Lost arts: Historic craftsmanship across the county 'endangered'

Sailmakers, watch makers, and cricket bat carvers, are all on the list of endangered crafts

Sailmakers, watch makers, and cricket bat carvers, are all on the list of endangered crafts - Credit: Jeckells/Archant/Norfolk Cricket Bat Company

Clog makers. Wooden fishing net creators. Basket weavers. 

These are among the 'critically endangered' crafts going extinct in the UK - but some of Norfolk's most historic skills are also on the list. 

The Heritage Crafts' Association red list of endangered crafts also feature the likes of sail and watch making - despite the fact that both the yachting and the jewellery industry have seen a boom since lockdown. 

And making the list of rare skills is no surprise to those people - though not everyone can figure out why they are such an anomaly. 

Simon Michlmayr is a horologist (someone who works with timepieces) and owner of Norwich's Michlmayr Clocks and Watchmakers.

Watchmaker Simon Michlmayr (photo: Simon Finlay)

Watchmaker Simon Michlmayr (photo: Simon Finlay) - Credit: SIMON FINLAY

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He said: "As an industry we have a few colleges which specialise in watch making and watch repair who produce maybe 20 to 25 graduates a year. Even then, they are focussed on watch repair as opposed to making watches. 

"But I simply can't understand why there is such a shortage of watchmakers in the UK, because we are always exceedingly busy. The job is well-paid, it's interesting, you're always busy. 

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"I think perhaps the thing that puts people off is that you have to train for five or six years, or they don't even realise they can have a career as a watchmaker. 

"It's not as though watches being mass-produces overseas has much of an impact because there are so many niches. People are willing to pay £30,000 plus for one of the watches we make because we make perhaps one or two a year. 

"Then when you do look at the high street brands: Rolex, some of the Swiss brands, they're always going to need maintenance. I would say it's an endangered skill but I can't say I really know why."  

The reasons for the dwindling of his craft is all to clear for David Wolstenholme, owner of the Norfolk Cricket Bat Company near Lenwade. 

He said: "I do my job because I love it - I earn a living, but I'm not in it for the money. Which is a good job because the market for English made cricket bats is being squeezed and squeezed by imported bats from abroad. 

Behind the scenes at the Norfolk Cricket Bat Company

Behind the scenes at the Norfolk Cricket Bat Company - Credit: Norfolk Cricket Bat Company

"It's really sad. I'd love to take on an apprentice and teach them about the wood we use - we source it from Bungay - the craftsmanship that goes into it, but there's just no point. I think I'll be alright - I've got 18 years left before I retire and there will always be people who want the real thing - but it won't be that way for everyone."

But for a Hoveton's Jeckells The Sailmakers the changes within the sailmaking industry are a result of the changing of tides as opposed to the erosion of its craft.

Chris Jeckells is the seventh generation in his family to run his sailmaking company - founded in 1832.

The first photo of Jeckells The Sailmakers in 1914 - taken to celebrate the factory having a lightbulb installed

The first photo of Jeckells The Sailmakers - taken to celebrate the factory having a lightbulb installed - Credit: Jeckells The Sailmakers

Once upon a time its workshop saw hand-sewn sails hundreds of feet high marked out, cut, and tested by hand. 

However now labour can lean on laser-cutters for better precision and sewing machines to create more aero-dynamic options. 

Jeckells The Sailmakers in the 1950s

Jeckells The Sailmakers in the 1950s - Credit: Jeckells The Sailmakers

Mr Jeckells said: "We're still doing what we did all those years ago - we're still hiring apprentices and training people - but we're training them on computers instead of sewing by hand. 

"We also need about half the workshop space we used to because we no longer need to put it up to test it - once we know the measurements and how much belly we need to give the sail the laser does the rest of the work. 

"So I would say sailmaking in the traditional sense is somewhat of an endangered skill. However there is so much demand for these more cost-effective, aero-dynamic sails and we've especially seen this in lockdown. People were really investing in their boats because they couldn't book a holiday so we have been busy. 

The Jeckells factory in the 1970s

The Jeckells factory in the 1970s - Credit: Jeckells The Sailmakers

"We are still seeing people wanting to get into the industry which is wonderful - I think our apprentices like the fact that it's highly skilled and there's a tangible product at the end." 

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