After finishing an apprenticeship in antiques restoration in northern England, Edward wanted to follow a similar path. After some time in the Scilly Isles and in Herefordshire he was on the move again and phoned ahead of his visit to ask if it would be okay to meet up. He'd seen from my blog that I had spent a bit of time with craftsmen travelling in the tradition of the German guilds and wanted to discuss the plan and how it could work with carving.
I wouldn't say that I'm any kind of authority on such things, never having actually travelled in the tradition myself. However, I'm also aware that I've spent more time in the company of journeymen (travelling in the German tradition) than many people in Britain and have been lucky enough to learn a little about their lives.
It was very interesting to chat with Edward about his plans and the things that we spoke about seemed like they might interest others too (perhaps finishing an apprenticeship themselves), although I should say that the opinions expressed here are mine alone and may not be those of Edward or of my journeyman friends.
The tradition of the travelling journeyman has been largely lost in Britain. Probably thanks to events such as the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII or the rise to power of Cromwell and his Puritans later on, work for travelling craftspeople became harder to find in this country. Although British people do sometimes travel in the tradition of the German societies, it doesn't seem to be commonly done and also requires a good knowledge of the language that many British people sadly don't have.
Edward asked at one point if I considered the idea worth pursuing and the answer was a definite 'Yes!'
Meeting other craftspeople is one of the most fascinating things about this particular creative world and besides, without giving it a go he could never know if it was possible. He was ready to travel and hadn't had the opportunity to be introduced into the tradition by a travelling journeyman, so was going to give it a try independently.
I did think that it would be good to keep some flexibility though. French and German journeymen have many traditions and customs that mean important things but without an experienced person to explain, they could sometimes be easily misinterpreted.
|Image from http://www.ladepeche.fr/article/2014/10/02/1963247-des-compagnons-du-devoir-font-halte-a-la-mairie.html|
All of the journeymen that I have met had travelled for a period of time, at first, in the company of a much more experienced companion who could explain the customs to them and also give guidance on how to navigate through the travelling life. I did say to Edward that I felt that someone outside of the tradition (and without a good knowledge of the language) identifying themselves very strongly with it could potentially lead to misunderstanding in certain situations. It could be better not to seek to emulate but to create your own path, inspired by and with respect for theirs.
Journeymen in the German tradition don't carry phones. It seems a tough path for a British craftsperson, travelling alone initially, to take. Many people in this country aren't used to the ways of the German travelling tradition and turning up unannounced with nowhere to stay might not always be a good idea in more remote places, although it does open the door to receiving kindness from others. It also means that it is more important to be punctual and keep your word; useful skills for a craftsperson. However, other journeymen have told me that travelling in more out-of-the-way areas is often easier. With so many disused barns about and people more open to hitchhikers, it is not as difficult to travel and to find places to sleep.
We also discussed having a website. It can be like a very useful portfolio and business card which can be updated. I haven't met any journeymen who have one but some sort of personal online gallery does seem like it could be a convenient alternative, for an independent travelling craftsperson, to travelling with a bundle of photos and papers that can easily be lost or damaged.
German journeymen don't travel using their own transport but there could be reasons why this might not be so suitable for a lone British craftsperson. For one thing, a good antique restorer needs quite a few different tools. Finding work on the road might be a lot trickier without having all the proper kit already with you but that could be a sizeable amount of stuff: expensive to replace and not so easy to to carry without transport. Having a mobile workshop isn't the way of the journeyman travelling in the German tradition but it could make sense for some other travelling craftspeople.
I did notice that the journeymen that I met were fairly flexible about taking on manual work outside of their particular training if it was on offer. A blacksmith would work on a timber framing project alongside more experienced colleagues. Their codes of practise make them good workers to have around and so they were welcome in other kinds of work too.
A visit to my workshop did give Edward a useful chance to sharpen his own chisels and gouges ready for the road.
It's a great project and I wish Edward every success on his travels. I'd certainly recommend him to anyone who is wondering what his work is like.
I hope that you have also enjoyed these, my own thoughts on what the German travelling tradition could mean for an independent travelling craftsperson from Britain. Hopefully you can also see my respect for that tradition and I'd be interested to hear what others think.
And if any other wood carvers are passing through Bristol, do feel free to get in touch! It's always great to have a chat.