Englands Oldest Handicrafts


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 Below is an article from The Antiquary Volume 35 by  Edward Walford, John Charles Cox and George Latimer Apperson – published in 1899.  It covers the early English Handicraft trade and the beginning of working in precious metals.


Alfred’s Jewel – BackWorking in precious metals and in bronze was one of the earliest and most important industries practised by our forefathers in this country. Many antiquaries have questioned whether the production of decorative objects actually preceded the Roman invasion. According to Holinshed’s Chronicle “collars of gold and silver wrought for women’s necks” were a part of the tribute which the Emperor Augustus laid upon this island, and it is scarcely probable that ores would have been sought here by other nations if ornaments of metal made in this country had not been carried abroad.

The earliest settlements of Saxons undoubtedly included goldsmiths and bronzeworkers, for as a race they were accustomed to wearing ornaments of precious metal, made with a skill and artistic taste which do credit to their handicraft. The monasteries, in Saxon times no less than in later ages, were the schools and cradles of arts and industries. Alcuin, who was living at the close of the eighth century, and founded several monasteries, is especially mentioned in medieval chronicles as the patron of handicrafts. He was the friend of Charlemagne, and went on one occasion to Parma to confer with that monarch on matters connected with the goldsmith’s craft, and to discuss means for improving the making of crosses, shrines, and vessels for the churches. The results of this conference Alcuin confided to the monks in England, and richly chased, hammered and enamelled gold, silver, and bronze vessels made by his instructions long enriched the great abbeys of St. Albans, and Gloucester. St. Dunstan more than any other exerted himself to encourage handicrafts, and at the school founded by him at Glastonbury pupils were taught, among other things, working in precious metals and bronze. Later he was taken as the patron saint of goldsmiths, and the records of city companies abound in notices of the ceremonies which took place in his honour on special occasions. Many of the abbots were themselves noted artists. Bishop Bernward, who lived at the close of the tenth century, executed some beautiful Sticks (which are now in Kensington Museum) for the abbey where he learnt his art. Another Bishop-artist was Brithnodus of Ely, whose four images, covered with silver-gilt and precious stones, the glory of the abbey, had to go, with many other ornaments, to appease the resentment of William the Conqueror against this last stronghold of saxons.


Further Reading and External Links

Bishop Bernward on Wikipedia