCA), which last year published the second edition of its groundbreaking HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts, has awarded a further eight grants from its Endangered Crafts Fund, which was launched in July 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 Allchurches Trust and The Radcliffe Trust. The eight successful recipients are:
- Ratsey & Lapthorne – to train an apprentice sail maker to craftsman level while making sails for a historic yacht (Isle of Wight).
- Horace Batten – to train an apprentice boot tree maker who will go on to work in-house at the boot making firm (Northamptonshire).
- Michael May – to equip his folding knife making apprentice with the tools he needs to learn all aspects of the trade (Sheffield).
- Justine Burgess – to train in Teifi and Tywi coracle making so that she can pass on the skills to others (Carmarthen).
- Eve Eunson – to record the skills of Fair Isle straw back chair making in a film that can be used to train others (Shetland).
- Coates Willow – to forge new tools for an apprentice working with one of the last practicing basketwork furniture makers (Somerset).
- Tom Boulton – to do a feasibility study into creating new wooden type for letterpress printing using CNC machining (West Sussex).
- Lorna Singleton – to buy a boiler and swiller’s mares (a special type of shave horse) to enable her to teach oak swill basket making to small groups (Cumbria).
Oak swill basket. Photo copyright Lorna Singleton.
These eight projects follow five awarded in the previous round, covering the endangered crafts of scissor making, damask weaving, cockle basket making, neon bending and fan making. Again the fund was massively 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:
“When we first published the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts the task of safeguarding so many at-risk skills seemed overwhelming. Thanks to the support of our donors and funders like Allchurches Trust and The Radcliffe Trust we now have thirteen projects underway, but there is still so much to do to ensure that future generations can continue to benefit from this important part of our culture.”
The Endangered Crafts Fund has been set up thanks to a number of generous donations from organisations including Allchurches Trust and The Radcliffe Trust, as well as individuals, who have donated sums from £5 right up to several thousands of pounds.
Paul Playford, who heads up the heritage grants programme at Allchurches Trust, said:
“It’s fascinating to see the wide range of endangered craftspeople and places that are represented in the latest Endangered Crafts Fund cohort, and we’re proud that our funding will help ensure that these at-risk crafts can be handed down, along with the tools and training needed to enable their protection in the longer term. We’re looking forward to hearing more from these skilled craftspeople as they develop their skills and hope to play our part in telling their story, raising awareness of ancient practices that are so important to preserve for future generations and hopefully inspiring others to follow their lead.”
The HCA has also announced that its President HRH The Prince of Wales has established a new award for endangered crafts. Each year the President’s Award for Endangered Crafts will present £3,000 to a heritage craftsperson who will use the funding to ensure that craft skills are passed on. The Award will be presented at a special reception at Dumfries House, home of The Prince’s Foundation, as well as at a prestigious winners’ reception at the Houses of Parliament. Applications are invited via www.heritagecrafts.org.uk/presidentsaward by Friday 1 May 2020.
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 – for more information visit www.heritagecrafts.org.uk/ecf. Applications for grants are accepted on a rolling basis, with the next deadline for consideration 28 August 2020.
Lovely little film about British sailmaker Chris Spencer Chapman from Salcombe, Devon, directed by his daughter Hazel.
The making of sails for boats and other vessels, with specific reference to the hand-stitching of the rope around the edges of the sail.
|Historic area of significance
|UK (coastal regions)
|Area currently practised
|UK (coastal regions)
|Origin in the UK
|Current no. of professionals (main income)
|21-50 (See ‘Other information’ section for more details)
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
Sailmaking goes back centuries and can be seen in many ancient civilisations such as the Pacific Islanders and the Egyptians. Sails have developed enormously over the years, made originally from flax (linen), then cotton (the best being Sudanese or Egyptian Cotton) and more recently from man made polyester derived fabrics, Essentially the process has remained similar, to provide a robust and stable expanse of cloth that will create and keep a shape to provide horizontal lift to propel a boat.
Sailmaking can be dated as far back as the Vikings but as an industry we would recognise it came to prominence in the 15th century particularly with the creation and ascendancy of the Navy.
Techniques include ‘lofting’ on a floor with strings and battens, creating broadseaming and edge curves to make a controlled aerofoil shape in the sail, then building it using both machine and hand sewing.
Classic sailmaking has additional ‘finishing’ techniques such as hand worked rings, leatherwork, ropework, rat tailing etc. This not only provides strength and protection but is aesthetically pleasing to the classic yachts.
Classic sailmaking as practised by Ratsey and Lapthorn is a niche area of general sailmaking that requires far more hand working and traditional craft. As opposed to more mechanised processes in general sailmaking. James Lawrence sailmakers in Essex is the only other significant exponent of this craft in the UK
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Technology: Sail panels have been sewn together with machines for 150 years. The majority of hand-sewing involves the edging and other details on the sails. Even where the sails are sewn by hand machines or by hand the design is usually computer-produced and sent to a computerised cutting machine. The parts come back as a jigsaw to be sewn in whatever way is decided. Apart from individuals making the odd sail, there are no firms dedicated to hand-made sails.
Market issues: Many people would like to have sails made traditionally, but very few are willing to pay the price of someone working eight hours a day hand-sewing. The exception might be a restoration project financed by public or charitable funds. The future will depend on builders and restorers of traditional boats being willing to spend the extra money for authenticity.
Training and skills issues: There are still people able to make sails by hand, but they are not being replaced as they retire. There is virtually no training, although some traditional sail making is taught as part of boatbuilding courses, usually by visiting tutors. A young person wanting to start in traditional sail making would need to join a mechanised firm that might have a branch doing traditional work, or find one of the few ‘old boys’ who still know the craft.
Craftspeople currently known
- Orkney College, Scotland: Led by Mark Shiner. A practical week comes at the end of a period of
online study covering traditional sail design theory and lofting skills which do not rely on
computer aided design (CAD), but on ancient rules and measuring practices. Includes traditional
hand finishing techniques. Mark also runs day
workshops at traditional maritime events and other venues.
- Boat Building Academy, Lyme Regis: Led by Mark Matthews. Includes, making and repair.
- MM Sail solutions – Mark Matthews: teaches sail making and repair courses
Status: Traditional sail making is considered to be vulnerable. While the numbers are relatively small (opinions differ as to whether there are 11-20 or 21-50 skilled craftspeople), there are a reasonable number doing it and while craftspeople may not be in their 20s, not everyone is over the age of 60.
The Maritime Studies Department at Orkney College in the Orkney Islands, Scotland runs a traditional sail making course. The course features traditional handwork, sewn eyelets and cringles, working with both traditional canvas and modern sailcloth. Course leader Mark Shiner is in discussion with the current sail making industry about a national qualification for new-start sailmakers.
Modern industrial sail making employs will over 100 people.