Bucklebury, Kate Middleton, and George Lailey

For years Bucklebury has been a little known spot in rural Berkshire but it was once rather famous and it seems it is about to become so again.

When HV Morton set out “in Search of England” in 1927 he drove out of London looking for the soul of Englishness. The very first place he stopped was Bucklebury;

“I would not care to be the postman at Bucklebury. The cottages hide one from the other; the hamlet is spread generously over little hillocks, so that a man in a motor-car has a fair chance of finding himself in Stamford Dingley or Yattendon or Frilsham, or even Beenham, before he discover his object in this gorsy labyrinth. And why not? These names have quality. These lanes are so friendly.”

It is not so far from the Bucklebury I know today though the gorse has been replaced by birch and the cottages have grown rather. Morton was told he should visit a remarkable craftsman “the last bowlturner in England….you ought to look at his workshop, for you will never see another one like it.”

He found Lailey in his workshop on Bucklebury common where he showed him how he made the bowls on his foot powered lathe just as they had in medieval times. The bowls were used by locals in the kitchen and were common wedding presents.

Lailey said “Boy’s won’t learn work like this now, it’s not as easy as it looks, and unless you learn when you are you’re a lad you never catch the knack of it.” Morton told him he could make a lot of money if he wanted to, the reply;
“Money? I like making bowls better than I like making money.”
 Morton wrote it was “the voice of the craftsman, the lover of his job, the proud creator of beautiful, common things; a voice that is now smothered by the scream of machines. I went on down the green hill feeling that my search of England had started well.”

Lailey worked up to his death in 1958 aged 89 and for 35 years Bucklebury saw no bowls turned. In the early 90’s I saw Lailey’s lathe and learned the trade, it took about 5 years to become proficient. I set my lathe up on Bucklebury common just by where Lailey’s workshop had stood, advertised in the village shop and over the few days I was there I met many lovely Bucklebury people young and old many of whom remembered Lailey and showed me prized bowls. I turned a number of bowls at the spot still known as Turner’s Green. In 2008 50 years after Lailey died I made a very special nest of bowls as a tribute and filmed the process you can see it here.

Now the one last thread to uncover is I remember talking to Lailey’s nephew and he told me that Lailey had not worked on the green all his life and that a previous home and workshop had been the other side of the common I think at Chapel Row which is the tiny hamlet where Kate Middleton grew up. There is one sound recording of Lailey in which he mentions the the previous workshop which I need to dig out for confirmation.

It seems that Bucklebury is about to hit the headlines again for a few months. HV Mortons work became one of the best selling books of the time and Lailey’s work was later sold through Harrods and sent worldwide. I suspect the current interest in Bucklebury will spread even further. As an aside I just read that in Bucklebury the butcher, pub landlord and postman have been invited to the royal wedding, there isn’t a baker but Lailey as well as bowlturner was a candlestick maker, I have a couple.

So should I be making commemorative royal wedding giftware?

3 Responses to Bucklebury, Kate Middleton, and George Lailey

  1. Red Kite February 28, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    Hugely inspirational and moving. I could watch that video again and again. Stunning wood and wonderful craftsmanship but above all, a lesson from history about why such crafts should never be allowed to die out. Thanks, Robin.

  2. Brian February 28, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    Thats a great tribute to the man who inspired you. I think he would be a happy man knowing that his craft is still going strong. Take care Robin. Brian

  3. mjallum May 17, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    And I thought that No One could do this ever again and the secret had gone to the grave with George. Well done Robin.Marcus