Coniston Stonecrafts: Slate Workers – An Endangered Species?
“Cumbria’s rich slate workers and craftsmanship faces extinction,” warns the Heritage Crafts Association, and Coninston Stonecrafts’ owner, Brendan Donnelly.
Cumbria (which is well-known for its picturesque landscapes and its rich heritage) is home to a traditional craft skill (slate masonry) that is at risk of disappearing forever. The Heritage Crafts Association (the HCA) has updated its Red List of Endangered Crafts, which has revealed a concerning reality for slate masonry.
The latest 2023 edition of the Red List shows that there are a mere eight working slate masons left in England, and at least three of them based in Cumbria. This dwindling number raises concerns about the future of the craft. The HCA believes that without the training of young craftsmen and women in traditional slate-cutting and carving skills, the craft could vanish within a generation.
Brendan Donnelly, the owner of Coniston Stonecraft (a renowned company with a slate workshop nestled on the slopes of the Coniston Old Man) emphasises the urgent threat that is facing the craft: “we’ve only been here for 47 years, but people have been quarrying and carving slate in Cumbria for centuries. If we let these skills die out now, we will lose them forever,” said Brendan.
According to the HCA, Coniston Stonecraft is one of three companies in Cumbria still working with Cumbrian slate, alongside Lakeland Stonecraft, and Honister Slate Products. However, the viability of slate masonry is undermined by the industry’s aging workforce, which exacerbates the risk of extinction.