Made In Great Bri­tain Pre­view

The new BBC Two series Made in Great Bri­tain, which be­gins this month, re­veals how our tal­ented ances­tors helped to craft mod­ern Bri­tain, says Nell Darby

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

We take you be­hind the scenes of the new BBC series that cel­e­brates our coun­try’s re­gional in­dus­tries

Un­til she had a con­ver­sa­tion with her grand­mother one day, Claire de Lune had no idea that she was keep­ing up a fam­ily tra­di­tion. Work­ing as a ce­ram­i­cist, Claire was un­aware that her ances­tors were also pot­ters – and that their his­tory in Stafford­shire could be traced back to the 15th cen­tury. How­ever, when the jour­nal­ist and BBC pre­sen­ter Steph McGovern took her to Stoke, she found her­self on a per­sonal jour­ney, dis­cov­er­ing how her pot­ting fore­bears lived, and the hard­ships that they suf­fered.

Claire is one of the four con­tem­po­rary Bri­tish crafts­peo­ple fea­tured in the six-part BBC Two series Made in Great Bri­tain, which cel­e­brates the im­por­tance of lo­cal in­dus­try and our ances­tors’ craft­ing skills – the pro­gram­memak­ers say that their aim is to “fea­ture the ex­tra­or­di­nary sto­ries be­hind or­di­nary ob­jects”. As they travel the coun­try the quar­tet go back in time, as each hour-long episode ex­plores a par­tic­u­lar city or town and the his­toric craft as­so­ci­ated with it.

Cheese-mak­ing in Wens­ley­dale, pot­tery in Stoke-on-Trent, cut­lery-mak­ing in Sh­effield, shoe man­u­fac­ture in Northamp­ton, choco­latemak­ing in York and millinery in Lu­ton: the series takes in var­i­ous well-known trades that have helped con­struct a re­gion’s iden­tity. Al­though Made in Great Bri­tain is fo­cus­ing on spe­cific crafts, these are put into their wider con­text, with Steph re­veal­ing how they helped to shape Bri­tain’s eco­nomic and so­cial his­tory. For ex­am­ple, in Northamp­ton the pro­gramme vis­its the tra­di­tional shoe fac­tory Tricker’s, where mas­ter shoe­maker Scott McKee demon­strates how to hand-stitch a ‘turn shoe’ as me­dieval cord­wain­ers would have done, show­ing how 14th-cen­tury work­ers helped set the town, and them­selves, on a path to pros­per­ity.

As the Northamp­ton episode demon­strates, var­i­ous ex­perts are brought in to help the con­tem­po­rary crafts­peo­ple cre­ate items that rep­re­sent each in­dus­try, us­ing his­toric in­struc­tion man­u­als, log­books, diaries and tools. Through mak­ing their own prod­ucts, they learn how their trade has changed over time – but also how there is con­ti­nu­ity as well as change. Jo Bishop, Made in Great Bri­tain’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, says that lo­ca­tion is the key to the series: “Our rule was that the prod­ucts still had to be pro­duced in the home town where they were first es­tab­lished – a sense of place was as im­por­tant as the craft.” There­fore the guest ex­perts who fea­ture in the pro­gramme had to have a con­nec­tion to the par­tic­u­lar town or city, as well as be­ing top crafts­peo­ple in their field. “They needed to be able to lead us through four eras, and help teach our mak­ers the skills re­quired for each pe­riod.”

Tes­ti­mony From The Past

Lo­cal record of­fices play a cru­cial role in the series too. As Jo ex­plains, “For each craft, we delved into lo­cal ar­chives to find orig­i­nal ledgers, doc­u­ments and tes­ti­monies from peo­ple at the time. One of my favourites was from a Northamp­ton fac­tory-owner, telling a provider of sew­ing ma­chines to stay away be­cause of a feared up­ris­ing in the town. ‘They don’t want us here,’ he said.”

In Claire’s case, her visit to Stoke – her first – gives her a strong sense of con­nec­tion with both her craft and her ances­tors. Al­though she was able to find out in­for­ma­tion about her fam­ily her­self, the pro­gramme-mak­ers also em­ployed a pro­fes­sional ge­neal­o­gist to help delve fur­ther.

From a doc­u­ment show­ing that one of her fore­bears was fined for dig­ging up clay in the road in 1448 – ‘pot hol­ing’, as it was called – Claire then moves for­ward to the 19th cen­tury, where she finds the hum­ble ter­raced cot­tage in Bold Street where her rel­a­tive, pot­ter Richard Adams, lived with his wife and chil­dren. While half her fam­ily grew rich dur­ing this era (the Wil­liams Adams and Son pot­tery com­pany ran for two cen­turies, be­fore be­ing sold to Wedg­wood in the 1960s), her own fam­ily line was poor.

The pro­gramme vis­its Stoke’s Glad­stone Pot­tery Mu­seum to ex­plore the dan­gers his­tor­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with Claire’s trade: al­most 90 per cent of pot­ters died be­fore the age of 45, and a third were dead by the age of 15. Her fam­ily his­tory is put into its wider so­cial and po­lit­i­cal con­text as the pro­gramme looks at poverty and sick­ness, and how work­ers in the field were prone to de­vel­op­ing a horrible lung dis­ease, ‘Pot­ter’s Rot’, be­cause of their prox­im­ity to smoke, dust and lead glazes.

A farm is an­other film­ing lo­ca­tion in the same episode, and leads to an un­ex­pected rev­e­la­tion for Claire. “It turned out that the own­ers were in­di­rectly re­lated to Claire, and held a book ac­tu­ally writ­ten by an­other mem­ber of the Adams fam­ily dy­nasty,” says Jo.

The series also talks to other crafts­peo­ple and busi­ness own­ers whose fam­i­lies have been in­volved in their craft for gen­er­a­tions. One ex­am­ple is millinery dyer John Horn. Based in Lu­ton, John’s great grand­fa­ther owned a straw­plait shop back in the 1820s, be­fore his fam­ily moved into felt- and straw-dye­ing by the end

of the cen­tury. John, who dyes hats for fa­mous de­sign­ers in­clud­ing Philip Treacy, works in a Vic­to­rian dye-works that was once the cen­tre of Lu­ton’s hat-pro­duc­tion in­dus­try, and has been owned by his fam­ily for the past four decades.

How­ever, not all of those in­volved in the series have such a long fam­ily his­tory with a par­tic­u­lar craft. Jo Bishop notes that mas­ter shoe­maker Scott McKee is “only sec­ond gen­er­a­tion – just his fa­ther had been a shoe­maker be­fore him, and not a mas­ter – yet Scott felt a nat­u­ral affin­ity to his past, and had metic­u­lously pre­served the equip­ment and ma­chin­ery from by­gone eras”. Of course, Northamp­ton it­self has been a cen­tre of shoe­mak­ing since the 17th cen­tury, and you can study footwear to de­gree level at its univer­sity.

For view­ers who find them­selves in­spired to find out more about the crafts in their tree, Jo ad­vises, “Visit lo­cal mu­se­ums and ar­chives. Even fac­to­ries them­selves of­ten have a wealth of in­for­ma­tion and archive ma­te­rial tucked away.”

The Legacy Of Tal­ent

Made in Great Bri­tain em­pha­sises the last­ing im­por­tance of crafts to both our his­tory and our psy­che, de­spite our mod­ern con­sumerist so­ci­ety, and fo­cuses on the lives of our ar­ti­san ances­tors, and the im­pact of their cre­ativ­ity and skill so many cen­turies later. As Jo con­cludes, “I hope that view­ers will gain an un­der­stand­ing of the his­tory and long line of mak­ers who came up with the bril­liant ideas that have helped to form those or­di­nary, ev­ery­day ob­jects which we of­ten take for granted.”

‘The series fo­cuses on the lives of our ar­ti­san ances­tors’

Steph McGovern ( cen­tre) takes four crafts­peo­ple back in time in the new series, in­clud­ing Claire de Lune ( sec­ond from right)

Work­ers dip pots into a vat of glaze at Wedg­wood in Stoke- on-Trent, 1930

In the new series ce­ram­i­cist Claire de Lune dis­cov­ers how the pot­ters in her fam­ily tree once prac­tised her trade

Nell Darby is a so­cial his­to­rian and writer. She also ed­its our Q&A sec­tion – see page 41

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