Important of heritage skills highlighted by report

Museums have pledged to continue work to keep traditional crafts alive, after a new report found some are in danger of extinction.

A recent report by the Heritage Crafts Association, with funding from The Radcliffe Trust, has examined 169 traditional crafts and identified a number of which are in danger of extinction.

But work by charities like the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust is helping to preserve not just historic buildings, but some of these historic skills.

As part of its on-going work across its 10 museum sites, the trust’s staff, volunteers and tenants practice a wide selection of historic craft skills, many of which appear on the Heritage Craft Association’s Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts.

Blists Hill Victorian Town is the trust’s largest site and here costumed demonstrators portray life at the turn of the last century in their shops, cottages and workplaces and demonstrate many historic craft skills.

Iron casting, which is classified in the report as ‘currently viable’ but not risk free, is the trust’s most dramatic demonstration and takes place most Wednesdays.

The skilled workers in the foundry pour molten iron into sand moulds and produce a large range of decorative cast iron objects using techniques that have remained largely unchanged for 300 years.

As visitors explore the different workshops they can see blacksmithing, tin-smithing and wood-turning all of which appear on the list and adults can even pre-book courses in blacksmithing to learn a variety of basic techniques.

High on the list of ‘Endangered’ skills is floor and wall tile making. The tile industry once thrived in the Gorge in the village of Jackfield. Today the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust has welcomed Craven Dunnill tile makers back to the area, as one of their tenants at Jackfield Tile Museum.

Here works continue to manufacture magnificent wall and floors tiles using Victorian techniques.

Visitors are able to take part in pre-booked or school holiday drop-in workshops where they learn how to decorate tiles using basic tube-lining techniques, a Victorian method of decoration that is still used by the professionals in the factory.

The ancient art of making clay tobacco pipes is listed as ‘critically endangered’ which is the highest classification of risk.

The town of Brosesley, located one mile from the Iron Bridge was once full of pipe factories, including the site that the trust now operates as the Broseley Pipeworks.

Here one of the Trust’s long standing volunteers still keeps alive this critically endangered skill. Aware of the need to find more volunteers to learn this craft, the trust is actively looking for more people to perfect this skill.

Greta Bertram, who led the research on behalf of the Heritage Crafts Association, said: “To be properly safeguarded for the future, heritage crafts must be practised and passed from one generation to the next. It’s fantastic that museums like the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust are actively supporting our intangible craft heritage in this way.”

Anna Brennand Chief Executive Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust added: “For 50 years the Trust has worked long and hard to protect the heritage of the Ironbridge Gorge.

"While the buildings and artefacts are a key part of this heritage, the skills of the Industrial Revolution are of equal importance. The Ironbridge Gorge has always been an inspirational location for artisans and we are passionate about keeping these traditions alive.”

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