Lost skills

Why these clogs? The wooden base is carved, the leather uppers sewn and nailed on, all done by hand. A friend remembers the sound of mill girls’ clogs clomping down the street on the way to work. These clogs are the ideal footwear for a wet, dirty factory floor protecting the feet and insulating against water and cold.

Clog maker Jeremy Atkinson explains in this lovely film what it is like to work as a craftsman in a field like this, and here the story is told from the point of view of the apprentice.

There are very few clogmakers who still make everything by hand including soles. At the other end of the scale, there is one factory that produces all parts of the clogs, albeit using machines, making clogs for heavy industries such as glass works and foundries, where clogs remain the best footwear. Walkley Clogs in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, says it has around a hundred industrial customers throughout the UK.

Despite this, it is sadly true that many skills are slowly vanishing. Katharine Coleman, a glass engraver, told me recently that she knows every single engraver in the UK personally – there are a mere three left, partly, she said, because the skill takes such a long time to acquire.

Among a long list of endangered crafts some are already extinct – goldbeating, the making of cricket balls – others on the critically endangered list – clog making with hand carved soles – or watchmaking.

The Heritage Crafts Association (HCA) evaluated a total of 212 crafts with only half considered viable. HCA is chaired by the Prince of Wales who personally has a great deal of interest in this issue.

Craft skills ought to be protected just like heritage sites. We need a National Trust for rare skills.