What are some of the historical crafts of Britain?

Since prehistoric times, when woolen fabrics were woven by hand to protect from the weather and most potteries were created by hand, craft has played a role in British culture. There is a major craft resurgence happening right now. It symbolizes a resurgence in appreciation for handcrafted items, but it is also about rediscovering straightforward, practical, and robust designs.

Over the years, Britain has produced a wide variety of crafts, but the most durable ones are the ones that are straightforward and practical. Since they were frequently constructed using locally grown materials, studying them may aid in our understanding of the country’s geography and past.

Consider basket weaving, which may be the oldest craft in existence. Rushes, willow, and other of our natural plants were previously commonly employed for basket weaving. These were the traditional equivalents of plastic cartons and cardboard boxes, and they were the most popular type of packing in the past.

The trade truly assisted in building Britain since there were countless varieties of baskets used for anything from carrying coal and bricks to catching fish and carrying food and linen. Long before the potter’s wheel was created, the early potters utilized baskets as “molds” to form their vessels. Of all crafts, this is the one that has changed the least. Few old baskets remain since they were used until they fell apart, but modern replicas are being created just as they were long ago.

Another British craft that has endured the test of time is woodworking. Native hardwoods like oak, elm, and beech made it easy to carve furniture, bowls, and spoons, and communities used to have their wood turners much like they had basket weavers. Furniture produced from solid wood by hand was one of Britain’s most important exports by the 18th century. The Arts and Crafts Movement was greatly influenced by this history, and it is still influencing our preferences now. 

Craft is mostly about handiwork and small-scale production, although there are instances when it has merged with larger industries. Craftsmen were more innovative because of the transformation, demonstrating how industrial techniques may support the survival of traditional skills.

Wool is perhaps one of the most intriguing commodities produced in the United Kingdom. Woolen fabric, which was sometimes referred to as “white gold” during the period, fueled Britain’s medieval economy. Everyone raised sheep, whether it was for cottage weaving or large-scale trading, from peasants to affluent landlords. The origins of the British class structure are frequently attributed to this sector of the economy since it was considerably simpler for landowners with large flocks to export large amounts of wool. Even while wool crafts were less popular once we started importing cotton in the 19th century, there are still examples of its once-dominant beauty. The Speaker of the House of Lords sits on the Woolsack, a 14th-century reminder of the value of wool to the wealth of the country. 

The craft movement is now more diverse than ever because of globalization, which has attracted artisan talents from around the world to Britain. But customs like the ones mentioned here also aid in tying us to the past. Even the surnames we received from our artisan ancestors—Weaver, Potter, Turner—contain references to them.

Historical Crafts

Historical crafts can range in complexity from finely woven silk to something as basic as a basket. People frequently put in more time and effort than is required to make functional crafts, whether it be a rug, a knitted sweater, an iron hinge, or a hunting decoy. Most traditional artisans have high expectations for their work. Being “well made and operating well” is frequently used to define beauty.

Crafts in Britain

In the social, cultural, and aesthetic history of twentieth-century Britain, crafts have played a rich and complicated role in everything from pottery to silversmithing, calligraphy to textiles, and hot glass to bookbinding. This comprehensive book is the first to examine the complete spectrum of individual craft disciplines and significant practitioners from the Arts and Crafts Movement’s Pre-World War I years through the 1990s. 

Crafts have defined and remade themselves over the course of the last century, caught between the more dominant disciplines of fine art, architecture, and industrial design.


Historical Crafts in Britain

Basketwork furniture making

The process of creating baskets and other items by twisting together thin strips of material like plastic or wood.

Damask weaving

A damask is a woven material with a reversible design composed of silk, wool, linen, cotton, or synthetic fibers. Damasks are normally woven with the ground having a sateen or weft-faced weave and the pattern having a warp-faced satin weave. They are typically woven with one warp yarn and one weft yarn. There is a twill-woven ground or pattern in twill damasks.

Fair Isle straw-backed chair making

The process of creating Fair Isle chairs with a hardwood base and a straw back is like Orkney chairs but has a very different frame structure and a special straw work method that is made by knotting rather than sewing rows of straw.

Hat plaiting

The process of preparing and plaiting certain grasses and cereal crop straw (most often wheat) into a length of sturdy plait that may be turned into a hat.

Kishie basket making

Creating kinship (in Shetland) or caisie (in Orkney), an open-back basket constructed of oat straw and used to gather peat in the past.

Maille making

An old method of joining rings together to create woven metal sheets that were used to make armor.

Orrery making

The creation of orreries and mechanical representations of the solar system were used as teaching tools for centuries.

Papermaking (commercial)


A complex procedure that uses water, chemicals, filler, and pulp (wood) to make paper.

Pottery (industrial)


Clay and other ceramic materials are used to build vessels and other items, which are then burned at high temperatures to give them a hard and permanent shape.

Reverse glass sign painting

The practice of painting on the back of a glass panel using a detailed first approach that enables accurate viewing of the final piece from the other side.


Many traditional and historical crafts of Britain are still present being practiced today. These crafts have been an important part of the historical social, economic, and cultural life of Britain.