Restore, renew, revive

The charitable arm of the Royal Warrant Holders Association supports skilled craftspeople and their work in preserving our heritage

Craftsmanship is woefully undervalued in this country and in a recession training has a low priority in every field. However, over two decades the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST), the charitable arm of the Royal Warrant Holders Association, has awarded scholarships to 242 craftspeople for study, training and work experience.

“Our scholarships are incredibly important in restoring the status of craftsmanship and in supporting craftspeople who maintain and add to our heritage,” says QEST chairman, Richard Watling.

QEST was established in 1990 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Royal Warrant Holders Association and the 90th birthday of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. It awards scholarships every year to craftspeople of all ages who are involved in crafts ranging from silversmithing to boatbuilding. Churches in particular are benefiting from a new generation of QEST scholars whose skills contribute to ecclesiastical decoration and conservation.

The charity is launching the QEST 2017 Diamond Jubilee Appeal, aimed at doubling the number of annual scholarships. Distillers and royal warrant holder John Walker & Sons has pledged profits from the sale of a rare edition whisky, blended from those distilled in 1952 in a limited edition of 60 crystal decanters.

A quest for craft

Work of heart

Mel Howse, a glass artist, used the QEST scholarship to develop enamelling skills working on steel. “I had the ideas but lacked time and space to experiment in a new medium,” she says. “The scholarship gave me time to think about what I was doing and enabled me to rent space in an enamelling factory.”

One of her most recent works, Poverty Over, is a sculpture of two bowls in spun steel and vitreous enamels 2.2 metres high, commissioned by Christian Aid to publicise its Poverty Over campaign.

Howse sees herself as a contemporary designer, yet enjoys working in a traditional environment. She works with challenging topics. Her acidetched memorial window to Father Trevor Huddleston in Lancing College Chapel, West Sussex, dedicated by his friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2007, tackles the subject of apartheid. The scholarship enabled Howse to build relationships with other businesses that could help her create large-scale artwork. But its greatest value was to allow her to bring a new medium to the ecclesiastical arena. “It’s the first time that fired enamel on steel has been used in a church commission – I was making history.”

Carving a niche

After a publishing career with Oxford University Press, Bernard Johnson found his true vocation on a weekend course in stone carving. In 2005 he set up as a freelance stone carver and a year later, at the age of 52, won a QEST scholarship for individual teaching from the eminent lettering craftsman Ieuan Rees.

When six rough drawings by Eric Gill for carved marble capitals in Westminster Cathedral were rediscovered, Johnson got permission from the cathedral to use them as the basis for a set of panel carvings. “It was a unique opportunity for me to get into the mind of a stone carver whom I admire enormously,” says Johnson.

A donor has bought the panels which will be displayed in the University Church at Oxford.

A brush with history

Spike Barlow’s career changed direction thanks to a QEST scholarship. A trained scientist, then one of the creative team behind television’s Spitting Image puppets, Barlow used QEST funding to complete a PhD in paint conservation.

“My first conservation commissions were restoring the two oldest altarpieces in the country, Thornham Parva[Suffolk] dated 1330 and Westminster Abbey, painted in 1260 – so no pressure. Working on them gave me a huge respect for the sophistication of medieval craftsmanship.”

His resulting book, The Alchemy of Paint, looks at the philosophy of medieval craft and Barlow now has a grant to survey the 500 surviving rood screens in East Anglia.

The write move

Sally Mangum, calligrapher and heraldic artist, learnt about QEST scholarships when she became a royal warrant holder for her calligraphy work for the Lord Chamberlain’s office. It led her to study heraldic art. “The scholarship was a lifeline,” she says.

Then, in a natural progression, she agreed to become a trustee of QEST. “Having benefited myself I saw how important scholarships could be to craftsmen desperate to expand their knowledge and expertise.”

For details of QEST scholarships and the appeal, visit