New: The Goldsmiths' Centre

Clerkenwell's new school for goldsmiths, silversmiths and jewellers is set to turn out world-beating graduates
To continue as the design capital of the world, London requires a steady supply of new design graduates. Spending cuts have forced many teaching institutions to reduce the number of their comparatively expensive skill-based courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and even young people who acquire such skills find affordable workshop space is in short supply.

An elegant gold jug by Martyn Pugh; Five Grasses (in gold) by Lin Sproule
© Richard Valencia(left)
Golden art: an elegant gold jug by Martyn Pugh, 2008, for the Goldsmiths’ Company (left); 18-carat: Five Grasses by Lin Sproule (right)

Step forward the Goldsmiths' Company, a registered charity and one of the oldest guilds in the country — it received its Royal Charter in 1327. It has been the main hallmarking authority in London for more than seven centuries and, today, is also known for its Goldsmiths' Fair, an annual event in autumn where leading silversmiths and jewellers sell direct to the public.

The Company has now launched the £17 million Goldsmiths' Centre in the heart of Clerkenwell to encourage and train goldsmiths, silversmiths and jewellers for the 21st century, and ensure that London has designers for industry in central London.

The Goldsmiths' Centre in Clerkenwell
© Richard Valencia
Old and new: the centre, where state-of-the-art facilities are home to traditional skills
The new centre, in Britton Street, EC1, is sited in what has historically been the jewellery-making quarter of London and which is now enjoying phenomenal success as Europe's biggest creative media hub.

It is part-housed in a former Victoria Board School, once surrounded by a notorious 19th century slum. The school closed in 1918 and became part of Cordwainer's College, a training centre for artisans engaged in the meat-handling trade, and then briefly formed part of the London School of Fashion. John Lyall Architects have taken the original brick building, with its decorative detailing, large windows and high ceilings, and linked it to a striking new structure by means of a glass-roofed atrium.

The old school has offices and a café, and the new building has workspace, conference rooms and exhibition space.

It's a clever mix. There are state-of-the-art facilities alongside those for traditional skills. There is a programme for postgraduates, who can use computer technology as well as conventional silversmiths' hand tools.

The big workshops will soon be used by students on a pre-apprenticeship scheme, who will work with the postgraduates on certain projects.

Engraver Sam Marsden at work
© Julia Skupny
Etchings: engraver Sam Marsden, one of the craftspeople based at the centre
"Being part of the Goldsmiths' Institute Postgraduate professional design programme is a real eye-opener," says student Mahtab Hanna. "It's just fantastic to have the access to so much expertise in so many different areas of the trade. Previously I have just had tuition in how to make; now I'm seeing the bigger picture. I will have become much more of a designer. The facilities are fantastic."

Newly-qualified silversmiths and jewellers mingle with an incredible mix of skilled craftspeople and designers — from stone setters, mounters, engravers and platers to technologists (including computer-aided designers and manufacturers), casters and polishers, as well as established silversmith Clive Burr.

He says: "It's such a dynamic project — the enthusiasm is infectious. The customers, who have come to visit me in my workshop here, just love the centre. It's convenient and accessible, and it's fantastic being surrounded by like-minded people and businesses. I am also delighted to be able to help the students and young recent graduates based here."

The intention is that all the occupants benefit from sharing facilities, including the equipment provided by the centre as well as from the synergies generated by the presence under one roof of students at different stages of development, as well as manufacturers and specialists.

Silversmith Paul Savage at work
© Daniel Jones
An eye for detail: former apprentice and silversmith Paul Savage does
The centre has gallery space for viewing a constant stream of new exhibitions, featuring jewellers as well as gold and silversmiths.

Metalwork has been at the forefront of British contemporary craft and this new exhibition space will provide somewhere to show it at its best.

UPCOMING EXHIBITIONS


* Diamond Jubilee: Jewellery specially designed by members of the Association for Contemporary Jewellery to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee. As part of the judging panel, I know that the pieces the 32 participants will display are anything but conventional. They are made with everything from platinum to paper and plastic. If only the Queen or the Duchess of Cambridge could be tempted to try them. From June 11 to 16. Visit acj.org.uk for more details.

* The Festival of Silver: a selling exhibition of contemporary functional silverware, from candlesticks to coffee pots, by makers from around the UK. From July 11 to 14.

* The Goldsmiths' Centre is at 42 Britton Street, EC1. For more information, call 020 7566 7650 or visit goldsmiths-centre.org

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