Craig and Rebecca Struthers. Photo by Richard Ivey.
Birmingham-based watchmaker Rebecca Struthers has won the 2021 HCA President’s Award for Endangered Crafts. The prestigious award, and £3,000 bursary, was initiated by Heritage Crafts Association President HRH The Prince of Wales.
The HCA was set up 11 years ago as a national charity to support and safeguard heritage crafts skills, and has become well known for its Red List of Endangered Crafts, the first research of its kind to rank traditional crafts in the UK by the likelihood they would survive the next generation.
The President’s Award trophy was presented to Dr Struthers at a special presentation on Friday 10 September 2021, hosted by The Prince’s Foundation, one of the country’s major providers of training in traditional building skills. The Prince of Wales was in attendance at the presentation, which also saw a trophy awarded to 2020 winners, Paul Jacobs and Jonathan Reid from Ernest Wright Scissors, whose presentation was unable to proceed last year due to COVID restrictions.
HCA President’s Award
Between 1630 and 1890, England was the centre of global watchmaking, home to many of the world’s most celebrated watchmakers. By 1793, twenty thousand London watchmakers were part of the city’s population of one million inhabitants, representing around one fiftieth of the population. Today watchmaking is listed as critically endangered on the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts.
Dr Rebecca Struthers is Director and watchmaker of a traditional watchmaking workshop and studio in Birmingham alongside husband and fellow master watchmaker Craig. They use traditional methods, materials and techniques in the restoration of vintage and antique watches as well as the production of her own timepieces. She is the first, and currently only, watchmaker in the UK to earn a PhD in horology.
Award winners with HRH The Prince of Wales. Photo by Richard Ivey.
Dr Struthers is a Fellow of the British Horological Institute and Royal Society of Arts, a Trustee of the Museum of Timekeeping in Newark, and a Jury Member of the Academy, Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. She has received over a dozen awards over the years for her craft, design, entrepreneurship and research, and her work has appeared in a range of media including the BBC, New York Times and Wall Street Journal. She is currently writing a non-fiction book for Hodder & Stoughton on the history of time, told through watches, and the way in which they have influenced societies and cultures around the world.
Dr Struthers plans to use the prize to create a free-to-use educational website for anyone with an interest in learning the art of watchmaking. It would list training opportunities and facilities, and allow people to share projects they are currently working on and seek advice and feedback from a watchmaking community. It would also share useful technical information and charts, articles, a reference library and short videos on her own techniques for others to learn from.
Winner Dr Rebecca Struthers said:
“As independent makers the high costs of training a full-time apprentice means that even if it were possible, the apprentice’s pay would be so low that it would be prohibitive to people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. The President’s Award has provided us with the foundation to start something we hope will help to break down these boundaries and allow us to share what we do for free, in a manageable way for us. To have such a prestigious beginning for this project is an invaluable start!”
HCA Chair Patricia Lovett MBE said:
“Many people know HRH The Prince of Wales as being a long-time supporter and champion of traditional craft skills, and his passion is all too evident through initiatives such as the HCA President’s Award and The Prince’s Foundation. Dr Struthers and Ernest Wright Scissors are immensely deserving winners and we know that in their hands the prizes will provide a massive boost to the outlook of these critically endangered crafts.”
Jonathan Reid and Paul Jacobs from Ernest Wright Scissors. Photo by Richard Ivey.
2020 winner Ernest Wright scissor makers 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 the prize used to repair machinery so that their putter-in-training can learn the craft from Cliff and Eric.
In 2019 the highly skilled scissor maker Grace Horne received funding from the Endangered Craft Fund to develop an experimental approach to scissor making that combines the modern technology of water jet cutting with the older technology of drop forging. The aim was to create cheaper but high-quality scissor blanks that could be used to teach scissor making to a wider range of people and to make small runs of blanks for manufacture.
The initial stages of the project went to plan. A die was made by Footprint Tools Ltd and tested by Josh Burrell with his Massey drop hammer. The unusual requirements of a piece of machinery that is no longer industry standard (and hasn’t been for a generation) required a learning process and the first blanks were nearly, but not quite, good enough for production. More tweaks were required… but then Covid 19 hit and work ground to a halt.
The impact on Grace’s business was dramatic. She was forced to put her professional practice on hold for a year and took on unrelated work to pay the bills. She describes the frustration of trying to run a craft business during lockdown:
“I don’t get the feedback, support and the feeling of community that I used to. It is much harder to engage with people, such as engineers, in order to make refinements to the design. This is worse when they are people that you haven’t worked with before. The process of innovation and developing ideas is much slower because it is difficult to maintain a dialogue and to communicate the subtleties. Ultimately, sharing online and through images just doesn’t replace handling the objects and communicating directly.”
Despite attempts to refine the process using images and videos, Josh and Grace found it impossible to deal with the issues without getting together to test it and resolve the problems.
It isn’t all bad news though! Grace is confident that the issues will be easy to overcome when restrictions are lifted and the die will work. She is looking forward to being able to teach regular scissor making courses in partnership with Owen Bush at Bushfire Forge and she has also been approached by Hereford College to run blacksmithing masterclasses in scissor making, which will mean that many more people will have access to the exacting and skilled craft of scissor making.
When asked if the Endangered Craft Fund had helped Grace with her craft business, Grace replied: “the project has happened, and it wouldn’t have happened otherwise”. More people will be able to make scissors and more scissors will be manufactured.
“The fact that I received the money and committed to the project was a stimulus to get it done. But it’s not just the injection of cash that is important, it is the fact that someone else is interested that validates the idea. It has given me the space to do something that could have failed.”
Grace also commented that the support and verbal reporting process of the project gave her an opportunity for reflection and evaluation that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.
“This is something that many craftspeople won’t take the time to do, and would probably resent taking the time to do. It is great that the HCA take the written evaluation part out of the process, whilst still offering an opportunity for reflection. I am not a paper person. The reflective process is so valuable but we (craftspeople) wouldn’t usually do it because we wouldn’t want to write it. This is a barrier to many creative people.”
Project funding: £2,000 from the HCA Endangered Craft Fund
Project aim: To develop a process for scissor making that will reduce costs and make it more accessible to trainees.
Top photo: Grace Horne
Middle photo: One of Grace’s scissor designs
Bottom photo: Massey drop hammer with test scissor blank
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.
Paul Jacobs with master putter-togetherers Cliff Denton and Eric Stones of Ernest Wright scissor makers. Photo by Carl Whitham.
A scissor maker, a paper maker and an industrial ceramics practitioner have been selected as the three finalists from a shortlist of eight, as part of the inaugural President’s Award for Endangered Crafts, established by HRH The Prince of Wales, President of the Heritage Crafts Association.
A judging panel featuring Patrick Grant (Great British Sewing Bee / Norton & Sons / Community Clothing), Mark Hedges (Country Life), Kate Hobhouse (Fortnum & Mason), Simon Sadinsky (Prince’s Foundation) and Patricia Lovett MBE (Heritage Crafts Association) made the final selection from a strong field of applicants that not only testified to the excellence of British craftsmanship but also provided a snapshot of the precarious state of endangered craft skills in the UK today.
Jim Patterson and apprentice Zoe Collis of Two Rivers Paper. Photo by Sarah Ward.
The Heritage Crafts Association published the latest edition of its groundbreaking HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts last year, which revealed that there are 107 endangered crafts in the UK. Included were the eight crafts featured in the shortlist: scissor making, commercial handmade paper making, industrial pottery skills, oak swill basket making, wheelwrighting, kishie basket making, sail making and neon sign making.
The three finalists are:
Paul Jacobs – Ernest Wright scissor makers, Sheffield
Jim Patterson – Two Rivers Paper, Somerset
Helen Johannessen – industrial ceramics practitioner, London
The other five shortlisted candidates were:
Phill Gregson – wheelwright, Lancashire
James Hartley – Ratsey & Lapthorn sail makers, Isle of Wight
The three finalists’ applications will now be presented to HRH The Prince of Wales for his selection, with the winner to be honoured 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. The winner will also receive £3,000 to help ensure that their craft skills are passed on to the next generation.
HCA Chair Patricia Lovett said:
“We received a large number of very high-quality entries for this award, so being shortlisted was a huge achievement. The fact that we are blessed to have such highly skilled craftspeople in the UK should not allow us to forget the fact that, without more people taking up these crafts and the infrastructure and funding to support them, these skills could soon be consigned to history, in what would be a terrible loss to British cultural life.”
Judge Patrick Grant said:
“It was a joy to judge… I find myself wanting to do all of these things!”
A new mobile facility to teach neon bending and the restoration of one of the last surviving damask looms are among the projects that have recently received funds to help ensure a better future for some of the UK’s most endangered crafts.
The Heritage Crafts Association (HCA), which earlier this year published the latest edition of its groundbreaking HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts, has awarded the first five grants from its Endangered Crafts Fund, launched in July 2019 to increase the likelihood of endangered crafts surviving into the next generation.
The first five recipients of the HCA Endangered Crafts Fund are:
Grace Horne, scissor maker – to create dies for the production of hot drop-forged scissor blanks that can be used by Grace and other makers to produce bespoke scissors.
Deborah White, damask weaver – to restore and use a loom to teach damask weaving to a new generation of weavers.
Clare Revera, basket maker – to develop and teach a Level 3 City & Guilds course on rare and endangered basket making skills at Westhope College.
Richard Wheater, neon bender – to build a mobile neon bombarding and vacuum facility to teach neon bending to beginners and intermediate trainees.
Kate Colin, fan maker – to develop the technical skills of fan making with a view to teaching the craft in future.
The fund was hugely 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:
“We have been overwhelmed by so many wonderful applications and while we wish we had the funds to support them all, we are delighted to have been able to choose projects that we hope will provide future generations with an array of craft skills to which they might not otherwise have access.”
The Endangered Crafts Fund has been set up thanks to a number of generous donations from individuals, from as little as £5 right up to several thousands of pounds. The HCA is now seeking further donations to save even more of Britain’s most endangered crafts from oblivion.
Donations to the Endangered Crafts Fund 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 29 February 2020. For more information about the fund, email HCA Endangered Crafts Officer Mary Lewis at email@example.com.