ABOUT THE GUILD
THE GUILD OF CORNISH HEDGERS is the non-profit-making organisation founded in 2002 to support the concern among traditional hedgers about poor standards of workmanship in Cornish hedging today. The Guild has raised public awareness of Cornwall's unique heritage of hedges and promoted free access to the Cornish Hedges Library, the only existing source of full and reliable written knowledge on Cornish hedges.
Initial funding for the Guild by the generosity of its founder was assisted by Rural Progress. The Guild is run by its two unpaid Stewards and a small band of dedicated voluntary helpers.
The Guild is the only organisation authorised by Lantra to give a Craftsman's certificate for proficiency in Cornish hedging. Skilled Guild Craftsmen can offer a 100-year written guarantee for their hedges built to the Guild's Code of Good Practice.
The Guild supplies information, texts and pictures to help other organisations and individuals in their work involving hedges, including the then Cornwall County Council's Cornish Hedge Group (logo designed by Guild member).
In 2005 the Guild bid successfully for a four-year grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, providing bursaries to assist craftsman training for forty apprentices in Cornish hedging, match-funded by the Guild.
Supported by a grant from Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Guild produced the Cornish Hedges Education Pack for schools and community projects, available free from this website.
In response to official requests, the Guild provides technical information on Cornish hedges relating to the design of environmental schemes.
The Guild has designed and established the Hedge (& Wall) Importance Test to assess the importance of any hedge, hedgerow or wall in Britain for history, landscape and wildlife. The HIT is administered by the Guild in association with the Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
In 2007 the Guild of Cornish Hedgers' work was recognised when it became the first recipient of the Prince of Wales' Award of Honour under the aegis of the Royal Cornwall Agricultural Association.
CORNISH HEDGES ~ WHY THE GUILD'S WORK IS IMPORTANT
Cornish Hedge at Cape Cornwall
The main attraction of the Cornish landscape is the pattern of small fields enclosed by hedgebanks, usually made of or faced with stone gathered locally. These hedges are our largest semi-natural wildlife habitat, providing a variety of conditions which elsewhere occur only in a wide range of different habitats.
There are about 30,000 miles of hedges in Cornwall today, and their development over the centuries is preserved in their structure. The first Cornish hedges enclosed land for cereal crops during the Neolithic Age (4,000 - 6,000 years ago). Prehistoric farms were of about 5 - 10 hectares, with fields about 0.1 ha for hand cultivation.
Bronze Age hedges near Gurnard's Head.
Some hedges date from the Bronze and Iron Ages, 2000 - 4000 years ago, when Cornwall's traditional pattern of landscape became established. Others were built during Mediæval field rationalisations; more originated in the tin-and-copper industrial boom of the 18th and 19th centuries, when heaths and uplands were enclosed. This history and the county's geological form make Cornwall's hedges different.
In other parts of Britain early hedges were destroyed to make way for the manorial open-field system. Many were replaced after the Enclosure Acts, removed again in today's quest for cheap food, and now some are being replanted for wildlife. Cornwall is richer in historic hedges, with over three-quarters of the hedges remaining today being anciently established.
Cornish hedge in need of expert repair.
These hedges need looking after. Even well-built hedges suffer effects of tree roots, burrowing rabbits, rain, wind, farm animals and people. Eventually, the hedge sides lose their batter, bulge outwards and stones fall. How often repairs are needed depends on how well the hedge was built, its stone and what has happened to it since it was last repaired. Typically a hedge needs a cycle of repair every 150 years or so, or less often if it is fenced.
New-built Cornish hedge.
There is demand for new Cornish hedges. Building new, and repairing existing hedges is a skilled craft. There are skilled professional hedgers in Cornwall who are relied on to do a proper job, but there are others who lack correct training and who are pressured to do sub-standard work. Good training needs to be available for serious young hedgers. Also many people enjoy the therapeutic value of working on Cornish hedges and want to do a proper job, but need expert supervision. By supporting the Guild of Cornish Hedgers, we trust that this ancient Cornish craft will continue into the future, with new apprentices coming forward to look after Cornwall's heritage of hedges.
LEARNING TO BE A CRAFTSMAN HEDGER
Building a Cornish hedge.
The Guild of Cornish Hedgers' apprentice training scheme, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, was set up to bring people into this ancient and endangered craft. The scheme has reached the end of its scheduled four years and has now been granted an extension of time to complete. The 40 apprentice places are all provisionally filled, with a short queue of applicants in reserve in case any of the forty are unable to take up or to continue their apprenticeship and a place becomes available.
The need for extra time has been occasioned by some unavoidable delays, due initially to the shortage of good hedgers able and willing to take an apprentice (which led to a revision of the scheme), two years of unseasonably wet weather, and serious illness striking key Guild volunteers. The main problem is that apprentices busy with other work have difficulty in finding the time and opportunity to put in the full fifty working days of approved hedging work to qualify for the final test.
Each apprenticeship comprises a ten-day course, under a Guild-approved hedger, followed by the Preliminary Hedging Test. If this is passed to the standard required by the Guild at this stage, it is followed by 40 working days of work experience and improvement on the apprentice's own initiative, under visiting supervision. When the 40 days are successfully accomplished the apprentice is eligible to take the final Practical Hedging Test. This carries the Guild's Craftsman Certificate and is the only Lantra-approved qualification in Cornish hedging. The Heritage Lottery Fund bursary of £1500 for each apprentice is subject to satisfactory progress.
The key points required of the Guild's apprentices are motivation, physical and mental ability to handle stone, the preference for working alone out of doors, an interest in the historical and environmental aspects of Cornish hedges and a real intention to learn and practice this traditional craftsman's skill as a professional Cornish hedger.
Our first batch of apprentices has accomplished this and as fully qualified Guild craftsmen they are out there doing quality work. From satisfied customers we have heard real appreciation of the jobs they have done. In one case, two of our apprentices were asked by a householder to rebuild a new hedge along his road frontage that was falling down after only two years, and they rose magnificently to the challenge.
In July 2009 the well-known Cornish comedian Jethro, who was trained by his father, master hedger Hugh Rowe, kindly adjudicated at one of the test days, where each apprentice has to build up a gap in an old hedge unaided - not an easy task. Jethro said "It has been a good day and the great thing is that some of them build very strong and neat hedges that won't fall down and will last thousands of years. Even though the stone they have used wasn't the best, they have done really well and it has been a joy to be part of it ... With programmes like this the skill will not disappear - this is the best thing I've seen for years."
Detailed information relating to Cornish hedges is available on this website. For any queries, please telephone 01736-788-816 or 01736-365-460.
Have an "eye for stone" and are good at fitting shapes together
Photo: courtesy of Heritage Lottery Fund.
Like working outdoors
Care about Cornwall's historic hedges and landscape
Are proud of a job well done
Photo: courtesy of Heritage Lottery Fund.
Are keen to help wildlife in Cornwall's hedges
Photo: Guild of Cornish Hedgers.
Want to keep an ancient craft alive.