Brief Historical Notes about the Master Carvers Association
During the Victorian era, the phenomenal growth of towns and cities in Britain resulted in a building boom that has not been equalled since.
The requirement for civic buildings, churches and housing created an unprecedented demand for artist-craftsmen. Large workshops of architectural and ornamental carvers flourished in many areas, with the skills to tackle the florid styles of the day.
The Association was founded by the many employers of thousands of trade carvers in the late 19th century. Its primary function was to uphold the quality of training of architectural carvers, provide a mechanism within which their skills were recognised and for which rates of pay and working conditions could be negotiated with the newly emerging Trades Unions.
To become a Member of the Association, an employer had to demonstrate the carving skills of his employees were of an excellent standard, comprehensive, properly rewarded and that an apprentice training scheme was in place.
Today things are very different. Architectural styles have changed with carved ornament very rarely a requirement. The large workshops that could encompass the manifold skills of architectural carving in wood and stone plus the allied crafts, hardly exist today.
More often than not crafts people are working in small specialist groups or as individuals. This dispersal has also brought about a change in the training of crafts people.
Some colleges now provide courses in basic skills that students can hone later on shorter apprenticeships with a Master Carver.
With the main growth area being in restoration and conservation, carvers have had to become proficient in many styles, as the demand requires, quickly learning to carve in ‘the spirit of the age’. For instance the replacement of gothic stone carving on Westminster Abbey, late 17th century oak wood carving at Hampton Court Palace, 18th century wood and marble at Spencer House, London, and 18th century and 19th century wood carving at Windsor Castle. Many of these projects were worked on by the same group of craftsmen.
Although the skill of carving has changed very little, modern carvers must also learn the new skills of casting in the modern resins and plastics needed in the 21st century, whilst retaining the old skills and materials for restoration work.
The Association celebrated its Centenary in 1998 with a splendid dinner at the Savoy Hotel in London, where a gathering of many long established members and newly recruited younger members pledged to uphold the traditions and professionalism of the past, looking forward to the next century with confidence in their skill and a determination to succeed.