Museum News

Crafts at Risk

Steve scott

We hope you are enjoying our monthly posts focusing on the people behind the Museum. This month, Steve Scott, Trades & Crafts Interpreter; talks us through his role at the Museum and discusses the importance of the heritage crafts that are now at risk.

I have been working as Trades & Crafts Interpreter at the Weald & Downland Museum for the last 3 years. With an early interest in making and crafting, which was inspired by my father who was a carpenter and joiner, I studied model making at college before working freelance for 10 years creating models and props for TV, film and theatre. I then went on to work as a design technology teacher for many years in Surrey before spotting the job advertisement at the Museum.

I was already familiar with the Weald & Downland Living Museum as I used to come here lots with my family when I was young, I always remember it was like going back in time when I went into the houses.

My role at the Museum is to manage and coordinate the running of the bakehouse, dairy, mill and forge. I arrived just as the bakehouse was being opened and as a baking enthusiast myself; I’ve really enjoyed getting this part of the Museum up and running. Sadly, throughout the pandemic we’ve been unable to open these buildings and run the usual demonstrations but are planning to bring these back in the autumn, all being well.

Pre-pandemic, my role was very varied from training and coordinating the volunteers and managing stock levels of ingredients to the more hands-on tasks of making the dough, baking and milling the flour. I also carry out lots of research to ensure we are being as authentic as possible to how things were done in the past. I already knew quite a lot already about traditional trades, tools and methods as I would cover these topics during my time as a DT teacher and I had also attended several courses here at the Museum, however I’m constantly learning something new about how our rural ancestors used crafts to live and work.

During the pandemic and with the bakehouse temporarily closed, I’ve gone back to my roots and turned my hand to other rural trades such as making stave baskets, wooden pegs and carved spoons.

The stave basket was used in the 19th and early 20th century to collect crops such as apples and potatoes for harvesting and to carry feed to livestock. They would have been made in the winter months by rural communities using whatever materials were locally available such as ash, elm and hazel. They were very labour intensive to make and fell out of favour by the mid-20th century when cheaper mass produced alternatives were introduced.

There are now very few people with the skills and experience to make these historic baskets, which is why it has found itself on the Heritage Crafts Association’s red list for Critically Endangered Crafts. Along with a few other craftspeople, I’ve been trying to find new uses for this type of basket so they can hopefully continue to have a future.

It takes me many hours to make just one basket – from cutting down the tree, using green wood to make the rims and handles with the aid of specially made formers, cutting and shaving the staves (planks) and then assembling the baskets using completely traditional methods and tools. Several baskets are available to purchase in the Museum Gift Shop.

It is sad that so many crafts that were once so integral to the survival of rural communities are now being forgotten and lost. Once these skills are gone, they are gone for good so working in partnership with the Heritage Crafts Association, we are doing all we can to preserve these trades for future generations.

On the 7 & 8 August, the Museum will be hosting a special Historic Life Weekend dedicated to Crafts at Risk so visitors can come and enjoy demonstrations and displays of a great many crafts that are not normally here, such as clog making, wheelwrighting, corn dolly making and much more. I will be at the wood yard for some of the weekend making the baskets and other items so please do come and find me.

I believe the pandemic really opened people’s eyes to the importance of crafts as being good for mental health and wellbeing. Making something with your own hands, whether that is baking or woodwork, really leaves you with a tremendous sense of achievement and satisfaction.