23 | 04 | 2017

An introduction and brief history of the West Riding Woodcarvers' Association

The first meeting was held at the Crown Inn, Huddersfield on 11 April 1992.  Twenty three people attended and it was clear that a local organisation was needed and viable.  Other meetings followed at various places but, it was at the fifth meeting in Brockholes Village Hall, that we chose the name and logo of our Association.  We selected 'West Riding' as this was the ancient title of the one third of the Yorkshire County, England, in which we live; it is now known as West Yorkshire

A number of founder members had strongly expressed a dislike for the formality they had experienced in other organisations.  We therefore resolved to construct our meetings in an informal way, which would preserve the good fellowship we had and which would support our endeavours and interests in woodcarving as equals.  The many spontaneous gestures of friendship and the genuine desire to develop our skills were electrifying; everyone contributed, bringing something from the wide range of backgrounds we had to the common purpose.  We appointed two "Coordinators" to marshal the energy and talents of our Club and to conduct our affairs on this egalitarian structure.  Coordinators still head up our organisation and try to maintain, in spite of increasing numbers and complexity, this unique ethos.

We have always had a bi-yearly exchange visit with our neighbouring woodcarvers in the Lancashire and Cheshire Woodcarvers Society.  The meetings have been a highlight of our year.  Friendships have developed and joint displays of woodcarvings and exchange of information continue to strengthen the bonds we have with our "worthy but different" fellows across the border.  It helps, it must be said, that some of our members were indeed born in the 'County Palatine' - me amongst them!  Gifts have been exchanged between the clubs, notably a beautiful hand-tooled leather-bound Minute book by Past-member Brian Wroe and a masterfully carved oak shield showing our name and logo by one of their members.

From the beginning, we have given and continue to give exhibitions and demonstrations of woodcarving at the very popular agricultural and art and craft shows here in the North of England - the Great Yorkshire Show, Durham Agricultural Show, the shows at Newark and Mansfield, the Emley Show and the Holmfirth Art and Craft Exhibition to name but a few.  At these events we have members acting on occasions as judges for the woodcarving competitions; sometimes we even have members winning prizes - no connection, by the way!  Smaller more local venues also get our support, for example, the Tolson Museum in Huddersfield.  The Club was fortunate to obtain a grant from "Awards for All" for lottery funding for digital audio, computer and display equipment, equipment which is put to good use at our monthly meetings.

In the year 1998 as the millennium drew near, people from all walks of life prepared to greet the year 2000 in a special way.  The Association decided to construct a large panel made up of smaller relief carvings in lime wood, depicting local rural scenes and icons of our industrial heritage (see the gallery).  A levy was imposed on all members for funds to purchase the wood and cover the installation costs.  The Kirkwood Hospice in Kirklees was approached and negotiations undertaken for its placement in the then new Day Care Centre where it resides today.  All our members put their shoulders behind this project and it would be quite wrong to single out anyone in particular.  We can all take equal pride in what was a truly remarkable collective effort, which sprang spontaneously from our united wish to show our support for a commendable charitable organisation with which we have since developed even closer links. 

Under the management of Mr Terry Thornley-Lawson and the temporary title of the 'Oakwood Carvers', a number of our members participated in the construction of a similar panel for the Wakefield Hospice.  This time the panel was elliptical with rectangular small plaques and was entitled "Memories of Wakefield".  The panel was handed over on 9 December 2000; another success of community spirit and generosity.

In 2005 our third group project panel, at the request of the Kirklees Metropolitan Council, was to construct a panel of the same design and size (8' by 4') to be presented to the French town of Besan�on on the edge of the Jura mountains.  It was the subject of a very auspicious occasion attended by dignitaries of the two towns to celebrate 50 years of twinning and now resides in pride of place in the Marie at Besan�on.  French men and women will marvel at its craftsmanship and beauty and, hopefully, feel the warmth of English hearts.

Number four in our series of panels was constructed in the period 2006/2007 and was presented to the Overgate Hospice at Elland.  It helped to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Hospice.  2005/2006 had seen a marked change in our association affairs.  Anne Ellwood (formerly Allan) had established our website and John Murphy had drafted the eventually accepted formal constitution and rules.  These events gave us a more worldly stance and a changed outlook for our Club's status and prospects.  Thus it was that this Panel for the Overgate Hospice was funded by a grant from the Community Foundation for Calderdale.  It was presented to the Hospice on our behalf by Dr Ingrid Roscoe, Lord Lieutenant of West YorkshireWe had a good occasion for the handover which took place in the architectural splendour of Halifax Town HallThese altruistic acts of our Club, which I am honoured to record, have led, with the support of the Lord Lieutenant, the Executive Officers and Staff of the Kirkwood and Overgate Hospices, together with the Office of the Mayor of Calderdale, to the Queen's Award for Voluntary Services - a very prestigious award, established in 2002 to celebrate her Majesty's Golden Jubilee.  The award was granted on 2 June 2009 and we may now use the logo on our correspondence.  Perhaps, most timely, it can be used on the glass dedication panel between the two wood panels showing scenes for the two World Wars which we are now in the process of making for the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds

After many happy and successful years at the clubroom at the Church of the English Martyrs in Huddersfield, we moved to our present meeting room on 25 March 2006 at the Shepley Methodist Church, Shepley.  We now have more than 70 members, many of whom attend one or more of the five day and evening classes, which we sponsor.  We have been fortunate in appointing secretaries with exceptional abilities and drive and a glance at our record of minutes of meetings will tell you of the rich, colourful and rewarding meetings and special occasions they have arranged for us. 

Sadly we have lost quite a number of well-loved members but they are not forgotten, indeed, by the very nature of our hobby and the things that we have done together, evidence of their lives and personalities is still available to see and touch.  Long may the collective concern for our Club remain its strength and our good works continue. 

Norman Walsh, Founder Member