HERITAGE crafts such as making clogs, pianos and blocks for millinery are still produced in Britain – but only just. Recent research by The Heritage Craft Association (HCA) reveals that many of Britain’s traditional craft skills are in decline and in some cases, no longer practised. The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts is the title of the new project launched by HCA, supported by the Radcliffe Trust, which endeavours to oversee the viability of heritage craft skills on a regular basis. Their research reveals that the emergence of new technologies and an ageing workforce affect the viability of some craft practices but a lack of affordable workshops, training courses and business skills compromise others.
At present, Britain is one of the few countries that have chosen not to back UNESCO’s convention regarding the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage which supports craft skills. Greta Bertram, who led the research, has highlighted the need this month for increased government funding said, “For too long we have been bounced between heritage – which means historic buildings and museums – and arts – things that you can put on a shelf and admire.”
West Dean College in Chichester, who support the new Red List proposals have launched a brand new foundation degree in Historic Craft Practice which teaches metalwork, furniture, musical instrument-making and horology. The horology course includes a project for making an 18th century clock.
Apart from teaching crafts practice and tool-making, the course also endeavours to equip students with valuable business skills. Francine Norris, the Director for Education at West Dean College which specialises in conservation and creative arts education and is validated by the University of Sussex, said, “We hope the List will raise awareness of our rich craft heritage and encourage people to consider learning traditional skills many of which are still relevant today.”
by Miranda Charalambous
Front page image: West Dean College horology student. Photograph courtesy of Christopher Ison