Reviving Old Traditions

Award-winning pewtersmith Ella McIntosh from the Ribble Valley uses this age-old craft to design beautiful, contemporary homeware

Designer Ella McIntosh flies the flag for the traditional craft of pewtering. Brought up in Clitheroe, she attended Clitheroe Royal Grammar School up until she was 16, when she decided to pursue her love of art and design at Blackburn College.

She went on to Buckinghamshire University to study a BA Hons in Designed Jewellery and Silversmithing and graduated with First Class Honours.

“It was while I was studying at Buckinghamshire that I fell in love with pewter in my second year when I created a piece for the Worshipful Company of Pewterers’ Pewter Live 2006 student competition. The piece went on to win two awards – first prize and best in show. This kick-started my pewtersmithing career as I decided to specialise in the metal for the remainder of my degree,” explains Ella.

“Pewter has a slightly different way of working, compared to silver, as it is softer with a lower melting temperature. These were the properties that drew me to it alongside pewter’s long-standing history on our tables.”

Once Ella had decided to specialise in pewter she travelled to Sheffield to undertake work experience with pewter manufacturers A R Wentworths, which enabled her to work alongside their master smiths for an intensive learning experience: “I started to transfer my skills from silversmithing to pewtersmithing,” recalls Ella, who then returned home to Clitheroe, where she worked from a small studio at her mum’s, as well as working full time.

“I started with a basic home studio and minimal tools, crafting in a tiny shed, which enabled me to gradually build my business over three years. As I developed my designs, I sold my pewter at local craft shows across the North West until I was ready to leap into a full-time studio which became available.”

Working from a studio at Manchester Craft and Design Centre since 2012, Ella has a dedicated workspace in Manchester’s independent Northern Quarter: “I enjoy having an open studio where my customers can pop in to see the tools and hand processes I use to create my contemporary pewter home and tableware.”

“Pewtersmithing involves many processes and lots of different tools depending on which design I want to make. As I handmake every aspect, from raw material through to finished piece, it means my days can be extremely varied.”

“In my work I often combine many different processes to make one design. I am particularly drawn to sheet metal work. This is the process of turning flat sheets of metal, in my case pewter, into 3D forms and designs. It can involve a whole variety of skilled traditional processes such as hammering, soldering, press forming and polishing.”

“I also use pewter casting processes. I make moulds from materials such as cuttlefish bone, silicone rubber or sand. I then melt and pour the molten pewter into the moulds before using traditional tools to finish items such as keyrings, spoons and brooch pins or I combine them with my sheet metal work to create larger items such as candlesticks.”

The processes and tools that Ella uses have been handed down through generations of pewtersmiths and metalworkers. As many industries have introduced modern technology Ella is passionate about creating all her designs by hand, keeping the flag flying for traditional making methods whilst combining them with her stunning contemporary designs.

Alongside her collections of table and homeware she also sells her work from galleries and has been commissioned to work on a number of prestigious, individual pieces.

“I thoroughly enjoy making these as they are usually a one-off, unique design for customers which we work on together to signify a special aspect of their lives and which will be cherished for years to come.”

One of her first commissions as a full time pewtersmith, was to make commemorative bowls for Ribble Valley 2012 Olympians Samantha Murray and Jon Schofield: “These were so enjoyable to make as I wanted the bowls to be directly inspired by their respective sports.”

“I carefully crafted each, carving a mould from cuttlefish bone, an age-old technique, before casting the molten pewter,” recalls Ella. “This involved sculpting Jon Schofield in tiny canoes and Samantha Murray’s modern pentathlon events in minute detail. Once these were cast, they played out across the polished surface. The pewter bowls were then combined with handcrafted wooden stands made by master woodworker Paul Case.”

More recently Ella was awarded two prizes at the Worshipful Company of Pewterers at the 2016 Pewter Live competition and her pewter workshop programme was recognised by the National Craft and Jewellery Skills Award at Creative & Cultural Skills 2018. “I enjoy teaching people new skills in my workshops and to be creative while sharing my love of pewtersmithing is a privilege.”

At the end of last year Ella returned to the Ribble Valley to showcase her work at Clitheroe’s Platform Gallery Northern Star Exhibition: “I absolutely love and appreciate being asked to exhibit my work at the Platform Gallery alongside other fantastic makers. They have supported my career since I first began making in Clitheroe and their support was a big factor in the success of my fledgling business.”

“I still have customers who have bought an early piece of my work and have followed my pewtersmithing journey over the last 10 years, which is lovely.”

Due to Covid-19 Manchester Craft and Design Centre is currently open for visitors Friday and Saturday 11am-5pm and via appointments Monday to Friday

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Tedd Walmsley

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