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Slate working

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Slate working

The hand cutting and working of slate to make roof slates and household objects.

 

Status Endangered
Historic area of significance UK
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK 16th Century

Current no. of professionals (main income) 1-5 (Cutting hand made roof slates)

3 (Working as slate masons in Cumbria)

21-50 (Working welsh slate, estimated)

Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees 1-5
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers

 

History

Roof slates

Vernacular slating is found on a great number of buildings in the UK with many regional variations relating to the local available materials and building styles. Slates are made of various different stones and vary in size, as they were cut in the quarry to the sizes of available stone.

Modern slates are regular in size and nailed to battens, whereas vernacular slates are usually of random sizes and are fixed by a peg to the top of battens where they are held under their own weight.

Slate making is now mostly mechanised with quarries producing slates in various regular sizes and shapes. Random sized slates are not being produced in great numbers and are therefore not readily available for vernacular roofs.

Handmade slate objects

The craft started as an offshoot of the slating industry. Households would fashion useful items for people and created decorative items from offcuts of slate.

 

Techniques

Slating is divided into two areas, which are generally practised by different craftspeople:

  • Cutting/riving slate: the craft of cutting slates, usually in the quarry, for use in roofing
  • Slate working/slate masonry: the craft of working slate to make household objects

 

Local forms

Vernacular slating techniques are highly regionalised, depending on the local stone.

The Stone Roofing Association and the technical advice notes produced by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) provide details on regional variations.

 

Sub-crafts

 

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: Vernacular slates are more expensive than modern slates and are often not readily available for vernacular roofing projects.
  • Supply issues: Quarries often can’t respond quickly to demand and so lead times can make using the vernacular tiles less viable.
  • Lack of skills and knowledge of regional slating types: Vernacular slating techniques are highly regionalised, and the viability of the craft varies depending on the slate or stone type, and hence depends on the region.
  • Conservation of buildings: The protection/conservation for vernacular slating styles and techniques vary across the country, and in some places they are discarded and substituted with modern slating.
  • Whilst there may be an intention to replace vernacular roofs, a lack of availability of slates and budget constraints have meant that many historic roofs have been lost.
  • Competition with large companies: smaller slating companies and craftspeople are out competed by bigger building companies
  • Ageing workforce: particularly in relation to Westmorland slate working
  • Availability of raw materials
  • Competition from cheaper imports

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

Roofing slates

Slate masons

Welsh slate crafts

 

Other information

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References

http://www.stoneroof.org.uk/cnts.html

https://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/sourcingslates/sourcingslates.htm

SPAB Technical Advice Notes – https://www.spab.org.uk/advice/technical-advice-notes