Heraldic Hatchments

IMG_1383Many historical churches display diamond-shaped boards on their walls. These have heraldic emblems on them, but what are they, what do they mean, and why are they there? They are called ‘hatchments’, from ‘achievements’ of arms, or sometimes called ‘funeral escutcheons’ (an escutcheon being an heraldic shield). An achievement of arms includes the shield, helm, wreath, crest, mantling, motto, and supporters if used. One such hatchment is shown here; it is for Sir Thomas Barnardiston, third Baronet, who sadly died aged 26 in 1700. This hatchment is actually incorrect as explained below. All photographs (© Patricia Lovett MBE 2024) from the St Peter and St Paul Church in Kedington, Suffolk.

IMG_1381 2Hatchments indicated that a person bearing heraldic arms had died. Traditionally, they were first hung outside the house of that person and, after a period of mourning, were then re-hung in their local church. Bachelor’s  hatchments included their shield, helm, wreath and crest and sometimes mantling; unmarried women’s hatchments showed their coat of arms on a lozenge, usually with a bow at the top, as women’s coats of arms, not being shown on a shield shape, didn’t include wreaths, helms and crests. This hatchment is for the first Baronet, another Sir Thomas Barnardiston, who died in 1669.

IMG_1387Sometimes the helm, wreath and crest were replaced by a skull, a reminder of what was to happen to the corpse and a warning to all, or for women a cherub. And the motto may be replaced by ‘Resurgam’ – ‘I will rise’. The hatchment of Anne, widow of the third Sir Thomas Barnardiston (see first image above), is here. She died in 1701, the year after her husband. Her coat of arms is shown on a lozenge, impaled (combined vertically) with that of her husband.

 

IMG_1385 2Some hatchments have completely black backgrounds, and some white and black, divided vertically. This colour distinction indicates who is living and who is dead at the time the hatchment was made. In heraldry, the right and left sides are always referred to as if a shield is being held, so the dexter side is the right-hand side of the shield, but looks left to the viewer, and the sinister is the left-hand side, but looks right to the viewer. If the sinister side (right) is painted white, it means that the wife is still living; if the dexter side (left) is white, it means that the husband is still living. In the shield at the top of this post, both sides are black, yet Thomas, the third Baronet died in 1700, and his wife, Anne, the image as above, died in 1701. So at the time of Thomas’ death, Anne’s side of the hatchment, sinister, should have been white, however, as she died so soon after her husband, it may be that the painter simply coloured her side in black.

The variation to this is if the person died was single but their arms were impaled (combined vertically) with an official post. In this case that post continues even though the person has died, so the sinister side of the hatchment remains white.

The arms of Sophia, Viscountess Wimbledon, as show on the hatchment above are different because of her peerage. As a Viscountess, she qualifies to have supporters (although these rules were relaxed in the 19th century), and these are either side of the shield and blazoned (the heraldic description) as two lions rampant ermine, that is, two lions looking sideways, and raised on one hind leg. They are painted as if they were ermine, which is a white coat with black ermine tails pushed through; the ermine tails were often depicted as black patterns. Above the lozenge shaped coat of arms is a Viscountess’s coronet, that is a silver-gilt circlet with gems shapes (but not coloured gems), and sixteen silver balls touching one another (only nine being visible).

The top two shields of the baronets include an escutcheon of the red hand of Ulster, indicating their baronetcy. I understood this to be the fact that the baronets had contributed funds or services for the king in Ireland, but I can’t find any source for that at the moment.

For more on Kedington Church, see: https://www.patricialovett.com/?s=kedington+church

‘Makers’ by Roger Lee

Screenshot 2024-02-06 at 13.39.14In the light of only a few weeks ago the government  indicating that it was ratifying the UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage in June 2024 it seems appropriate to highlight this book of fantastic photos of makers; traditional craft skills being one of the five domains specified in that Convention. (For more on the Convention see here.)

 

Screenshot 2024-02-09 at 16.49.39Craft and craftspeople photograph really well, but not everyone can capture the skill, beauty and excitement of makers making. This certainly isn’t the case with this book. Roger Lee’s thoughtful and sensitive images show not only the end results of the making, but the stages in the process, the skills used, the tools, and the workshops of practitioners. It makes for a fascinating insight into the various stages in producing wonderful craft and the application of years of practice.

 

Screenshot 2024-02-09 at 16.50.41Roger focuses on the makers in and around his home town of Sevenoaks, in Kent, and if you ever thought that not much craft was going on in your area, then this is a tangible demonstration disproving that! From a hat maker to a harness maker, a sign writer to a jeweller, a violin restorer (as here) to a tool maker, and more, they’re all featured in this book.

 

 

 

Screenshot 2024-02-09 at 17.36.56Gill Stratton is a hat maker in a local village. She makes hats for posh occasions such as Ascot and Royal Garden Parties, but also for weddings and christenings, and ones to keep you warm in winter and shaded from the sun in summer. Skills needed are not just those to create the structure and decoration on the hat, but also in how to deal with the materials and fabric used, and colour theory to match outfits.

Screenshot 2024-02-09 at 16.51.34It is not only skilled practitioners in Roger’s book, Joshua Hook is an apprentice jeweller who won a silver medal in fine jewellery making at the WorldSkills UK National Final in 2021 – clearly a young man whose skills will take him far!

Roger’s book is available for sale on this link  where you can also view the whole book as a pdf (you don’t have to pay!). It is well worth indulging yourself by spending a bit of time enjoying the beautiful images.

Craft and the Effects of Brexit

At the outset, it is important to know that this is not a political blog.

IMG_2308There has been quite a bit in the news about the problems of musicians, pop groups, opera singers, orchestras, sound and light engineers, roadies and the like, post-Brexit. Restrictions on travel with a 90-day limit of staying in the EU, visas and work permits for each EU country, requirements of details of musical instruments and equipment and their cost (for a whole orchestra!), etc, are all aspects of life in the UK that did not happen before the UK separated from the EU. The focus for many of these problems has been on those in the music industry.

 

 

IMG_2307The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Craft was concerned to hear stories about similar challenges for makers. A number of problems seem to have arisen for those who previously traded a lot with Europe. The unknown amount of additional tax and costs for those in the EU when buying craft from the UK causes difficulties when sometimes it seems that a considerable amount is added to the item which makes it prohibitively expensive. When items are returned as a result of this, makers may have to pay for their own work to be imported.

CIMG2507Craft pieces can be caught up in customs such that their arrival is delayed considerably. Exhibitions planned in the EU with UK artefacts have been delayed or even cancelled because of this. Many galleries and shops, previously showing or selling UK items, are not now exhibiting or stocking them because of this uncertainty. In addition, EU craft competitions are not accepting UK-made work because of the problems of delays in receiving items and the difficulties and cost of returning them to the UK. In one instance, the cost of receiving back an expensive item exhibited in the EU by a UK maker was too much for the maker so they said to destroy the work!

 

IMG_2305The problems are exacerbated when advice is sought from government websites and advisers. These are geared to lorryloads and containers full of goods and big companies, not makers asking for details with just one craft item to be exported. And this is repeated when makers want to take their work, tools and materials abroad themselves for craft fairs, workshops or demonstrations. There is considerable confusion and often the wrong advice is given, causing more problems.

IMG_3275One of the joys of being a maker is always passing on the skills, interacting with other makers and learning about new techniques, materials and tools. Due to customs and restrictions on travel, this has just about stopped.

There are many other aspects of craft and the EU post-Brexit that are causing difficulties. When the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Craft heard that there was going to be a debate on the Arts (and Crafts!) in the House of Lords and the challenges of post-Brexit were going to be considered, I sent out a message through every channel I could to ask for personal experiences. Over a four-week period in August (never the best month for makers) I had a number of responses, often interestingly long and detailed, and many of them sad and frustrating.

The responses have been condensed to bullet points and can be read Craft and Brexit points only.

Photos 1,2 and 4 taken at Fortnum and Masons in London when Heritage Crafts exhibited traditional crafts as part of London Craft Week.

UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage

IMG_0589 (1)What a wonderful Christmas present for those of us in the UK when, on 23rd December 2023, it was announced by the government that it was going to ratify the UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in June 2024, after consultation until March 2024, see more here. This has been after years of advocacy and meetings with successive Ministers, Secretaries of State (four of the latter since 2020!), and civil servants. When we started this campaign the response was ‘not minded to’, then it was ‘not a priority’, and then we were told to go away and make a business case (how do you do this for story telling or clog dancing?). Early on, when we started, of the 193 countries signed up to UNESCO, the UK was one of only 27 not to have ratified the Convention; at the time of this announcement at the end of 2023, the UK was then one of only 12 out of 193 – a small club that the UK shouldn’t have been in!

IMG_0584The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Craft (APPG Craft), set up in 2018, understood the importance of ratification and, since its formation, has had meetings with those in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Questions have been asked in parliament by the marvellous and supportive Officers of the APPG Craft and many informal conversations have been had also. The Group even got a petition together to support the advocacy and encourage ratification; this petition managed to get over 100 signatures within a week, a number of them from very prestigious people and organisations. It is clear that a great deal of effort has been put into encouraging ratification, and that there is a lot of support for it. This is why the government’s decision now is so important and why it will be a gamechanger.

CIMG2289It’s a tricky phrase – ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’, and not always easy to explain. Tangible Cultural Heritage is not too difficult. Essentially it’s mainly what can be seen – castles, stately homes, historical buildings, and the artefacts that go in them such as tapestries, furniture, ornaments; then there’s historical books, museum collections, and artworks. It also includes our landscapes including National Parks and designated walks such as the Pilgrims’ Way and the Pennine Way. The UK has been amongst the world leaders in how tangible heritage has been looked after and conserved through organisations such as the National Trust and Historic England, listing of important buildings, alongside support groups that focus on local and regional tangible heritage.

HCA_GildingFilm_28Our Intangible Cultural Heritage can’t be quite so succinctly defined in that, generally speaking, it’s the sorts of things that can’t always be seen, such as traditional crafts skills, languages, customs, traditions and celebrations. Perhaps thinking of it as ‘Living Heritage’ is an easier concept.

 

 

IMG_2463The UNESCO Convention on ICH identifies five domains. These are:

  1. Oral traditions and expressions, including language
  2. Performing arts
  3. Social practices, rituals and festive events
  4. Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe
  5. And for me, really importantly, Traditional craft skills

 

 

DSCF2627The easy and trite view could be that these are only our historical customs with no relevance now, and can sometimes be viewed as being a bit weird as they cover traditions such as Morris Dancing, mummers’ plays, and cheese rolling. But it also includes sea shanties, Scottish dancing, Irish pipe playing and even the skills needed to make Arbroath Smokies and Kippers. ICH includes the intangible cultural heritage of all in that country as well so in the UK that would then include celebrations of those bringing their own traditions and heritage into the UK such as the Notting Hill Carnival and the skills of making and playing steel drums. Before that letter with the petition was sent to Oliver Dowden MP, then Secretary of State at DCMS, Professor Tim Ingold of the University of Aberdeen wrote:

‘I can imagine a sceptical reader of this letter, unconvinced of the value of craftsmanship, linguistic diversity and folksong, only finding confirmation of their view that what is it stake with ‘intangible heritage’ is no more than a miscellany of tidbits that would not be out of place in a tourist shop, serving to feed a popular appetite for nostalgia and the ‘artisanal’. They would not get the message that this is really about revitalising skills and practices that have the potential to be transformative for future generations. This is much bigger than Arbroath smokies and Stilton cheese. It is about placing values of care and custodianship, as well as respect for difference, at the heart of the ways we live.’ (Quoted by kind permission)

Version 2That last sentence is really significant – placing values of care and custodianship, as well as respect for difference, at the heart of the ways we live.

The purposes of the Convention are specified as:

1. To safeguard the intangible cultural heritage
2. To ensure respect for the intangible cultural heritage of the communities, groups and individuals concerned
3. To raise awareness at the local, national and international levels of the importance of the intangible and to provide for international co-operation and assistance

All this is for communities, groups and individuals (as in the Convention) – each identifying what is their own intangible cultural heritage. I’ve often likened it to the applications to be Cities of Culture. In this instance, cities list what makes them different, what it is about them that should be highlighted and celebrated, and this often includes their intangible cultural heritage, their festivals, celebrations and heritage craft skills.

CIMG1636Each individual, hamlet, village, town, community, city, county, region, England and the devolved countries can think about, consider and identify what makes them them, what is their intangible cultural heritage, what makes them different, what gives them a sense of identity and belonging, and what do they want to celebrate and cherish. This is the heritage that is passed down from generation to generation and:

‘… is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.‘ (from the Convention)

And, most importantly, there should be respect for that difference, not division nor competition. These identified aspects of ICH should first be surveyed and recorded, then be safeguarded, they should also be respected, and awareness of them and their importance raised at local, national and international levels.

CIMG1517At the time of writing, the yearly fee for ratification of the Convention on ICH is $150,000 (about £120,000). This is a very small sum for the government.

However, there are also obligations for the government in addition. The ICH must first be identified and documented; there should be ‘research, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement and transmission, through formal and non-formal education, and the revitalisation of aspects of heritage‘.

CIMG0982The surveying or research is already being done for traditional craft skills in the whole of the UK by Heritage Crafts by their creation of the Red List of Endangered Crafts (which is now replicated in a number of other countries), and steps have been taken through their Endangered Crafts Fund to support such crafts. But much more can and should be done such as promotion and raising awareness of such crafts, and support for training, including the establishment of full-time courses rather than the part-time courses – in many crafts the only ones available – which are usually self-funded and thus available only for those with means. And all this also applies to the other four domains specified.

IMG_2175The additional feature of the UNESCO Convention on ICH is that countries can identify those aspects of ICH that they would like to highlight and specify. On the press release that included pantomimes, sea shanties, and calligraphy (hurray!), and during this consultation period the government has asked for nominations. I am convinced that ratification will include much more than simply the listing a few aspects of ICH.

 

All photographs © Patricia Lovett MBE 2023. You’ll note that they are virtually all craft and probably won’t be surprised by that! My apologies to anyone here photographed but not acknowledged. I’ve trawled through my online album and picked out those I think suitable. These go back some years and I now can’t remember where they were taken nor of whom! However, in order these are: chair caning, cordwaining, tailoring and gold work, gilding on a shape, Morris Dancing, casting, applying gold to the gingerbread on the Cutty Sark ship, vellum making, illumination on one of my courses, cutting a quill from a feather, and calligraphy (of course!) from one of my free online Calligraphy Clips.

 

Grinling Gibbons – Master Woodcarver

IMG_3814Grinling Gibbons is probably the most skilled and most creative wood carver there has ever been. Stand in front of any of his pieces and marvel at the intricacy of the designs and the supreme skill in cutting into pale, almost white, limewood to create wonderful images in 3-D. This amazing wood carving is now in the Pitti Palace in Florence. It was made to celebrate the friendship between King Charles II of England and Cosimo III of the Medici family. The fact that it is still in existence is quite something as first it had to withstand the sea journey to the port of Livorna to get to Italy initially, then the flooding of Florence in 1966 and finally a fire at the Pitti Palace in 1984. It has recently been restored and is now exhibited in its glorious light colour contrasting with the darker background as shown here.

IMG_3819Two turtle doves, their beaks ‘kissing’, indicate the friendship between the two great men. The birds are surrounded by carved foliage, flowers and fruit.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3815 2Below the birds is the most delicate and intricate lace jabot. Without knowing that this was carved into wood, it could easily be thought of as real. Note the ring of roses just above this.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3825There are representations of the arts with one of them shown here – a goose feather (not yet made into a quill). Others include a paint palette and brushes, and a laurel wreath. Note, though, the carving of Grinling Gibbons’ name into the scroll at the bottom of the feather, and to the right beads, curling foliage, shells and bunch of grapes with the tendrils so delicately carved.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3821There are musical instruments, trumpets and what look like recorders as seen here, and even a musical score, the five staves, lines and notes clearly visible. Just above this is a medallion suspended from a chain with each link delicately carved. This sits on top of a quiver of arrows. And that in turn leads to a coronet, showing pearls and gems in exquisite detail.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3826Another coronet is at the bottom of the quiver, and this leads the eye to an amazing cornucopia of flowers and fruit – the sign of a true master.

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine Cosimo’s delight when on 16th December 1682 this package arrived and was unwrapped before him. Now who wouldn’t want to receive a Christmas present like this?

 

A Scribe and Illuminator’s Workroom

IMG_3268Having just finished twenty-one new pieces for my forthcoming British Library book (this post is written in July 2023), I decided to re-cover my sloping board – something I do once about every 3-4 years, depending on how dirty it is. As it was so lovely and clean I felt that it might be interesting to show the board and the rest of my workroom. This is the view from the door, and although it looks big, it’s about 2 metres by 3·5 metres. However, don’t think that I’m complaining that it’s small! I know how very lucky I am to have a dedicated workroom when most people have to share their working space within another room, as I did for very many years. My chair in front of the board is padded with two flat cushions and stools are to hand on the right to put completed work or a computer, or texts just written. Note also how close my chair is to the sink on the left.

IMG_3297So, the room tour. Directly to the left of the door are large cardboard tubes. Most of these are from vellum skins sent from William Cowley, but the large one at the back right is from work I did for the Damian Hirst ‘s exhibition held in Venice – ‘Treasures of the Wreck of the Unbelievable’. To the immediate left are red tubes of tracing paper for large projects. The tubes are useful not only for storing large sheets of paper but also for sending large artworks to those who have commissioned pieces. Now, however, I work mostly on vellum, and so large pieces are stretched over board requiring a different delivery system, and so these tubes are a bit redundant, somehow, though, I can’t bring myself to throw them away!

IMG_3296On the work surface to the right of the tubes are swans’ and Canadian goose feathers ready to be cut into quills. It may look like quite a lot for one scribe but most are waiting for workshops I teach on ‘Quills and Calligraphy’. I also don’t cure feathers with heat – sand or a Dutching tool and an iron. I find that feathers cure themselves by just being left to dry naturally as I’m sure happened in mediæval and Renaissance times. It was only with the rise of literacy and growth of empires and the need for records that more and more pens were needed and the curing process had to be speeded up that heat was needed.

 

IMG_3270Above that are cupboards of books and supplies. This is the first cupboard. At the bottom left is a small folder bursting with papers. These are quotations, poems and prose that I’ve collected over many years and which I write out to give to friends or for my own use. Occasionally someone will ask me if I’ve got something suitable for an occasion and it may be in here or in one of the books to the right which focus on important stages in life – birth, marriage and death mainly. Above that are various books by other calligraphers – it’s always useful to see what the competition is up to. And above that books on Latin, Chaucer, and various reference books to use in my work.

 

IMG_3298Under that cupboard is a new piece on vellum waiting to be sent to the person who commissioned it. I hope to be able to do a blogpost about this in the future as it was a really interesting artwork to do. Behind that is a strip of lead to be made into lead points to show to classes and for them to use. And at the back, to the right is oak gall ink getting nicely black. Oh and more books!

 

IMG_3300Below that, all along the work surface are even more books! Book shelves in the house are completely full, so are the cupboards here. I also have my own books here which I also use for reference – not everything stays in mind and so it’s helpful to look things up. In front of the books is a new box of Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache to use in photographs for the new book. They really are the best paints to use for writing and for painting. There’s more about them and mixing colours from the two reds, two blues, and two yellows here.

IMG_3292There’s a small sink just behind where I sit, completely reachable by simply swivelling round in my seat. I cleaned it up specially for this photo! It’s usually covered with ink and colour and not a pretty sight. To the right of the sink is a pot with old toothbrushes in it ready to brush the nibs clean. To the side and behind the sink are clean little jars up-ended and ready to fill with water for washing brushes when painting or to add to gouache to dilute it for writing and painting. It isn’t shown here but the tap is this side of the sink just to the left again for ease of use.

 

IMG_3272On to the window sill there’s clean paper towels for wiping nibs and reservoirs dry so they don’t rust, and tubes of Schmincke gouache ready to use. There are too many tubes to store neatly but I know where each tube is in that pile and usually just need to reach my hand out to grab the one I want.

 

 

IMG_3288Further along the window sill is a pot of quills already cut just waiting to be used. The nibs of all of these will have separated into two halves. This is not a disaster! The strength of a feather is when it is complete, cutting into it weakens it. However, popping the quill into a jar of water for an hour or so brings the two tines together ready for use and doesn’t soften the nib.

 

 

 

IMG_3275Below the window sill and just to the left of the seat is a trolley of already mixed (but now dried) small palettes and crucibles of paint, jars of black ink, and ink droppers to add water to paint (never use a brush dipped in clean water as the quantity can’t be controlled). Good quality gouache will last in this dry state with water added when it needs to be used. At the front right are pen holders, the green one in the shape of a dragon, and an Arkansas stone to sharpen nibs. As a right-hander, everything is to my left so that I can easily fill pens with ink and paint with my left hand, and then not take a fully charged pen over where I’ve just written. I did think to clean this up a little before this post, but it’s how I work and so I left it!

IMG_3276Then, proud moment here, my clean new board. This is flat whereas it would usually be at a slope of about 45°. It’s a large board with its own stand with a sloping rule, ideal for drawing the many lines calligraphers need to do. A pad of white paper completely covers the board, and then a fold of paper (fold at the top) goes right across bottom part of the board held at a slight tension, so that the writing paper can go to the right and left, and up and down, and doesn’t slip. The writing paper or vellum isn’t attached anywhere because it needs to be at a comfortable writing level which is usually when the hand is about the same level as the shoulder. The shadow is a large light fitted with daylight bulbs so it gives the truest light. The window, which is another source of light, is of course, for a right-hander on my left so that my hand doesn’t create a shadow where I’m writing and painting.

IMG_3299To the right of the board are all the tools I need for painting and writing. At the back on the left is a long metal straight edge for cutting paper and skin of large pieces, and to the left, in the front, are erasers in a little muller, behind that a tiny jar of pounce, and behind that little bags of sandarac in a shallow pot. Magic tape, used pretty much all the time to attach lines on roughs and best pieces is to the left of a hygrometer which indicates the humidity for illumination. And behind that are scissors, dividers, pens, brushes, paste and wash brushes etc. To the right of the storage pots are large knives for cutting vellum.

 

 

IMG_3284 2At the back of the table to the right is a plastic folder which holds set squares. One side of all of these has a metal edge for cutting (don’t cut using a set square without a metal edge as the knife is bound to cut into the plastic and ruin the straight edge). It is easy to stand up from my board and simply reach over for these. In front of them is a magnifying glass on its own stand for working on tiny paintings.

 

IMG_3285All sit on a variety of sizes of cutting mats. Of course, everything has to be moved off if I want to use the larger one, so I must admit that I usually use the medium sized one and just slide the paper/skin along. This isn’t the best or most efficient and it really would be more sensible simply to move stuff off!

 

 

IMG_3286 2A relatively new addition, recommended by my son-in-law who is an excellent photographer, is this flat table and two powerful lights (not the the Anglepoise to the right which has a different purpose) to take good quality photographs of my work, and the camera I use (far too old but I don’t know what new one to get – I’m far from an expert!) is at the back. On the table is a card with gesso at various mixes, and an experiment of shell gold on vellum written with a quill just to make sure that the treatment I was going to give for the actual skin produced the best result.

 

 

IMG_3287 2The last of the ‘tour’ are rolls of vellum (and one of paper to the left). It is better to take the relatively tightly rolled skins out of the tube they are sent in so that the roll is much looser; this then makes it easier to cut large and small pieces from the skin. In front of the rolls are smaller pieces of vellum in a clear plastic folder, some far too small to use but somehow I think they may be handy for something. I used to make vellum size from them for making gesso but now I use fish glue (Seccotine). This is a bit of a dark corner so the Anglepoise lamp is there to add light when selecting the skins.

 

 

IMG_3283And a last tantalising look at how the sloping board is at the moment (July 2023). These are the twenty-one new pieces of artwork with stage-by-stage of how they were done for the ‘Art of the Scribe’ book to be published Spring 2024 by the British Library. It is an information book about seven selected writing styles – the ones most commonly used by calligraphers –and also a practical section for each script of three graded pieces with detailed instructions on how to do them. You’ll have to wait until the book is published to see what’s in those folders!

‘Hands of Time’

IMG_2913There is now only a handful of watchmakers in the UK which means that it has been in the Critically Endangered category in the Heritage Crafts Red List of Endangered Crafts since the first research was published. Hurray, then, for Craig and Rebecca Struthers who run their company, Struthers Watches, in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham. The fact that this is such a rare craft means that Rebecca’s book ‘Hands of Time’ is even more important.

 

 

 

IMG_2919However, do not think that this is yet another book on craft, who does it and how to do it, of which there seem to be quite a few at the moment. This is a fascinating, delightful and well-written book about all aspects of time and the development of measuring time, as the title suggests, No wonder it was chosen to be ‘Book of the Week’ on BBC’s Radio 4 in what seemed like only seconds after it was published! Rebecca is the only person in the UK to have a PhD in horology and her research and depth of knowledge stands her in good stead for this book.

 

IMG_2926All the drawings in the book (here and as above) were done by Rebecca’s husband, Craig, and the care, precision, delight, and execution add immensely to the book. They also show the need for the supreme accuracy that is required for those who work with objects that are often less than a mm in size.

 

 

 

 

Screenshot 2023-05-15 at 13.35.39What is particularly interesting about the book is the way in which Rebecca weaves her own story and experiences into the means by which counting and recording time has developed. In the first chapter, for example, it is meeting with friend Jim, whose wife is a shepherdess, who explains the effects of nature and the seasons on the times when ewes get pregnant and then giving birth; this emphasises the way in which the yearly cycle has on all of us, even though it is often not always obvious to city dwellers. This also relates to the 44,000 years old Lebombo bone (see image) which has scratched markings on it that are thought to reflect and represent the days of the lunar month and the monthly cycle – perhaps a degree of sophistication at that time which many hadn’t fully appreciated.

IMG_2920Rebecca considers both the development of watches and a number of special watches such as this lion watch which some believe to have been owned by Mary, Queen of Scots, and was presented  to her by her first husband, Francis II, King of France. This watch was then given to Mary Seton, one of the ‘four Marys’ who accompanied the Queen to France and then back to Scotland. It was said to have been given to Mary Seton on the Queen’s execution, but was this actually the case?

 

IMG_2923Should watchmakers and repairers leave any sign of their work on watches? This is similar to calligraphy which is rarely signed. Decades later it is often difficult to work out who was responsible for great works of art. Rebecca was told never to leave a trace, but this person inadvertently left a finger print here on the back of an enamelled watch. (Can you see it, just under the word ‘Wilson’?) Wouldn’t it be interesting to know who this person was and at what stage they were involved in making the watch?

 

 

IMG_2921One of my favourites, photographed by Andy Pilsbury, as indeed all the photographs are in the book, is this watch which is part of a chatelaine, worn by a housekeeper or someone in charge of a large house. What a lucky housekeeper to have such a wonderful instrument as part of her daily duties to refer to every day.

 

 

 

I have had such pleasure reading this book, and enjoyed every moment as stories both of Rebecca’s own experiences, and the history of watchmaking are revealed, and the art and craft of watchmaking are interleaved with the history and development of watches. I cannot recommend this book highly enough – buy one for yourself and one or two more for those who you may think would also be fascinated, and those really difficult people (uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers) who are difficult to buy for – you won’t regret it!

 

‘Craft Britain – Why Making Matters’

IMG_2489It is not always the case that a new non-fiction book is a page turner, but ‘Craft Britain – Why Making Matters’ by Helen Chislett and David Linley is certainly one such. Page after page of beautiful photographs are surrounded by an informative, fascinating and interesting text. To be fair, craft usually photographs well, but these images are exquisite!

In my view, the book starts not on page one, but with the gloriously marbled blue endpapers by Lucy McGrath, acknowledged in the text – reflecting books in the  nineteenth century when most would have had endpapers like this. It gives the book the quality that continues on the following pages.

IMG_2490Lucy McGrath is marbling paper here by flicking – in a controlled way – colour on to a thickened water base. A piece of suitably sized paper is then floated on the top and when lifted off the marbling has been transferred on to the sheet of paper. The beautifully patterned paper is used not simply for endpapers but for books, book marks, Christmas baubles and much else.

 

IMG_2496From the wonderfully colourful to the monotone, but equally exquisite work of Geoffery Preston MBE. He works in stucco/plaster, moulding by hand the flowers, foliage and flourishes that he designs. This is an overmantel that he’s produced and if you want to see more of his work, save up and go to the bar at the Goring Hotel in London where you’ll be amazed at the sea creatures and his designs that are on the wall leading out to the garden. This craft links to pargetting which is included in the book.

 

IMG_2494Although all craft is beautiful in my eyes, particularly heritage craft (!), it is often, and perhaps usually, useful as well, and none more so than most objects to do with the making of shoes. Steven Lowe owns and runs Crispians which produces lasts for bespoke shoes; lasts are the wooden former, the shape of a person’s foot, around which shoes are made. He also runs Lastmaker House which trains those who wish to learn the craft. When Steven presented at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Craft a few years ago he explained that the vast majority of those who come on his courses are from abroad; it is a sad situation when this endangered craft cannot recruit those in the UK who could make it viable.

 

IMG_2495Another craft carried out by only a few people is wheelwrighting. Mike Rowland and Son are featured in the book. The skills are being passed on in that they have trained one apprentice already and now have Sam Phillips, shown here, working in the workshop. Self-employed makers and micro businesses like these find the costs of training almost prohibitive. If just one day a week is set aside for passing on the skills, and it is usually much more, then production goes down by 20% and that’s a craftsperson’s profit, so they can afford to live, not enouigh to pay for an apprentice. Government provision for support for apprenticeships in the UK works well for bankers and hairdressers, but is virtually non-existent for these endangered crafts. This is rather ironic because the crafts are where the whole apprenticeship, journeyman and master system was established!

IMG_2498Many do not realise the craft skills that are involved in scientific glass instrument blowing, but they are definitely right at the centre! A lot of scientific and medical experiments and processes could not take place if they did not have the correct glass equipment to do so. This elegant tower of glass could sit under a spotlight on a shelf in an expensive penthouse suite as an ornament, but it is actually a water jacketed oxygenator made by Terri Adams as part of cardiovascular research. Terri is the University of Oxford’s only scientific glassblower, and this is an endangered craft with fewer than fifty of these craftspeople in the UK.

 

 

IMG_2491Nowadays we are used to wallpaper being produced by machine, but this wasn’t always the case. In the past wallpaper was printed from carved wooden blocks, often cherry wood; here Hugh Dunford Wood is carving a pattern in lino bespoke to clients who can choose not only the design but also the colours for the ground and print.

The book is divided into twelve chapters after a foreword by Stephen Bayley and an Introduction. Each chapter is a cornucopia of crafts, with details and photographs of each one. It really is an absolute delight and very highly recommended.

A wonderful Edward Johnston book

IMG_2373Sometimes the most chance encounters bring rich rewards! At a recent Christopher de Hamel lecture at the British Library, I overheard the words ‘Edward Johnston’, and my ears pricked up. It turned out that a church on the south coast had an illuminated book of the Communion Service written by the great calligrapher in 1902. The photos I was shown looked amazing and I arranged to go and see the book as soon as I could. It truly was wonderful and such a thrill to see page after page of Edward Johnston’s writing and illumination.

 

 

IMG_2377The note at the back (see below) explained the production of the book and that the hands and faces in this crucifixion scene were painted by ‘my friend E G Treglown of Birmingham’. Note the border decoration of a waving pattern of vine stems and leaves with bunches of grapes, reflecting John 15 ‘I am the vine: you are the branches’. The gold here is shell gold – gold powder in gum Arabic base – with raised gold leaf grapes.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2400A paragraph in Priscilla Johnston’s book about her father notes that ‘ G B Gabb, a surgeon … accordingly commissioned Johnston to write out the Communion Service. The terms of the agreement were that he was to ‘make the most gorgeous book within his power’ and ask for money whenever he wanted it’. What a commission! The lavish use of gold leaf here and above, (where shell gold as well has been used in the border,) are certainly testament to the gorgeous nature of the book! Johnston used ‘Reeve’s raising agent’ as gesso. I haven’t been able to find out anything about this raising agent and would be grateful if anyone reading this can shed any light on it. It is a much deeper red than the pink colour made by the addition of Armenian bole to gesso today.

 

IMG_2393 IMG_2420The decorated initials are particularly fine as can be seen here. A raised gold leaf initial A with first a background of ultramarine and shell gold applied in straight lines with a ruler, with circles along the lines on the left, and then a similarly raised gold A with an ultramarine background and a swirling foliage pattern in green and red with the addition of white dots.

IMG_2382As would be expected of Johnston the initial letters are particularly fine as here, although the red gold cross behind the raised gold letter A may not be a complete success, but all is forgiven by the surety of the strokes in the versals!

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2406This glorious page of raised gold letters absolutely shone in the light and would lift anyone’s heart and spirit. It really is a tour-de-force.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2386The book also contains music for the service as here with an impressive decorated border of raised gold leaves and blue cranesbill. The main wavy line going through the image is drawn with a firmness of the master. I think Johnston would particularly have enjoyed creating the squiggly fine black lines of decoration.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2407That same firmness of line is shown here in this red vermilion decorated chalice; many would envy that sureness of stroke. Interestingly, it looks in places that Johnston may have used a broad edge calligraphy nib for some of the strokes. Note how the furthest left curved line to the base gradually changes from a thicker line to thinner, and also the thin and thicks on the two circles in the oval shape halfway up.

 

 

 

IMG_2375The lettering, as Johnston explains in the note at the back, is based on tenth-century manuscripts. We know that he was introduced to these by Sir Sydney Cockerell, particularly the Ramsey Psalter (BL Harley 2904) which Johnston studied and then developed into his Foundational Hand. The tail of the letter g extending to the right is very much one found in the Psalter. The tenth-century Benedictional of St Æthelwold, written at about the same time and probably at the same location, has a similar style of writing, but here the tail of this letter is dealt with more successfully. Now, dare I say this, pace calligraphers, but Johnston does need to work more on his letters s where almost invariably the top bowl is larger than the bottom (it should be the other way round to prevent the letter looking top heavy).

 

FE3FD8FE-D6DE-4589-915E-A043F639A74E_1_105_c IMG_2432And traditional to the period of study, Johnston used a blind point to rule the lines, where the furrow on one side of the page created a raised line on the other. On the left-hand image there is a faint black baseline where some of the ink on the opposite page has rubbed off on the raised skin.

IMG_2433 copyThe gold tooled cover is just magnificent – produced by Douglas Cockerell, probably the most famous bookbinder of his time, and brother of Sydney.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2442 IMG_2440 IMG_2438 IMG_2439In each corner is a little raised carved ‘button’, not as large as a penny coin, with the symbols of the four evangelists. These are exquisite and the design fits so well in to the circular shape.

 

Matthew – the winged man,

 

 

 

 

Mark – the lion,

 

 

 

 

 

Luke – the bull,

 

 

 

 

 

And John – the eagle.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2413At the back Johnston explains about the book, where his sources for the text come from, and also about the materials used. The skin is ‘Roman vellum’, or lambskin, manufactured at Brentford, no doubt by Bands (since closed), and could explain the difficulty in achieving really fine strokes as this skin is renowned for its greasiness. The blue is ultramarine ash, which I know only as a much paler colour than ultramarine, but here it’s about as strong.

This truly is a remarkable book and it is a privilege to show photographs of it here.

 

St Peter’s Church, Monkwearmouth

IMG_1688In the seventh century it must have been amazing for the people at the time living near Monkwearmouth in Northumberland to see this building going up! The craft skills of building in stone were lost when the Romans left Britain at the beginning of the fifth century, and, according to an Anglo-Saxon poem called ‘The Ruin’ it was thought that such buildings were created not by mere mortals but by giants. However, on his five journeys to Rome, Benedict Biscop (c. 628–690) saw magnificent large and sturdy stone buildings and brought back masonsfrom Gaul, as well as glassworkers to create stained glass windows, and, under his direction, they built this church in 674–5 and its sister church of St Paul’s in Jarrow.

 

IMG_1694Only the tower and west wall remain of Benedict’s church now but they are supreme examples of the stone mason’s skills. It is thought that many of the actual stones and some of the masonry came from Roman buildings nearby, and this arch certainly has a Roman feel to it with its carefully dressed stone. Even so, if it was created by the Romans, dismantling and recreating it on this site needed knowledge and techniques.

IMG_1684The massive corner stones give great strength to the building, some of them being about three feet (1 metre) in length as can be seen here. Even the strong Northumberland wind and sometimes inclement weather wouldn’t shift this structure!

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1673Even now, the mason’s skill can be seen. There are horizontal striations on the two short pillars supporting the arch in the front of the porch.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1672The barrel vaulting creating the rounded arched roof is truly magnificent, the stones being selected very carefully to be well matched in size and shape. What an entrance to a church!

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1683Either side of the arch are two similar smaller arches, with carefully cut stones to create the top curve. Although the wall may look rather higgledy-piggledy, a little like a dry stone wall, the stones are actually carefully selected and neatly placed.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1692There is even some pattern in the seemingly random stones creating here a zig-zag texture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1667The porch was extended upwards by the end of the seventh century when a second floor was added, and this can be seen from inside the church here in a line in the masonry just below the narrow single window above the arched doorway.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1670In the porch are two stone slabs and on one there are incised depictions of a sword, a decorated cross and what could be a bishop’s crook (?).

 

 

 

IMG_1690The tower was extended upwards by the tenth century with other floors added, but the Romanesque style of half-moon arches was still being used in buildings.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1695St Peter’s in Monkwearmouth is just outside Sunderland* and is well worth a visit. I am so very grateful to the vicar and those at the church who kindly stayed on after the Sunday morning service and opened up the porch door so that I could take the photographs used in this post.

Benedict Biscop was given the land to build this church. He was also given land close by – the ‘sunder’ land, hence ‘Sunderland’.