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The Last Clog Maker....

You can easily walk past Jeremy Atkinson's workshop on Duke Street in Kington and not notice it, many times I've peered through the dusty windows wondering what kind of alchemy takes place inside.

This month I was lucky enough to watch the master clogmaker at work after meeting him on the street a few months ago and asking if I could come and document him.

Many months passed since that original meeting, I called Jeremy and he said we needed good light and that Spring time was the best time to come and take some photographs, a few weeks ago I bumped into him at the Friday market in Kington and he mentioned he was carving that day, so I nipped home to get my camera and headed back to his workshop. We spent a good few hours talking, Jeremy showed me how he carves the blocks and I listened whilst he talked about the history of this traditional shoe. For me there's something magical about these ancient British crafts as well as the people who make them, these forgotten trades are a living connection with our past, it's not something you can learn from a book or the internet, you need to see, touch, and feel the tools and materials.

Jeremy is England’s last clog maker, a somewhat legendary figure, although he manages to be quite matter of fact about it. I feel he is aware that what he makes has an importance beyond the clogs. He's of a line stretching back centuries and the only other person who has been taught to carry the craft on works out of St Fagans museum in Cardiff.

Jeremy was born in Somerset where his father was a honey farmer. After a series of bad summers in the 1950s Jeremy's father had to sell the business and they moved to Tregaron in Wales, Jeremy was sent to boarding School. When he left school he trained as a schoolteacher in Hereford and then moved to London, where he sold motorbikes before moving back to Wales, this was when he came across a local clog-maker called Hywel Davies and in the 1970's he started working for him.

Jeremy began working on his own after about a year making 1930s styles and English and Welsh 19th-century designs. A very important part of his work is the hand-carving of the soles rather than using ones cut by machines. The problem with machine-cut clogs is they have the same thickness all the way through, so the balance point ends up in the wrong place, and the clog doesn’t tip forward until the wearer is part way through a stride. Thats why Jeremy cuts the soles so the balance point is in the right place, just behind the ball of the foot.

‘Basically,’ he says, ‘machine-made soles are OK for clog-dancing and standing still, but not for walking around. It’s inevitable because of the compromises you make with machines."

What I love about Jeremy's clogs is that you can see the hand of the maker' catching a moment in time, something you just dont get with factory made shoes.

Jeremy uses antique knives, they are not easy to use (no one makes them any more) they are made from wrought iron with high-carbon steel blades, which face the wood, away from the maker. They look terrifying, Jeremy shows me a scar on his hand where he once slipped with one of the knives. Although scary theres also something really thereputing about watching Jeremy work, he starts with a piece of wood and turns it into something tangiable.

Traditionally, in the towns and cities there would be a team of people making clogs, in the countryside there were people called 'blockers' would would fell the wood and shape it into rough blocks, these pieces would be stacked up and sent via train into the more populated areas to be shaped and formed by a team. In rural areas just one maker would make and construct the pieces, just as Jeremy does today.

The clogs themselves are made from sycamore which he fells from a local forest, he sometimes uses alder too but he prefers using Scottish sycamore apposed to English as it is less likely to split and the wood is better in mud (we have a lot of that here) .

The uppers are chrome leather – leather tanned with chromium salts – he hand dyes these himself using natural dyes, I asked him if he ever uses white leather, he said "No, because there isnt a natural dye that can produce white leather".

There arent many examples of early clogs as most commonly when worn out they were burnt. although some older styles have been excavated, or found in the roofs and walls of old buildings, where they were placed as charms to ward off spirits and bad luck.

There are also very few pictures of people wearing clogs, the taking of a photograph was a very special occasion and something only the wealthy were able to partake in, it was a chance to get dressed up in your Sunday best, the clog being a working persons shoe meant they were rarely documented.

The History of Clogs

here are two explanations of the development of the English style clog. They may have evolved from pattens which were slats of wood held in place by thonging or similar strapping. They were usually worn under leather or fabric shoes to raise the wearer's foot above the mud of the unmade road, not to mention commonly dumped human effluent and animal dung. Those too poor to afford shoes wore wood directly against the skin, and thus the clog was developed, made of part leather and part wood. Alternatively they have been described as far back as Roman times, possibly earlier.

The wearing of clogs in Britain became more visible with the Industrial Revolution, when industrial workers needed strong, cheap footwear. Men and women wore laced and clasped clogs respectively, the fastening clasps being of engraved brass or more commonly steel. They were worn all over the country, and clogs could be manufactured within hospitals to keep down the cost of clothing. Through manufacture, repair and wear clogs could become individually recognised. In the aftermath of disasters they could be a means of identifying the victims.

During the Marches Makers festival in Kington Jeremy is opens his workshop where you can have a rare chance to see the last clogmaker at work.

Or order your own pair directly with Jeremy here ;


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