Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Apprenticeships- celebrating a Masters of his craft: Mr William Phipps

This week is national apprentice week. With the price of University tuition fee’s and living going up, young people are opting for apprenticeships schemes rather then University.

With some professions, only an apprenticeship can actually train you for your role. In Japan apprenticeships were a normality. Young people flooded master craftsmen with requests to shadow and learn from a master. In some professions it is the only way forward.  Being trained by a master craftsman or women with a indisputable reputation is a gift in itself.  How else can you learn a detailed craft or making method other then standing by watching and aiding someone who has been doing it for years.

Without apprenticeships taking on a similar role as those in Japan, some English traditional crafts will soon dissolve and eventually be forgotten. How many of you know of any one who can make bobbin lace? It’s a beautiful process and produces an even more beautiful fabric. Something I wish I had paid more attention to when I was shown by a lovely lady who has now past away.

I want to tell you about a very special person whose beautiful crafted skill ended when he died in 2009 . Mr William Phipps aka Mr Bill Chipps.
I met Mr Phipps at egg.  He was the egg silversmith. His personality won me over and I think I was a little bit in love with him. His giggle, naughty grin and clumsy stuttering, normally while telling a joke kept everyone enthralled. The punch line was normally forgotten because everyone would be giggling too much. He turned up every year at Christmas to play a seasonal tune on his bicycle pump or on the silver spoons. He rode a bicycle and motorbike both which had a plastic nose taped to the front to replicate his own hooter. He swam in the Serpentine everyday. EVERYDAY. At Christmas he swam in fancy dress, a normal festive formality for him. 

He was kind, happy and wonderful man. And most importantly he made the most beautiful silver wear. He worked in his garage aided by his plastic soldiers that were placed in a marching regiment  to keep him company. Many a phone call to Bill, answered by Mrs Phipps, would be received with a broom pounded on the floor so that Mr Phipps knew he was wanted.
His silver pieces were the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Some commissions were 3-4 years long as he hand forged every spoon, fork, knife by hand. Despite his humour and character, his work remained professional and to time.

His spoons were what I loved the most. They were spoons, but very naughty spoons with lots of personality. Midget spoons, salt spoons, jam spoons, table spoons, ...the list goes on. He made a paddle spoon which he shared with egg. It was exactly as the name describes, a spoons to paddle with. More of a work of art then a functional object. When clients would ask me what you used a spoon of such size for, I would always answer with a smile the same way Mr Phipps would, "To paddle with". A glimpse at the £5000 price tag would always  add to the clients puzzlement.

I was lucky enough to be given one of Mr Phipps silver spoons. It will always be a treasured memory of my dear friend.

Without apprenticeship schemes special crafts and traditional making methods like Mr Phipps  will be forgotten too quickly. That is just too sad to think about.

To read more about Apprenticeship week click here
Read more about my very missed friend, Mr Phipps, click  here

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