The Worshipful Company of Turners

Supporting the Craft, City and Charity for over four hundred years

Deputy Master Melissa Scott shares her inspirations for her years as master 2020 – 22

In the year before my term, I had the chance to attend youth training days run by Liveryman Les Thorne (supported by AWGB) – and in various meetings with professional and amateur turners – I was struck by the impact turning has on well-being and mental health.

People shared with me their stories of how it helped their PTSD, Asperger’s and mental health challenges. With the impact of lockdowns, what also became evident was the importance of crafts to help us live well; whether reconnecting with the art of sourdough baking, potting tomatoes, or dusting off a lathe. Covid-19 highlighted the importance of creativity to our lives.

From supporting Road Farm Countryways in the Chilterns, which helps children and adults to gain confidence while learning new skills; community ventures at the London Greenwood site at Hackney City Farm, and a new community centre in Catterick – supporting veterans and local families – we are able to share the benefits of turning on our well-being.

A further idea that resonated for me was to bring the Craft to life through music – with its proven impact on our spirit and emotions to enhance our well-being. And I determined
these would be platforms during my term as Master – to explore the impact of the Turners’ craft on the fabric of our daily, artistic and cultural lives.

 

It was only as recently as 1983 that the Livery movement had its first female Master and our own in 2006. I am very conscious of the privilege to be only the Company’s second female Master in 400 years and with two prospective female Masters on the Court, gender will hopefully cease to be an issue. In the way that the Court and the Company have enabled women, we are encouraged to see this within management of our Craft associations – Court Assistant, Joey Richardson, has been elected as President of the Association of Woodturners of Great Britain (AWGB) and Jay Heryet (your own guest editor), Chair of the Register of Professional Turners (RPT).

From Wizardry in Wood and other turning exhibitions, we see women emerging as innovators in contemporary turning. I hope we can continue to look at equality, diversity and inclusion in what we do – a driver coming from the Livery movement that this is critical to a healthy future of both the City and the Craft.

 

Turners and Music

Many are not aware of the association between music and Turners with its long and illustrious history. We know that London Turners pioneered instrument making in the 17th and 18th centuries. Thomas Stanesby became Master in 1739 and was commissioned by Handel to make the first Contrabassoon. Richard Potter, Master in 1782 was the most famous flute maker in London.

With recent awareness of this coming from research by a Past Master, the Company commissioned the Turners’ Consort of recorders in the medieval style in 2018 from Tim Cranmore. These eight instruments are now on long-term loan to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and frequently played by the students in performance, outreach and education. This is the first set of eight medieval-style recorders available to any conservatoire in Europe.

Moving from the Medieval era to the 17th century, we know the very fabric of the City of London underwent major changes thanks in part to the 1666 Great Fire – and we all know how change in the City has felt over the last two years.

With Turners’ business success as Pulley Makers for The King’s Ships, a rapidly expanding Merchant Fleet and a period of great change in the baroque musical period, London became a major centre of European Commerce and Culture with the City becoming a centre of woodwind Making. This aspect of the craft was facilitated because London Turners understood the demands of working with wood and how it performed. Through their knowledge as Millwrights and Ship Fitters they appreciated the demanding wet-dry cycles which led to insights into wood turning of instruments. And from that were able to develop the use of seasoned fruitwoods like Apple, Pear and Holly as well as the more traditional Box wood.

New paths for turned instruments

Exciting plans are afoot to recreate a recorder from the 17th Century lost to the current landscape which is one of my projects as Master. We have a fantastic snapshot of City life in the 1660s from Samuel Pepys’ diary, including a tantalising reference on 8 April 1668 to playing the recorder he bought from Drumbleby’s music shop: “the sound of it being, of all sounds in the world, most pleasing to me”.

 

But exactly what kind of instrument did Pepys play? There are no remaining examples of Pepys’ or any other 17th century recorders. The Turners’ Consort allows for authenticity in the playing of Medieval music. But modern-day players do not have access to instruments of the style used in the 17th century to play music, including by Purcell (1659-1695). The current choice is to use a recorder design from the 16th or the 18th century, for example by Stanesby. In partnership with Ian Wilson, Professor of Woodwind at the Guildhall School of Music, we have commissioned Jack Darach, a Turners’ QEST Scholar and one of the UK’s leading recorder makers, to research and develop this instrument.

Why is this project important? One reason is that it creates continuity in the Turners’ Company leading the way in recorder making – and with an international platform. It will also produce a style of instrument that will live on for hundreds of years, carrying the name of the Turners’ Company with it.

Thank you for the super opportunity within ‘Woodturning’ to reflect on my term as Master and as we say in the Company ‘May it Flourish Root and Branch’

 

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