There is a quite confidence that comes from knowing exactly what you are doing.
Jeremy Atkinson is a highly skilled and time-served craftsman who is also lamentably described as the last – no play on words here – maker of English traditional bespoke clogs, a craft going back to Roman times.
Based in the Hereford, Jeremy turns “green” unseasoned timber – sycamore, birch, cherry and alder into the soles of really very beautiful shoes with wooden soles – classically designed English clogs. Perhaps unsurprisingly Jeremy is also a skilled at cutting, dyeing and stitching leather uppers.
Having first split the timber with a froe, the half log is marked with the desired bespoke foot pattern and is then taken through a cutting process which sees Jeremy exert some force to manipulate a three foot long oversized cut-throat tool called a “blocker” or “stock knife” to slice the wooden blank to gradually take the shape of a sole.
The “blocker” is pivoted from the bench via a hook and eye arrangement so that Jeremy applies purchase with his right hand guiding the blade with pin-point accuracy where he want the cuts to be made.
Finer adjustments to the instep, cast and camber of the sole are achieved with two more swivel blade tools, the hollower for the footbed and the gripper for the welt ledge in which the upper is nailed.
The upper is shaped over a wooden last and then lightly tacked to the wooden sole prior to a final fitting with the client – if they are able to visit.
The finished clog is completed with a brass toe piece and either clog irons – similar to horse shoes – or a rubber sole – clogs have a particularly good reputation wherever it’s wet underfoot.
Jeremy has been taught his craft, one that has experienced great longevity in the many regions of the United Kingdom and he travels extensively demonstrating his skills and picking up ideas for his continued work.
Given the physical nature of the work his wrists bear the brunt of the repetitive slicing of the “blocker” and he is worried that he may only have a few more years left in the craft.
Jeremy notes that a number of satisfied customers have used his clogs successfully to provide support for poor feet and in the management of painful foot conditions.
He’s not particularly sentimental about his unwilling role as the last in England to pursue this centuries old craft but he is realistic and in part doing his best to impart his skills having taught Geraint Parfitt (based in Wales).
The struggle to obtain recognition for the social and economic value of crafts and their exponents may well have a quiet champion in Jeremy who in the film below notes that in other parts of Europe people are given state funding to ensure that these crafts do not die out.
I for one would be willing to work much more closely with the Heritage Crafts Association – of which the Prince of Wales is the President – to see what can be done to harness both respect and funding for these legacy crafts.We are becoming increasingly involved in an effort to raise the profile of these crafts and through us I want to market and hopefully sell the work of craftsmen like Jeremy.
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