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Eight more grants awarded to help save endangered crafts

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 copy

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.

Trainee sought to help secure the endangered craft of boot tree making

Boot treeHorace Batten Bootmakers in Northamptonshire is currently seeking a trainee boot tree maker to help secure the future of its business, whilst at the same time safeguarding an endangered craft skill.

The making of lasts and trees (wooden formers around which shoes and boots are made and stored) has been listed as endangered on the Heritage Crafts Association’s groundbreaking HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts, the second edition of which was published last year. 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.

Horace Batten Bootmakers has been making traditional riding and fashion boots since 1804. Its skilled workforce operates from a workshop in rural Northamptonshire, the home of quality boot and shoe making for centuries. This traineeship will provide a rare and unique opportunity for the successful candidate to learn from an expert in the field of wooden tree making, eventually taking on a bulk of this work for the company.

Applications are invited from people who aspire to a high level of skill in woodworking. Experience in last or model making and an understanding of shoe and boot making are also desirable. The trainee is required for an immediate start for three days per week, with a view to it becoming a full time position and lifelong career following successful training.

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

Download the press release

Shoe and boot last and tree making

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Shoe and boot last and tree making

 

The making of shoe-shaped lasts in wood on which a shoe is designed and made and shoe/boot trees to keep the shape and prolong the life of footwear (see also shoe and boot making).

 

Status Endangered
Historic area of significance Northampton and London
Area currently practised Eastbourne and Northampton
Origin in the UK 15th century
Current no. of professionals (main income) 6-10 estimated

1 making fully-custom lasts for sale;
11-20 in-house shoe/boot makers customising lasts from blanks known as rough-turns (see ‘Other information’);
1-5 shoe tree makers;
1-2 boot tree makers.

Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
1-5
Current no. of trainees 1-5 (Horace Batten Boots have 1 trainee tree maker)
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Unknown, but short hobby courses are available
Current total no. of leisure makers
Unknown, but short hobby courses are available

 

History

Until the 19th century fairly basic straight lasts were used for both left and right feet and not fitted very well. During the 1800s lasts began to be made for both feet and toe spring, heel heights and toe shapes were crafted and sized more accurately to individual foot measures.

 

Techniques

Lasts are cut on the bandsaw and turned on the lathe, and then worked by hand with rasps and files, with sand papering to finish.

There is also a long knife similar to a clog knife to hand cut which is rarely used today as models can be rough cut with a band saw or can be turned to form rough shapes.

 

Local forms

Individual shoemakers adapt old lasts and the variations are mainly in ways of taking measures of feet and adapting the measures so a shoe can be made on the resulting lasts shoe/boot trees have a number of style variations. Some shoe trees are not made any more at all as some component parts are no longer available.

 

Sub-crafts

Allied crafts:

  • Clog making has some hand work techniques and tools that are similar.
  • Shoemaking has a degree of crossover knowledge but often not much is actually known about either last making or shoe tree making.

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Everyone known in the trade is aged 50 years or above.
  • Only 1 trainee is currently known (Horace Batten)
  • Many people are unaware how shoes are made – fewer know what shoe/boot trees are.
  • There is a distinction to be made between factory best-fit approach for made-to-measure and expectation of factory produced shoes to be made on them and that of true custom bespoke last making.
  • Companies without in-house tree makers buy standard lasts manufactured by Springline or from cheaper overseas suppliers and adapt to fit – or in the case of trees do not offer them at all.
  • The cost of making from scratch is often a price companies and individuals are not willing to pay to support a last maker’s wage, never mind a profit to train another (hopefully) younger person.
  • The form of the last is specific to the size, model and shape of the shoes that is to be created on it, therefore when going into production, it is unreasonable to make them all in a bespoke fashion.
  • The work involved is time consuming and not cost effective to the customer unless the whole process through to the finished shoe is bespoke, leaving prices high and inaccessible for most.
  • Boot Tree-making is separate from last making and although are in the same vein, they are also seen as different areas as there are further skills involved specialising in the shape of the leg alongside the foot. Specifically involving making spring keys to fit certain leg shapes etc. Further to this, boot trees are seen as integral to the longevity of the boot (supports the leather of the leg to keep its shape after lots of wear on the horse) and therefore are a worthwhile investment alongside the bespoke boot. Shoe trees are also important, however riding boots get a harder life in the saddle and therefore the existence of boot trees directly supports the making of boots.
  • There are very few bespoke bootmakers and even fewer boot tree makers, one can not survive without the other. Investment has been made  in training new bootmakers by existing companies but tree making has continued solely by the few individual makers now at retirement age.

 

Support organisations

  • British Footwear Association – involved with a large government investment, but it is shoe-related not last and trees, even though they are within the scope of the trade. They also may pay trainees a wage but not the person training, who would lose already limited income to teach a trainee/apprentice.
  • UK Independent Shoemakers

The above organisations are shoemaking based and do not really know about or are involved in shoe last and shoe/boot tree craft.

  • Lastmaker House – Steven Lowe and Dominic Casey teach last making courses a few times a year. It is the only known course in the UK and the world and has attracted students from Australia, South Korea, Japan, Lebanon, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Thailand and the USA.
  • The Leathersellers’ Company
  • Worshipful Company of Cordwainers
  • QEST (Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust) offer financial support to craftspeople including lastmakers

 

Craftspeople currently known

  • Crispinians Ltd is the only known commercial company offering custom shoe lasts and shoe and boot trees. Steven Lowe is the sole owner and only last maker and tree maker in this company.
  • John Lobb, Foster & Sons, Cleverley and Gaziano Girling employ in-house makers’ including James Dowbridge (John Lobb) making Trees, do not sell directly but make only for a specific shoe company to which they are employed. Only John Lobb has in-house tree making with probably 4 people.
  • Horace Batten Bootmakers have one tree maker and one trainee.
  • Bill Bird make lasts in house with a focus on orthopaedic work.
  • Tony Slinger also mainly makes orthopaedic lasts.
  • Nicholas Templeman 

Businesses employing two or more makers:

  • Springline are a manufacturer and will have an in-house model lastmaker.

Other information

In-house makers’ do not sell directly but make only for a specific shoe company to which they are employed. They are not necessarily fully trained in all areas.

 

References