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Nine more grants to help save endangered crafts

A thatching spar maker, a pigment maker, and a boatbuilder are among the recipients of a new round of grants to help safeguard some of the UK’s most endangered craft skills.

Andy BashamHeritage 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. Six of this round’s grants are funded by the Sussex Heritage Trust, the Ashley Family Foundation for Wales, and the Essex Community Foundation and were ring fenced for crafts practitioners within those areas.

In May this year Heritage Crafts published the fourth 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 259 crafts to ascertain those which are at greatest risk of disappearing, of which 84 were classified as ‘endangered’ and a further 62 as ‘critically endangered’.

The nine successful recipients are:

  • Andy Basham from Essex, for himself and others to learn to make thatching spars from the last spar maker in East Anglia, and equip himself for production from his hazel coppice.
  • Will Holland from Carmarthenshire, to develop his arrowsmithing skills and master the reproduction of historically forged arrowheads, and to teach the craft to others.
  • Charlotte Kenward from West Sussex, to train and equip herself to offer traditional reverse gilded house numbers and signage to heritage properties.
  • Lucy MayesLucy Mayes from London, to purchase equipment to produce a range of innovative and sustainable pigments from processing construction waste.
  • Gail McGarva and the team at Building Futures Galloway, to equip a community workshop on the Solway Firth with tools needed to teach young people traditional wooden boatbuilding.
  • Rob Shaw and team, from North Yorkshire, to equip the new coach trimming workshop of Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway, offering a space to train more of their volunteers.
  • Travis Smith from Hampshire, to train in hand hewing of timber and apply his skills to the restoration and reconstruction of historical building and the construction of new ones.
  • Stephanie Turnbull from Newport, to trial the use of alternative types of limestone and other stone substrates for lithographic printing, and to publish her findings.
  • Jessie Watson-Brown, Matthew Bailey and Jamey Rhind-Tutt from Devon, to equip a new tannery to produce traditional bark-tanned leather from wild deer skins.

Gail McGarvaThese nine projects follow 57 others awarded in previous rounds, covering endangered crafts such as coppersmithing, Highland thatching, sailmaking and many more. Previous funders have included the Radcliffe 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 survival of endangered craft skills relies on the people who make a positive choice to learn, make and teach these crafts. These projects will provide future generations with opportunities that they might not otherwise have, to become productive and healthy members of our shared craft community and to safeguard this important part of our national heritage.”

View the full list of the 66 grants awarded to date 

Eight new grants awarded to help save endangered crafts from extinction

Catherine Ade, lithographer. Photo copyright Jo Hounsome.

Catherine Ade, lithographer. Photo copyright Jo Hounsome.

A lithographer, a wallpaper maker and an oak bark tanner 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 published the third edition of its groundbreaking HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts in May, has awarded a further eight grants from its Endangered Crafts Fund, which was launched in 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 the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Dulverton Trust, the Sussex Heritage Trust, Allchurches Trust and the Swire Charitable Trust. The eight successful recipients are:

  • Catherine Ade, from Bristol, to run a series of workshops on different lithography techniques and continue to supply lithography plate graining services.
  • Peter Ananin, from Fife, to train an apprentice in the skills and knowledge of traditional Scottish bark tanning.
  • Deborah Bowness, from East Sussex, to learn traditional wallpaper making techniques through one-to-one training with a wallpaper conservationist.
  • Rachel Evans, from Stoke-on-Trent, to learn the techniques of hazel basketmaking, specifically the Gower cockle basket and the whisket.
  • Nikki Laird, from Edinburgh, to print a book on how to make a traditional hand sewn kilt.
  • Kate Longley, from Cornwall, to maintain the skills and knowledge of withy crab and lobster pot making in the community of Gorran Haven.
  • Steven Lowe, from East Sussex, to provide shoe last making courses covering heel making.
  • Edie Obilaso, from London, to make hats from straw plait produced on an antique machine, and to document the craft.
Peter Ananin, oak bark tanner. Photo copyright Woodland Tannery.

Peter Ananin, oak bark tanner. Photo copyright Woodland Tannery.

These eight projects follow 27 awarded in previous rounds, covering endangered crafts such as scissor making, sail making, damask weaving, boot tree making, cockle basket making, folding knife making, neon bending, coracle making, fan making and swill basket making, coppersmithing, withy pot making, disappearing fore-edge painting, plane making, kishie basket making, flint walling, brick making, chair seating, lipwork basketry, paper making, concertina making and flute making.

As usual the fund was oversubscribed, and the HCA hopes to work with many of the unsuccessful candidates to identify other funding and support opportunities.

HCA Endangered Crafts Manager Mary Lewis said:

“For all the progress we’ve made, it will take more than just the Heritage Crafts Association to save craft skills; it will be the people who make a positive choice to learn, make and teach an endangered craft who will do that. These projects will provide future generations with opportunities that they might not otherwise have, to become productive and healthy members of our shared craft community.”

The Endangered Crafts Fund has been funded through generous donations from organisations including Garfield Weston Foundation, the Dulverton Trust, the Sussex Heritage Trust, as well as individuals who have donated sums from £5 right up to several thousands of pounds.

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.

See the projects that were successfully funded in the previous application rounds

Tanning (vegetable)

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Tanning (vegetable)

 

The process of using vegetable tannins to convert raw hide/skin into leather (see the separate entry for oak bark tanning).

This craft uses products derived from animals – please read our ethical sourcing statement.

 

Status Endangered
Historic area of significance UK. At one time, nearly every town would have had a tannery.
Area currently practised
Origin in the UK Paleolithic
Current no. of professionals (main craft) 62
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main craft)
0
Current no. of trainees  1 with Billy Tannery
Current total no. serious amateur makers
0
Current total no. of leisure makers
0

 

History

Historically, all tanning was done using chemicals derived from plants, such as extracts from the barks of certain types of trees, until the nineteenth century when chrome salts were introduced.

There are two types of leather – full grain and top grain. Full grain leather is leather that has not been tampered with after removing it from the animal – the hair is removed and the grain or epidermis is left on. Top grain leather is worked with to cover up any scars or blemishes on the skin and is usually sanded and sprayed.

The process of tanning varies according to the intended use of the leather. However, generally in the preparation for tanning, larger animal hides are divided and cut according to body areas, while smaller animals (e.g. calf, goat, pig and reptiles) are left as one piece. Firstly the hair must be removed from the skin. The hides and skins are in water to be washed and rehydrated, with lime liquors used to loosen the hair and plump the hide. The hair that has been removed is sold on to plasterers or felt manufactures. The hides and skins are naturally uneven and of different thicknesses. Therefore, in order to even them out they are run through a plotting machine. Thickness throughout a hide differs, hence why leathers are shown to have different thicknesses on their labelling.

 

Techniques

The tanning process consists of putting hides in weak solutions of tannic acids which gradually increase in strength. The tanning operation varies in time from three weeks to three months, dependent on the type of hide being tanned and the thickness of it. The leather is then dried in such a way that the leather does not diffuse into ‘grain’ or the ‘flesh’ using oils applied to wet leather which form a film to arrest this diffusion. While still wet, the leather is ‘set out’ removing creases and ‘rolled on’ to help make the characteristic smooth surface of leather. The leather is thoroughly dried out and ‘rolled off’ on very heavy pressure rollers which gives the polish to the finished leather.

Mimosa bark tanning: There are some crafts people now using Mimosa bark for tanning, which is grown specifically for the purpose in South Africa.

Peat tanning: Peter Ananin at the Woodland Tannery has been exploring the historic process of peat tanning, which disappeared from the UK in around 1880.

 

Local forms

Different people do different parts of the job. There are crossovers where they do other people’s jobs, but no one person does it all. Tanners would be working in the tanyard, limeyard men working in the limeyard, curriers would be staining and dressing leather and then those in the machine shop who would be splitting and shaving. Some people might do more than one of those.

 

Sub-crafts

Different people do different parts of the job. There are crossovers where they do other people’s jobs, but no one person does it all. Tanners would be working in the tanyard, limeyard men working in the limeyard, curriers would be staining and dressing leather and then those in the machine shop who would be splitting and shaving. Some people might do more than one of those.

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Leather generally is losing ground to synthetic materials and UK leather is also up against cheaper imports of veg tanned leather from overseas. The key issues are the inaccurate negative perceptions of leather that may be driving customers to synthetics, price competition with overseas suppliers and an ageing workforce, as it is difficult to attract new employees into the trade – this is obviously a similar problem for all manufacturing industries.
  • Market issues: There are a lot of available markets, but someone has to go and look for them to enable the business to thrive. These include shoes, saddlery, luggage, and fashion goods.
  • Supply of raw materials: Supply of hides is local and safe. Local hides are used and generally the standard is quite good, although a premium is paid for selection. Materials are bought through a hide merchant, and they buy from the abattoir, and they know what is needed.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

Dickens Brothers Ltd has closed in recent years

 

Other information

In September 2018 we learned that Claytons of Chesterfield had gone into administration with an immediate loss of 14 jobs, with 11 remaining to wind up the business. The firm had been going for 178 years.

In December 2018 we learned that ex-employees and interested parties have been working on a rescue plan with a view to forming a new company and have been successful in acquiring all of the assets and rights to trading at the premises of the previous business. The new company name is Spire Leather Company Limited, and is now operating from the Clayton Street tannery.

 

References

A good source of links and references can be found at www.leatherwise.co.uk/links.htm

Tanning (oak bark)

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Tanning (oak bark)

 

The process of using oak bark tanning to convert raw hide/skin into leather (see separate entry for vegetable tanning).

This craft uses products derived from animals – please read our ethical sourcing statement.

 

Status Critically endangered
Craft category Leather
Historic area of significance UK
Area currently practised Devon and Fife
Origin in the UK Sometime around 2000 BCE in Scotland, still waiting on results from find analysis. In Cupar it was one of the oldest Industries.
Current no. of professionals (main income) 2 businesses
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
2 businesses
Current no. of trainees 0
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
21-50. This is based on course attendees, volunteers and tanners gatherings

 

History

The history of this craft goes back to around the bronze age, some of the earliest bark tanneries would have been pits lined with timber and filled with bark, bark rubbed directly into the hide or case skinned hides filled with bark and water and hung from a tree to tan.

There are two types of leather – full grain and top grain. Full grain leather is leather that has not been tampered with after removing it from the animal – the hair is removed and the grain or epidermis is left on. Top grain leather is worked with to cover up any scars or blemishes on the skin and is usually sanded and sprayed.

The process of tanning varies according to the intended use of the leather; the end product. However, generally in the preparation for tanning, larger animal hides are divided and cut according to body areas, while smaller animals (e.g. calf, goat, pig and reptiles) are left as one piece. Firstly the hair must be removed from the skin. The hides and skins are in water to be washed and rehydrated, with lime liquors used to loosen the hair and plump the hide. The hair that has been removed is sold on to plasterers or felt manufactures. The hides and skins are naturally uneven and of different thicknesses. Therefore, in order to even them out they are run through a plotting machine. Thickness throughout a hide differs, hence why leathers are shown to have different thicknesses on their labelling.

 

Techniques

The tanning process consists of putting hides in weak solutions of tannic acids which gradually increase in strength. The tanning operation varies in time from 3 weeks to 3 months, dependent on the type of hide being tanned and the thickness of it. The leather is then dried in such a way that the leather does not diffuse into ‘grain’ or the ‘flesh’ using oils applied to wet leather which form a film to arrest this diffusion. While still wet, the leather is ‘set out’ removing creases and ‘rolled on’ to help make the characteristic smooth surface of leather. The leather is thoroughly dried out and ‘rolled off’ on very heavy pressure rollers which gives the polish to the finished leather.

England traditionally used oak bark to tan skins and hides. The traditional oak bark process differs slightly from that mentioned above. Oak bark is stripped from trees during the spring and summer seasons. It is dried out for two or three years and then ground down. The tan is soaked out of the bark using cold water. When the tan is strong enough, it is pumped up to the tan yard. There are different pits which the hides pass through. They are suspended by sticks for the first three months. The sticks are then removed and the hides are laid flat, one on top of the other into deeper pits where they remain for nine months. The raw hide becomes leather. When the hides are taken out of the pits, they are dried for two or three days, at which point they are ready for finishing. A downside of using oak bark today is that it is a slow process, requiring twelve months for tanning. However, it is hardwearing and produces a strong textile. Oak bark tanned leather lies at the high end of the market.

 

Local forms

In Scotland tanners used combinations of different types of barks and plants, some of the earliest tanning sources on the Islands were Tormentil. In the Highlands and the area around Fife Peat tanning was practiced by submerging hides in Peat bogs or combining with bark.

 

Sub-crafts

Different people do different parts of the job. There are crossovers where they do other people’s jobs, but no one person does it all. Tanners would be working in the tanyard, limeyard men working in the limeyard, curriers would be staining and dressing leather and then those in the machine shop who would be splitting and shaving. Some people might do more than one of those.

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Loss of skills: Only 2 oak bark tanneries, where most of the processes are carried out by hand. Some hand processes alongside mostly machine processes in other tanneries.
  • Lack of Machinery: Most of the machinery required for small scale tanneries that existed on farms was destroyed in the 1970’s as well as the lack of businesses producing machinery in the Uk. Therefore Tanneries are now having to design and build their own equipment.
  • Lack of Engineers: Very few engineers now know how to repair aged machinery as well as issues with sourcing parts.
  • Funding: There is a lack of funding around historic trades which makes it hard for them to keep going or for new ones to set up (expense of set up)
  • Training issues:Training is done within the business, with the most experienced people training the newcomers in the various processes. Enough people (not more than two at any one time) are being trained to meet the current market. They should still be able to earn a living in twenty years time.
  • Lack of Knowledge: Much of the knowledge of bark tanning disappeared due to imported materials and chemicals (pre 1930) as well as faster production demands during war time.
  • Market issues:There are a lot of available markets, but someone has to go and look for them to enable the business to thrive. These include shoes, saddlery, luggage, and fashion goods. Again, company buyers need to be educated regarding quality if our production is not to lose out to cheaper machine processed leathers.
  • Supply of raw materials: Local hides are used and generally the standard is quite good, although a premium is paid for selection. Materials are bought through a hide merchant, and they buy from the abattoir, and they know what is needed. The supply chain of bark to tanneries has been broken and many Forestry workers are not trained around bark harvesting systems e.g. when to harvest and how to store bark.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

  • J & F J Baker & Co Ltd – based in Colyton, Devon. Britain’s last remaining traditional oak bark tannery.
  • Peter Ananin, Woodland Tannery
  • Thomas Ware & Son in Bristol do some oak bark tanning

 

Other information

 

References