Traditional artisans battling to preserve their crafts are set to receive a welcome surge of support from sharing their skills and knowledge with thousands of visitors at Chatsworth Country Fair this year.
A longstanding feature of the three-day event in the Derbyshire parkland, Countryman’s Walk celebrates traditional country skills with demonstrations from the country’s top craftsmen and women.
Many features that define the British countryside landscape are reliant on traditional crafts that face a fight for survival. While dry stone walling is thriving, many of the other trades are in decline and in desperate need of recruiting new members.
Traditional fence maker Simon Fowler has seen his craft of hurdle making, a dying artisan skill he has been practising for more than 25 years, being placed on the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts [heritagecrafts.org.uk/redlist]. One of only two hurdle makers in Derbyshire, Simon makes willow and hazel hurdles previously used by farmers and which today provide an environmentally friendly alternative to cheap mass-produced fence panels. He will be showing how he makes wattle hurdles using locally sourced materials from sustainably managed woodlands.
Maker Maggie Cooper is passionate about keeping the craft of basket making alive and feels there could be a positive future for baskets made from home-grown materials, as the awareness of the need to reduce our reliance on plastic grows.
She explains: “There is more interest in traditional basket making because of economic and environmental trends, but some of the more difficult designs are all but forgotten. Weaving willow and other basketry require skills which take a number of years for fairly low financial returns. Without an acceptance of the ‘slow’ economy of quality made goods thoughtfully produced, there will be no future for the products of the basketmakers of this country.
“Reaching out to new audiences with innovative designs made from home-grown materials is the way forward, and there is now a good argument that plastics are not the answer to all packaging solutions.”
Traditional pole lathe turning has almost completely died out commercially but survives as a hobby with a thriving association promoting the craft. Peter Wood of the woodland crafts centre Greenwood Days, says: “Pole lathe turning is a valuable connection to past ways of working and a useful bridge between modern turning and ancient crafts. Lots of people are interested in hand crafts and reconnecting with physically making things and I see this increasing in the future. At our centre, we have highly skilled professional craft workers and teachers who share a passion for preserving, promoting and passing on these crafts and techniques to people interested in learning a new skill.”
One skill that is bucking the trend is dry stone walling which is in good shape but still faces challenges in attracting younger people to take up the craft.
A popular attraction every year, the Dry Stone Walling Association will be demonstrating the skill by creating a design that remains as a feature in the parkland for the following year. Often a seat, this year’s design has not yet been revealed.
Carl Hardman, Chair of the Derbyshire branch of the Association, said: “Dry stone walling defines much of the British landscape and is a skill that dates back thousands of years. A drive or walk through the countryside is filled with the sight of dry stone walls. It’s essential that the craft is preserved, promoted and enhanced which is why the Chatsworth event is invaluable.”
Countryman’s Walk is a treasure trove of fascinating organisations passionate about sharing their knowledge; from the Artisan Honey Company and Derbyshire Beekeepers Association to the craftsmen making traditional nets, handmade shepherds crooks, walking sticks and hunting crops.
Organiser Sarah Green said: “We’re delighted to be able to give these skilled and passionate craftsmen and women a platform to reach out to new generations of people who may be interested in taking up their skills or simply support in some other way. It’s important that events like ours play their part in preserving rural life and I would urge everyone to take the opportunity to meet these artisan makers and find out more.”
On the gate prices for adults are £25 each day and includes parking while children 14 and under go free. There are also lots of offers available for booking in advance online including a two day ticket for just £32.
Gates open at 9am each day, with a closing ceremony at 6.30pm.
For more information on the event and to book a ticket, please visit www.chatsworth.org/countryfair
Notes to editors:
Simon Fowler, www.peaktraditionalfencing.co.uk
Pete Wood, www.greenwooddays.co.uk
Maggie Cooper, www.maggie-cooper.com
Carl Hardman, Chair of the DSWA Derbyshire Branch, www.derbyshire-dswa.org.uk
The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts
From blacksmithing to basketry, from weaving to wood-turning, we have an incredible range of heritage craft skills in the UK and some of the best craftspeople in the world. But many of these skills are in the hands of an ageing population. In 2015, the Heritage Crafts Association received a generous grant from The Radcliffe Trust to assess the vitality of traditional heritage crafts in the UK and identify those crafts most at risk of disappearing. The assessment of the vitality of each craft – from those which are currently viable to those which are critically endangered – has been made with the help of craftspeople, craft organisations, heritage professionals, funding bodies and members of the public who contributed to the research.
Will Gompertz has chosen Chatsworth as one of the ten places that tell the history of England’s art, architecture and sculpture for the Historic England campaign Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places.The campaign aims to find the 100 places that bring to life England’s rich and extraordinary history.
He said: “Chatsworth is perhaps the finest example of the English stately home. There is a lot of history in its beautiful stone walls, some of which have been standing for nearly five hundred years. But it is still a living home with an energetic owner who makes sure that this historic building is still very much alive in the 21st century, sitting wonderfully – as it does – in the rolling hills of Derbyshire.”
The Chatsworth House Trust is dedicated to the preservation of Chatsworth House, the art collection, garden, woodlands and park for the long term benefit of the public.
The charity promotes the study and appreciation of Chatsworth as a place of historic, architectural and artistic interest and of natural beauty, and encourages the use and enjoyment of Chatsworth by visitors for education and recreation.
Chatsworth is a member of the Treasure Houses of England, 10 of the most magnificent palaces, stately homes and castles in England. www.treasurehouses.co.uk
Chatsworth is only 16 miles from the M1, 10 miles from Chesterfield, and 8 miles north of Matlock, in the heart of Derbyshire’s Peak District National Park and is well served by transport links throughout the UK.
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