Rare Talents: The Makers Keeping Britain’s Traditional Trades Alive

These artisans are keeping the workshop lights on for the British heritage trades on the brink of extinction. Step inside the studios of the UK’s wheelwrights, globemakers and sailmakers.

Read more artisan stories in our latest print issue, Volume 37: Craft.

Raise your hand if you've ever met someone in the UK with the surname Smith. How about Turner? Or Wright, perhaps? Almost as common as the Joneses and the Browns of Britain, these old English names not only signal the historical importance of the UK's tinsmiths, wood-turners and wheelwrights, but the sheer number that once existed across the length and breadth of the country, too.

A few centuries ago, for instance, there would have been someone on hand to keep the wheels turning in every village across the UK. Today, there's a maximum of 50 left in the country. Yet, as I speak with master wheelwright Greg Rowland on a visit to his family-run workshop in Devon, I sense optimism about the future of his trade, handcrafting wooden wheels.

"I can trace wheelwrighting in our family back to 1331. My ancestors once made wagons that transported stone to build Exeter Cathedral," he tells me. "There might be fewer of us now but I'd say that makes us more important. We've got a set of generational skills that are rare to find."

Discover more stories from the Craft issue here.

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