A HAMPSHIRE attraction is one of the last strongholds of a traditional craft skill in danger of extinction, according to The Heritage Crafts Association (HCA).

The association updates its Red List of Endangered Crafts every two years and the 2023 list shows there are only five silk ribbon weavers in the UK - with two of these employed at Whitchurch Silk Mill. 

There are now just three silk-weaving companies, including Gainsborough, Stephen Walters and Whitchurch Silk Mill.

New for 2023, silk weaving has been classified as ‘endangered’, which means there are currently enough craftspeople to transmit the craft skills to the next generation. There are serious concerns about their ongoing viability.

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Crafts classified as ‘endangered’ are those with very few practitioners, few trainees and a lack of viable training routes by which the skills can be passed on. Often they serve very niche markets, and craftspeople cannot afford to step away from production to train their successors for fear those markets will disappear.

In the last few years, the recently retired senior weaver at Whitchurch Silk Mill passed on her skills to two trainee Weaver Tacklers. Shannon Bye and Olivia Goldsmith are now employed at the mill full-time. However, the heritage skills that ensure the continuation of the mill are still critically endangered. The mill plays a huge part in helping to safeguard the future of silk weaving skills, teaching future generations this important heritage craft.

The silk mill is now a working museum, and visitors to the mill can see highly skilled craftspeople at work, winding, warping and weaving silk as generations before them have done.

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Mary Lewis, who led the research on behalf of Heritage Crafts, said: “The effect of the energy crisis, inflation, Covid-19 and Brexit has been tough on everyone, not least the craftspeople who possess our most fundamental craft skills.

“We know heritage craft skills operate like an ecosystem; losing one part can devastate other parts of the system. If we allow endangered crafts to disappear, we seriously diminish the opportunities for future generations to create their own sustainable and fulfilling livelihoods and deal with future challenges.”

Heritage Crafts co-chair Jay Blades MBE, best known for the TV series The Repair Shop, added: “When craft skills are in danger of dying out, it’s important that we know exactly where to focus our efforts.

“Over recent years, the Red List of Endangered Crafts has made us realise exactly what we are at risk of losing and has given our team at Heritage Crafts the information we need to direct our support most effectively.”