The people breathing new life into Petersfield’s traditional crafts
- Credit: Archant
In this age of mass production, our appetite for the handmade has become revitalized. Viv Micklefield meets some of those in Petersfield who are breathing new life into the town’s traditional crafts
It’s more than a coincidence when a town with a largely agricultural heritage which might have disappeared into rural obscurity, instead, over the centuries, becomes a magnet for craftspeople. And the good news is that the tradition of artisan makers within Petersfield and its outlying villages continues. So for anyone seeking the bespoke and the beautiful, today it’s a go-to destination.
A dip into the archives at the local museum reveals the Hampshire Directory of Tradesmen 1784. Of over 30 different occupations listed for Petersfield, an impressive 26 clockmakers are identified, as well as leather workers involved in everything from saddlery to bookbinding. While by the mid-19th century, alongside the town’s growing brewing industry, umbrellas were being produced and almost a dozen tailors had set-up shop; records suggesting that Churcher’s College provided a ready supply of apprentices for many of these trades.
Identifying some of the reasons behind this burgeoning centralisation of skills, museum curator Katherine West confirms that the ready availability of raw materials had an impact. This, coupled with the era of coaching, was she says “important to the town” and spurred-on the demand for local suppliers to meet the needs of travellers stopping over on the busy London to Portsmouth route. Yet, interesting, some of the crafts still thriving in the 21st century, can trace their roots much further back.
Carrying on the tradition for pottery, first established in the area by the Romans, is ceramicist Justine Jenner, who says: “I just love the whole creative process with pottery which was something that I always wanted to learn.”
Never happier than when she’s throwing pots, Justine’s skills were honed at the famous Dartington Pottery and her signature tableware collection, combining brightly coloured brush strokes on a white tin glaze, was later produced at a friend’s studio in Rome. Now, three years on from installing a kiln and wheel at home in Liss Forest, a few miles outside of Petersfield, she regularly braves the cold to keep up with orders. “My studio is in my garage and at this time of year I sometimes have to wear a heated blanket!” laughs Justine.
As well as firing-off copious batches of the Rainbow range, her more muted Speckled collection blends perfectly with today’s Scandi-inspired interiors. Different glazes, she says, can be applied, but Justine knows the look that best sums-up her work, observing: “I’m always taking note of new ideas. My pottery uses traditional skills but has a design twist. It’s the type of style that I would use at home.”
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Providing a showcase for such creative talent is Dragon Street gift shop Handmade Happiness run by fellow artisan Jenny Stacy, who takes a hands-on approach to running her business, with a sewing machine at the ready for customer free moments. “Everything here is a one-off; I like to have things in the shop that I’m proud to sell,” says Jenny, who opened her doors just over five years ago and credits the A3 tunnel for making Petersfield easily accessible once again from the country’s capital. She continues: “At the moment I’ve items from around 35 different Hampshire craftspeople. Petersfield is a very crafty town and I feel very lucky to be here.”
Should further proof be needed of this, the Petersfield Arts and Crafts Society currently boasts around 300 members who work in a multitude of media. Inevitably, the natural environment on their doorstep – be this the rolling chalk downland or its wildlife, provides the inspiration for much of what’s produced. And the same is true in other local workshops.
During the 18th century, the town had five blacksmiths and today in the hands of Richard Mason and Leigh Richards, Swan Street’s Petersfield Forge retains its place at the heart of the community. Whilst the duo still employ many of the traditional processes, these are combined with modern technology, to make everything from gates to garden benches.
Another artisan taking metal working into the new millennium, albeit on a different scale, is Steep based jewellery designer Laura de Zordo. Often to be found in her tracksuit showered with silver dust, Laura who first learnt beaded jewellery from her mother, now incorporates turquoise sourced from her native USA into statement pieces. “I’ve always worn silver jewellery and love turquoise,” she says, adding: “I created the company in February 2016 and just fell in love with the stones. I never knew such a diverse range of turquoise existed – you’ve got greens, dark blue and light blue, there’s all different colours.
“For me it is about the crafting of a piece of jewellery that you cannot always make very quickly. It takes time, you make mistakes, you learn, you do it again and then when a piece is finally finished and it’s beautiful, there is a great sense of satisfaction. In this day of instant gratification having to wait and having to be patient is what I love the most.”
Word of mouth and becoming recognised as one of the regular stallholders at the local monthly Makers’ Market, Laura says is creating demand for her designs. And she’s not alone in benefiting from having so many like-minded producers nearby.
“It’s been amazing,” agrees knitwear designer Kate Box who grew up in Petersfield and returned to her home town in 2008. As a ‘graduate’ of both knitwear giant Pringle and Orla Kiely’s ‘highly creative’ design house, Kate’s lambswool accessories are a far cry from the area’s glove and felt-making cottage industries of the Middle Ages. However, with her contemporary designs knitted on retro 1970s domestic machines in a spare bedroom at home, her business, in common with some of her predecessors, is growing around the demands of bringing-up a family.
“I started by knitting baby blankets for my children and for friends. One day, I visited Handmade Happiness and Jenny (Stacy) liked the blankets and began stocking them. It’s great because she’s given me so much feedback; one suggestion was to think about making smaller products that are more of an impulse buy, which is how the wrist warmers and neck warmers came about.”
With customers now flocking to buy these items either online, or at pop-up shops, Kate says: “Local people have been very supportive and want to buy from artisan makers.”
Perhaps it’s small wonder when there’s always been so much skill and creativity on offer in this one Hampshire town.
• Handmade Happiness: Jenny Stacy’s keen eye ensures there’s always something new to look out for in her craft emporium at 9 Dragon Street, Petersfield GU31 4JN. For current opening times, visit, jenny-handmadehappiness.blogspot.co.uk
• All That’s Handmade: Mandy Lee’s business is a shop window for her own glass painted pictures alongside the shelves she rents out to other craftspeople to sell their work at 11 Lavant Street, Petersfield GU32 3EL. For current opening times, visit, allthatshandmade.simpl.com
• Petersfield Makers’ Fayre: a monthly gathering of stallholders takes place on Saturdays between 9am and 1.30pm at St Peter’s Church Hall, St Peter’s Street. Entry is free and details of forthcoming markets are given on the Facebook page.
• Petersfield Arts & Crafts Society: the Society’s annual exhibition of members’ work takes place in August at Petersfield Festival Hall. Visit www.petersfieldartsandcrafts.org.uk for information about this and other events open to the public.
• The independent traders of Petersfield - Petersfield has been bustling with independent traders for over 800 years and they are still flocking to set up in business in this former wool town. Viv Micklefield takes a look at some of those plying their wares today