For their 2002 get together the APT (Association of Pole Lathe Turners) combined with Wakehurst Place and their Wildwood Festival to stage what was possibly the biggest greenwood and coppice craft event of the year.
150 members of APT from all over the country descended upon this corner of Sussex, bringing with them their lathes and a range of beautifully hand-crafted chairs and other woodware. This annual event has become a highlight of the APT calendar and enables members to meet up to share ideas, stories and skills, reacquaint old friendships and generally have an enjoyable weekend.
It was a particular feast of all things woodland related. As well as the APT demonstrations and competitions, there was a vast range of skills on show from a huge canoe or long boat being hewn from a single tree, to chestnut palling, charcoal, rustic furniture, stick making, basket making, coracleing on the lake and chainsaw carving - giving the public a wide range of things to see and hopefully raising awareness of the role that trees played in our past and can play in the future.
One of the highlights was a talk by Ben Law, author of "The Woodland Way", about the trials of trying to live and work in a wood, a subject dear to the heart of many APT members. For despite all the talk by politicians about the rural economy and helping business, things are definitely stacked against you if you should dare to want to live in a woodland and manage it in a traditional, sustainable way. Ben’s battles with the planners and considerable success in being allowed to live in his wood are being seen as valuable case studies for others who may wish to follow.
A large part of APT’s message, like that of Woodland Heritage, is to bring about a far wider appreciation and understanding of these ancient crafts and their link to the way that woods were managed and cared for. Part of keeping these skills alive is proving that they have a viable place in the modern world and are not just some quaint reminiscence of a long gone era.
There is a range of classes in chair making and turnery, which are hotly yet amicably, contested. It is always fascinating to see the range of interpretations of the Windsor chair. Everyone makes them that little bit differently.
For the third year the best in show prize was sponsored by Woodland Heritage and at Wakehurst it was won by Malcolm Lee of Suffolk for his chair/table, something that proved a great talking point.
On a nice local point the Freeform Chair category was won by Wakehurst’s own APT member Ian Parkinson for his innovative rustic chair with bark woven seat.
Wakehurst Place proved to be a wonderful venue for the event, set in beautiful grounds, with the famed gardens, arboretum and the millennium seed bank. There was almost too much to see and do in a single weekend, leaving many participants determined to go back another day to fully appreciate the glories of the place.
What the whole Wakehurst event proved beyond doubt was that far from being a quaint piece of history, greenwood work in all its varying forms is very much alive and well, and forging into the future.
The 2003 APT gathering will be at Westonbirt on the weekend of 10th & 11th May. Advance tickets and further information from The Secretary, John Burbage, Scullsgate Cottage, Benenden, Cranbrook, Kent, TN17 4LE, Tel 01580 240 608