BLOG: The Lost Art of Lead Work

Our Lead Workers are some of the best in the business. Indeed, they are known throughout our region and beyond. It’s a good job, too – a sizable proportion of our work is delivered on heritage projects, everything from churches and country houses to museums and public buildings. Without the skill of our Lead Working Team, we wouldn’t have built up the reputation we have.

Sadly, the very specialist skills that make up the lead working craft are in short supply. Although lead is used a lot in heritage restoration, it’s seldom used anywhere else at scale. Architects, surveyors and specifiers do not always understand historic leadwork as they have limited training in this niche area. Then, there are training issues; few providers offer any specific lead working courses at scale, although general ‘Heritage’ courses do exist. Of course, all of this results in a major skills gap. Who will deal with the Heritage Restorations of the future? Importantly, with an ageing existing workforce, who will train the next generation of craftspeople?

So, what’s the benefit of lead? With so many modern products available, why use it at all? Well, for a start, it’s one of the greenest materials around. Lasting for up to 500 years, it might be heavy and expensive, but it should outlast any other material.  It is also infinitely recyclable, making it a perfect material to support environmental impact reduction. It’s also one of the most beautiful materials to see on a roof. In the right setting, lead looks simply stunning.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. It’s toxic on prolonged exposure for a start, which means Lead Workers have to follow stringent procedures because they handle it day in day out. It’s worth pointing out, however, that it’s not toxic to householders or building users. It’s also heavy and difficult to work with, requiring years of tutelage to reach the level of technical expertise required. Despite all of this, we still believe it’s one of the best products around, and one we love working with.

Our Lead Working Teams have delivered outstanding workmanship on any number of iconic Northern buildings. One that really stands out is the Great North Museum in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a project we delivered a few years ago. A huge job for our team, and one that yielded the most stunning results, as you can see from the pictures below.

           

Although we are investing heavily in skills development (big news on that soon!), including in the lead working area, our overall contribution to the labour force will be relatively small on a national scale. Which leads us to wonder, what will happen to all of these beautiful, lead topped buildings if the skills run dry?