The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

by Susan Green June 09, 2017 2 Comments

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

Update 06.07.17 you could sign this petition asking the UK government Departure of Culture, Media & Sport to ratify the UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage, intended to safeguard "oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, and traditional craftsmanship knowledge and techniques". 

Original post:

The Heritage Crafts Association recently published The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts, a report on the state of 165 Heritage Crafts in Britain today, ranging from Extinct, to Endangered and Viable. A heritage craft is defined as "a practice which employs manual dexterity and skill and an understanding of traditional materials, design and techniques, and which has been practised for two or more successive generations". Within the last generation, 4 crafts have become Extinct - they are no longer practised - in the UK: cricket ball making, gold beating, Lacrosse stick making and sieve and riddle making.

A further 17 are Critically Endangered, including 4 allied to the craft of bookbinding: Paper Marbling, Fore Edge Painting, Parchment and vellum making, and Tanning (oak bark). Critically Endangered category is classified as "those at serious risk of no longer being practised. They may include crafts with a shrinking base of craftspeople, crafts with limited training opportunities, crafts with low financial viability, or crafts where there is no mechanism to pass on the skills and knowledge". 

Fortunately the majority of heritage crafts are currently in the Viable category, including bookbinding.

Many factors affect the viability of heritage crafts, from the supply of raw materials and tools to the availability of training, economic and legislative factors and the perception of craft by the general public.

Greta Bertram, of The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts says:

"We sincerely hope that this research will act as a call to action to those who have it within their power to resolve or alleviate the issues affecting heritage crafts in the UK, and that this project will serve as a starting point for ongoing monitoring of heritage crafts to ensure that our rich and diverse craft skills carry on into the future."

Heritage crafts currently fall in a funding, support and visibility gap between contemporary craft, which is supported by the Arts Council England and a kind of concrete heritage, supported by the Department of Culture, Media & Sport: that is buildings, monuments and museum collections.

However, heritage crafts are vital to our cultural richness, as a form an intangibile (and physically embodied) heritage. As the Red List explains, they embody:

"tacit knowledge, skills and practices that are an equally important part of our culture, and that require continued practise in order to survive."

Because heritage crafts fall in that gap, we as crafts people, and the galleries, shops and market places who stock our work, the organisations allied to us, all assume a responsibility for vigorously communicating the value of our work, and often explaining (sometimes defending, not least from makers prepared to underprice their work) what it costs because as ever, 'market issues' are a factor - in other words, what people value, what they are prepared to pay, and how long are they prepared to wait for it.

There is much interest in bookbinding and artists books, but there is a lack of education and training opportunities, resulting in much frustration and loss of potential. Whilst the field is supported by professional bodies such as Designer Bookbinders and the Society of Bookbinders, which offer formal training opportunities through to Fellowship and which seek to maintain high standards, accredited courses are few and far between. Universities and colleges have largely removed bookbinding from their curricula. It would be some kind of dream to be able to access formal bookbinding training and qualifications throughout regional educational institutions.  I think this is a key area for protecting, promoting, standardising and expanding the heritage craft of bookbinding.

If I didn't work in a heritage craft myself, I'd find this report depressing. Fortunately, I know first hand that there are people who value handmade, slow made, professionally made, British made craft items, that there are people willing to listen when I explain that it may take 3 weeks for me to make a book, and that there is still a wide community of professional crafts people which is diverse, optimistic, ingenious and generously supportive. 

And at the informal level there is quite a large demand from people who want to learn how to make books, either as a pleasurable hobby or for professional artists who want to expand their practice. I'll be teaching workshops again in 2017 - more details soon. 

Click here to read the full report from The Red List of Endangered Crafts. And thank you to everyone who supports heritage crafts and the people who keep them viable. 


Susan Green
Susan Green


2 Responses

Isabel denyer
Isabel denyer

July 05, 2017

Is there anyway some of these skills could be aired in something like the pottery throw Down?


July 04, 2017

Thanks so much for posting up the Radcliffe Red List. it is very interesting and I hope its getting a good airing

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A5 Medium Portrait TBC
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