Select Page

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 

Posthumous BEM for Brian Alcock leads six heritage crafts Honours

Broian Alcock BEMThe family of the late master hand grinder Brian Alcock have received a posthumous British Empire Medal in the King’s Birthday Honours in recognition of his service to the Sheffield cutlery trade and heritage crafts.

Brian, who passed away less than three weeks ago, was one of six makers nominated by Heritage Crafts to receive national honours, alongside clockmaker David Poole MBE, boatbuilder Ronald John Maclean MBE, blacksmithing trainer Delyth Done MBE, marbler and woodgrainer Robert Woodland MBE, and knitwear designer Jeanette Sloan BEM, in recognition of their unparalleled craftsmanship and tireless work in ensuring their skills are passed on to current and future generations.

The six were nominated for this year’s Birthday Honours, following 24 previously successful nominations from Heritage Crafts since 2013. In May, the charitable organisation – which was set up in 2009 to support and champion traditional craft skills – published the fourth edition of its groundbreaking Red List of Endangered Crafts, the only report of its kind to rank UK craft skills by the likelihood they will survive into the next generation.

Heritage Crafts was deeply saddened to learn of Brian Alcock BEM’s passing on 30 May. As a jobbing grinder working up to a week before his death, Brian was an unparalleled repository of knowledge and skill in the craft of hand grinding. He exemplified the honest work ethic of a skilled master craftsman, and even at the age of 81 he would work 40 hours a week, starting at 6.30am each morning through all four seasons. No job was too small for him; even putting an edge on a simple pocket knife was handled with the care and concentration of a man who relished the craft he had learnt so well.

What set Brian apart was how freely he shared his knowledge and skill. Five years ago founding Heritage Crafts Chair Robin Wood MBE was concerned that once Brian stopped he would have nobody to grind axes for his growing business, and that this important part of Sheffield’s cultural heritage could be lost. At this point Brian offered to train Robin’s apprentice Zak Wolstenholme. He had been passing his knowledge of how to grind tools and maintain the machinery to Zak, free of charge, right up until his passing. Zak admired him greatly and he had become a very significant life mentor.

Thankfully, Brian learned of his forthcoming honour before he died, knowing the esteem in which he was held. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.

David Poole MBE has been clock maker of the highest standard for over forty years. He has made critical contributions to horological education, establishing remote learning, support and examinations through the British Horological Institute and organising apprenticeships through the George Daniels Educational Trust. Between 2016 and 2019 David set up the Watchmakers Trailblazer Apprenticeship Scheme, one of the first of its kind under the government-backed initiative to promote craft apprenticeships, overcoming many obstacles with devotion and total service.

Ronald John MacLean MBE represents an unbroken line of boat builders who, over 150 years, have provided as many as one thousand workboats to the island communities of the Hebrides. He has preserved an entire style of vernacular boat building (the Grimsay workboat of Scotland) through his craft skills, teaching and interpretation of the tradition. He has designed accredited courses in Traditional Boatbuilding Skills, and with his gifts as a teacher devised a curriculum to transmit the Grimsay boat tradition through Gaelic boatbuilding terminology.

Delyth Done MBE has been unparalleled throughout the past decade in ensuring that the next generation of blacksmiths have the high-level skills they need. As head of the blacksmithing degree programme at Hereford College of Arts for over ten years, she has been directly responsible for improving the training standards so that graduates are recognised and sought after as employees by master blacksmiths around the world.

Robert Woodland MBE is one of the most highly-skilled ornamental artists, woodgrainers and marblers in the UK today. His work can be seen in a variety of buildings across the country, including the Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, the Tower of London, Grand Lodge, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Kensington Palace, Bagshot Park and the Mandarin Hotel. Robert has a passion to keep his trade alive and shares his knowledge openly with students from around the world, enthusiastically demonstrating his craft whenever he has a chance.

Jeanette Sloan BEM is one of the most prominent and successful Black knitwear designers in the UK today, and has done a huge amount to promote and celebrate the contribution of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) to British textile crafts. Among a career of achievements, she devoted her time and expertise, unpaid, to found the ‘BIPOC in Fibre’ project, to celebrate and raise awareness of the contribution of BIPOC to British textile design.

Heritage Crafts Executive Director Daniel Carpenter said:

“We are thrilled that six of our nominations have been recognised in this the first Birthday Honours of King Charles III’s reign. Having traditional craftspeople up there with other great luminaries of public life in this way is vitally important, as UK is still one of only 12 of the 193 UNESCO member states yet to ratify the 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage.”

Heritage Crafts encourages anyone who supports the continuation of traditional craft skills, whether or not they are makers themselves, to become Heritage Crafts members via its website www.heritagecrafts.org.uk.

The charity has set up an Endangered Crafts Fund to provide small grants to projects that increase the likelihood of endangered craft skills surviving into the next generation, and is currently seeking donations to save more of Britain’s most endangered crafts from oblivion – visit www.heritagecrafts.org.uk/ecf to find out more and to donate

Traditional wooden boat building

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Traditional wooden boat building

 

The building, restoration and repair of boats made from wood using planked construction or skin-on-frame, mechanical fixings and traditional finishes. See also coracle making, curragh making, spar, oar and mast making, sail making, and boat building (modern).

 

Status Endangered
Historic area of significance UK
Area currently practised Across the UK but heavily concentrated in the south of England.
Origin in the UK Bronze Age
Current no. of professionals (main income) 21-50

These are boat builders who are carrying out all aspects of traditional boat building including building new boats as their full-time occupation.

(Estimate based on 2023 survey carried out by the WBTA and Heritage Crafts. See Other Information)

Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
50-100

(Estimate based on 2023 survey carried out by the WBTA and Heritage Crafts. See Other Information)

Current no. of trainees 50+

(Students at the boat building schools will study traditional boat building alongside contemporary techniques such as laminated wood and GRP)

Current total no. serious amateur makers
11-20

(Estimate based on 2023 survey carried out by the WBTA and Heritage Crafts. See Other Information)

Current total no. of leisure makers
Not known but there is a keen interest in wooden boat building amongst retired and hobby makers.

 

History

The earliest known boats are log-boats or dugouts with examples from Holland and Denmark dating from about 7000 BC, and the earliest plank-built boats were found in Egypt and date from about 2600 BC. Early plank-built boats were made by stitching or sewing the planks, but the Egyptians developed edge-fastening by mortises and tenons. The frame eventually developed into the rigid frame-skeleton, covered in planking, of the familiar carvel-build (‘skeleton first’ construction). In the north, hulls were built up of thin planking overlapping at the edges which were ‘clenched’ by dowels or iron rivets (‘clinker-construction’) with ribs inserted afterwards to keep the hull in shape (‘shell first’ construction).

Historically, there were many regional forms of boat building in the UK.

See also: Historic England Ships and Boats: Prehistory to 1840.

 

Techniques

  • Clinker construction
  • Carvel construction
  • Skin on frame construction
  • Multi skin construction
  • Building ‘by eye’
  • Lofting
  • Finishing
  • Decking
  • Caulking

 

Local forms

There are numerous regional styles of boats.

The Traditional Boat Building Survey 2023 found that there was a particular concern about the loss of regional boat types and that skilled practitioners were heavily concentrated in the south of England. There is a concern for boat builders based in Scotland (with particular references to practitioners on Orkney and East and West coasts) and other parts of the UK.

 

Sub-crafts

Allied crafts:

  • Spar, oar and mast making
  • Rigging
  • Sail making
  • Heritage engineering
  • Internal carpentry and fit-out
  • Signwriting / Gilding
  • Ship’s carving
  • Designing for traditional methods
  • Block making

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

Summary of findings from the Symposium on Traditional Wooden Boat Building 2022 and the Traditional Wooden Boat Building Survey 2023:

  • Loss of regional boat types – Boat builders are heavily concentrated in the south of England, which increases the risk of losing other regional boat types and their associated skills and knowledge.
  • Loss of traditional skills – Due to market pressures and efficiency, most boat builders will (understandably) carry out both traditional skills and modern construction methods. However this could lead to some skills such as ‘building by eye’ and other hand skills becoming increasingly scarce.
  • Threats to UK maritime cultural heritage and a lack of government commitment to heritage skills and intangible cultural heritage in the UK – Shipwrighting and the restoration of large boats was cited as an area of concern with most of the skills concentrated in one or two businesses. It was felt that this, in addition to the loss of regional boat types, could pose an ongoing threat to the maritime cultural heritage of the UK. See also Shipwrighting.
  • Training routes – Boat building is well served for college based training with a healthy number of graduates. However, it was felt that these opportunities were not available to everyone and that there was a limited amount of funding to support those on lower incomes. There could also be more options for training including more apprenticeships and practical ‘hands-on’ work experience.
  • Lack of diversity in the sector – Most respondents were male (89%) and aged over 40 (70%); the dominant age category is 50+ (58%).
  • Sourcing raw materials – including timber, copper nails, roves etc. This has been further exacerbated by Brexit.
  • Business costs and overheads – energy, premises costs, high costs of labour and materials
  • Shrinking market for traditional boats – only the wealthy can afford to buy or own a boat
  • Loss of boatyards – waterside frontages and workshop rents have become prohibitively expensive
  • Recruitment and retention – recruiting people with the necessary skills, experience and the ability to work to a commercial timescale is becoming a problem. Difficulty in recruiting apprentices was also cited as an issue. Low rates of pay can mean that it is difficult to make it a viable occupation, particularly in the south of England where accommodation and cost of living are expensive.
  • Restoration and repair – there is an increasing market for restoration and repair, rather than building new boats
  • Lack of practical education in school.

 

Support organisations

  • Wooden Boatbuilder’s Trade Association
  • British Marine Inland Boatbuilding
  • Anglia Boatbuilders Association
  • The GalGael Trust
  • The Worshipful Company of Shipwright
  • Pioneer Sailing Trust
  • National Historic Ships UK
  • Women in Boatbuilding

 

Craftspeople currently known

 

Training providers

Accredited taught courses

  • International Boatbuilding Training College – Lowestoft
  • Falmouth Marine School
  • Boatbuilding Academy

Apprenticeships

There are boat building apprenticeships available but these tend to focus primarily on modern boat building methods such as laminate/composite materials and GRP.

Boatbuilding Level 3 Apprenticeship: Building boats such as yachts, workboats and superyachts, and refitting and repairing existing boats.

On-the-job training

Many boat builders will train on–the-job alongside experienced boat builders. This may follow an apprenticeship or a college based course in order to gain work based experience and develop specialist skills.

 

Other information

The Wooden Boat Builders Trade Association and Heritage Crafts have been working together to consult the boat building trade. A Symposium on Traditional Boat Building was held in Bristol in October 2022 and this was followed by a Survey of Traditional Wooden Boat Building in January 2023.

Numbers of practitioners

90 people responded to the survey. Of these 30 described themselves as full-time traditional boat builders and 31 as doing it as part of their work.

When asked how many traditional boat builders they knew of, most respondents gave a figure of between 5 and 50. From this we have estimated that the number of full-time boat builders to be between 21-50 and those doing it as part of their work as 50-100.

How endangered is traditional wooden boat building?

73% of survey respondents describe traditional wooden boat building as either ‘Endangered’ or ‘Critically Endangered’. Of the remainder, 20% describe the craft as viable, with the rest suggesting it’s viable depending on location and which skills are being considered.

The majority of attendees at the Symposium agreed that Traditional Wooden Boat Building be considered as distinct from boat building as a whole.

 

References