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National Life Stories: Crafts Lives

Crafts Lives records in-depth life stories of Britain's craftspeople, exploring both their personal and their working lives. British crafts, that is studio crafts such as pottery, glass, metalwork, jewellery, textiles and book arts (excluding rural crafts such as thatching and dry-stone walling), have up to now suffered from a paucity of documentation and research. Crafts Lives provides a rich resource for academics, historians, students and craftspeople to draw upon.

Michael Harvey: type designer and calligrapher [28KB]

Michael Harvey: type designer and calligrapher (photo: Hawksmoor Hughes)


As well as an individual's life story, the history of the crafts is also recorded. There are many accounts that overlap; in the collection it is possible to find clusters of interviewees who were tutors, students and technicians at the same establishment at the same time, helping to build a vivid picture of craft education at places such as the Royal College of Art and the Central School of Arts and Crafts. In addition, a large number of crafts people active in the 1960s and 1970s were intimately involved in the formation of the Crafts Council. Interviewees also map the crafts world by giving themselves lineage with past masters, as well as aligning themselves with contemporary schools.

The archive includes interviews with people such as:

  • Walter Keeler (ceramics)
  • Ann Sutton (textiles)
  • Charlotte de Syllas (jewellery)
  • Sam Herman (glass)
  • Faith Shannon (bookbinding)
  • Jim Partridge (furniture)
  • Gordon Baldwin (ceramics)
  • Tadek Beutlich (textiles)
  • Donald Jackson (Calligrapher)

An up-to-date listing of all interviews recorded for Crafts Lives can be found by searching the Sound & Moving Image Catalogue with the collection reference number C960.

Advisory committee

  • James Beighton
  • Annabelle Campbell
  • Sarah Griffin
  • Tanya Harrod
  • Helen Joseph
  • John Keatley
  • Martina Margetts
  • Ralph Turner

Crafts curator and writer Amanda Fielding was a valued member of the Crafts Lives Advisory Committee.  National Life Stories were sad to hear of her death in December 2012.

Partners and sponsors

  • Adrian Sassoon
  • Furniture History Society
  • John Keatley
  • The Ashley Family Foundation (formerly The Laura Ashley Foundation)
  • Siegmund Warburg Voluntary Settlement
  • The Lisbet Rausing Charitable Fund
  • The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths

Accessing the collection

To access oral history material:

  • Search for oral history recordings held at the British Library using the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue (see useful advice on searching the oral history collections).
  • Onsite access to oral history recordings: The Listening and Viewing Service in St Pancras provides free public access to the oral history collections on an appointment basis. Many digital recordings are also available via SoundServer, a computerised listening facility located in the Humanities Reading Rooms.  SoundServer is also available at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
  • Internet access to selected oral history recordings: The British Library Sounds website gives remote access to a selection of interviews from the Library’s oral history collections. Some recordings are currently only licensed to Higher and Further Education users in the UK, others are available for full public access.

Further information

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)

PDF files

The links below are to Adobe PDF files. Accessibility solutions and free Reader software are available from Adobe.