Endangered Crafts in Surrey: Which trades are on the ‘Red List’?
PUBLISHED: 15:41 29 January 2020 | UPDATED: 15:41 29 January 2020
Many of the nation’s heritage crafts are in danger, threatening traditions and livelihoods. Claire Saul studies the ‘Red List’
We could be forgiven for an inability to define the art of passementerie or to explain the specifics of orrery making, but in the context of a long list that includes clay pipe making and clog making, they are more readily identified as traditional crafts.
Specifically, these are UK 'heritage' crafts, those which have been practised across generations and which require high levels of skill, manual dexterity and an understanding of traditional materials, design and techniques.
Unfortunately, this particular list is the Heritage Crafts Association's 'Red List' of Endangered Crafts, itemising those in danger of petering out altogether.
The HCA seeks to highlight the issues affecting the viability of such crafts, to avoid their cultural loss and to support their craftspeople by, as the association's president, HRH Prince Charles resolves, "protecting and passing on legacies of knowledge and skill that will, with hope, be treasured and put to good use by succeeding generations."
In the association's original 2017 survey, crafts were assessed to determine which were 'critically endangered', 'endangered' and 'currently viable'.
Over 200 such crafts appear on last year's Red List, representing a significant 25 per cent increase in the two-year interim. Four at the head of the list - cricket ball making, gold beating, lacrosse stick making and mould and deckle making - have now been designated as 'extinct' in the UK.
Redhill-based Hedges & Hurdles offers experiences in traditional crafts which include willow weaving, wood craft and hurdle making, the latter a designated 'endangered' craft.
"A well-made wattle hurdle is a thing of beauty," says Lorraine Ellery Matthews. "Originally used for partitioning of fields for sheep to graze, it has been replaced with lambing sheds and electric fences and is now mainly used as an alternative to fence panels or screens.
"It takes skill and time to make a wattle hurdle well and when done so it can last up to 10 years.
"For a small business it can be difficult to make a living from that alone, however there is certainly an appetite for training courses, which does then make it viable.
"We also take commissions for rustic arches which use the same technique, which is another way to improve the viability of this work."
The company deliver courses at locations throughout the Surrey Hills.
Lorraine's husband Paul Matthews is an experienced and supreme champion in hedgelaying, a heritage skill that is actually increasing in popularity, possibly due to factors such as increased awareness of its environmental benefits and the championing of skill transfers across the generations by Prince Charles, who is also patron of the National Hedgelaying Society.
To the art of the matter
Alongside smocking and carpet and rug tufting, neon bending is one of the 20 new entries on the HAC Red List designated as 'endangered', defined as a craft, which currently has a sufficient number of workers to transmit skills to the next generation, but for which there are serious concerns about ongoing viability.
"When I started learning to bend glass in 1989, the majority of signs in the high street were internally illuminated with neon tubes," says Nick Malyon, owner of Farnham neon studio Neon Neon.
"For several years after setting up business in 1993 I worked all the available hours I could, competing with around 90 other glass benders across the country. But in the years following the turn of the millennium I probably lost up to 80 per cent of my neon business to the introduction of LEDs, which are cheaper and easier to use.
"Many glass shops closed down and glass benders re-trained to do other things. I turned to neon 'art' projects for various artists and galleries across the country.
"I wouldn't encourage my children to work in this craft unless driven by a passion. It takes at least five years to become a reasonable glass bender and you have really got to want to learn how to do it.
"No one wants to do it now so it will become critically endangered and possibly extinct over time."
Just as diversification has sustained Nick's business, new business opportunities for heritage crafts can arrive in many guises.
The newly 'endangered' craft of side saddle making, for example, is one which is showing a slight upturn in numbers due to a revival in this style of riding thought to be inspired by Downton Abbey. Side saddles are also being used for the rehabilitation of veterans who have suffered limb loss.
In a world of bland mass production driven by profit, there is something to be said for unique, skilfully-crafted products which continue the creative traditions of past generations, not least the personal benefits to health and wellbeing afforded by craft work.
If you are considering trying something completely different this year, take a look at the HCA Red List and breathe new life into an endangered skill-fan making or chair caning, anyone?
Have a Go
Hedges and Hurdles are running a Wattle Hurdle Making & Coppicing training course at New Pond Farm, Reigate. The company also offers willow craft courses for adults, families and private groups, making practical pieces and also sculptures.
01737 762171 hedgesandhurdles.com.
The Quinnell School of Blacksmithing at Rowhurst Forge, located beside the Fire and Iron Gallery in Leatherhead, offers two levels of course in iron work, one for absolute beginners and another for those wishing to learn more about or improve iron forging techniques. Young people may attend in the company of a parent. Book now for the second half of this year.
01372 374791 blacksmithing-school.co.uk
Surrey County Council lists courses across sixteen different categories of craft, design and textile work, including lacemaking, silverwork and furniture restoration, available at several county adult learning centres.
Try your hand at woodturning, batik and a host of crafts under the guidance of a member of the Surrey Guild of Craftsmen.
01483 424769 Surreyguildofcraftsmen.co.uk