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

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.

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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