Green Woodworking at the Lit and Phil

It was the half-term holiday and the rest of the family were visiting my sister-in-law on the South Coast of England. That left me with the dog to look after and a free Sunday, so what better way to spend it than to support my fellow APT Northern England members Peter, Maurice and Tessa at a craft fair hosted by the prestigious Literary and Philosophical Society in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne. So, with a rucksack full of axes, knives and branch wood, the good folk of Newcastle were greeted with the spectacle of a man walking past the Central Railway Station carrying a lump of wood with three legs sticking out of it en route to the Lit and Phil.

When I arrived the circumstances were no less interesting as the various craft demonstrators were using space in the library, a wonderful, evocative space, with great towering stacks of books watched over by marble busts of the good and great of the City.

The greenwood crafts had been sited along with the book binders and the embroiderers in the adjacent library of the Mining Institute, another venerable institution whose buildings sit alongside the Lit and Phil. The room had a high glass ceiling and giant Victorian radiators. The Institute was hosting an exhibition commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike. Being surrounded by the banners of the various National Union of Miners branches, especially those of South East Northumberland, near my home, was very evocative.

With Peter’s pole lathe on one side and Tessa’s willow weaving on the other I set up my chopping block using one of the leather cohered seats to make myself comfortable. As I began hewing and woodchips flew everywhere it felt rather surreal to be green woodworking in the dry and the warm and surrounded by the archival resources of the Mining Institute. This was compounded when a small choir began to serenade us from the balcony singing a melody of songs including a rather beautiful rendition of the theme tune to Top Cat… ‘the indisputable leader of the gang!’

I didn’t get much of a chance to see the other craft demonstrations, but did get a chance to talk to the volunteer book binders of the Mining Institute who are doing such a good job safeguarding the many documents held in trust by the Institute, although it is a mammoth task, with many many books still in need of some tender loving care.

With free tea and sandwiches on tap this was the way to green woodwork demonstrating in comfort and style. The star of our set-up was undoubtably Peter’s have a go pole lathe and he did a great job getting a range of different folk to try their hand at polelathing. Tessa found that her willow was drying out a little too quickly in the dry atmosphere of the Library. One lucky visitor got a one-to-one tuition with Maurice on spoon carving and I got on pretty well with a birch kitchen spoon.

And so, as the visitor numbers ebbed away we packed up (it was great to have just one rucksack and one chopping block’s worth of kit) and I drew some more rather strange glances as I carried my chopping block back to the car park, noting the proximity of the Lit and Phil’s unloading bays for next time!