Expert Heritage Woodcarver Teaches Heritage Skills at Coleshill

Tom Ball, Lead Woodcarving Lecturer
Tom Ball, Lead Woodcarving Lecturer

Born in Leytonstone, East London, Tom Ball is now living with his partner and three young children in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside at Coleshill and employed doing something he loves.

Tom has a workshop on the National Trust’s Buscot and Coleshill Estate (Coleshill) and is one of the Estate’s expert craftspeople specialising in carving wood and stone with the focus on restoration and historic reproductions.

In November last year, Tom won the Heritage Crafts Woodworker of the Year Award 2023 and was presented with his £2,000 prize and trophy at St George’s College, Windsor Castle. “I was entered for the Award by City and Guilds of London Art School,” explained Tom. “I had absolutely no expectation of winning, so it was a complete shock!”

Coleshill, which has only recently been fully opened to visitors, is within easy local reach of Faringdon, Highworth, Lechlade and Swindon and, for a delightful day out, not too far from Cheltenham, Gloucester, Marlborough, Oxford or Reading.

One of the biggest draws for visitors to Coleshill is the Heritage and Rural Skills Centre showcasing a number of expert craftspeople who can teach people about the skills that created and restored great houses and estates like Coleshill. This is where you can start a new hobby or learn more about by-gone heritage conservation skills via a beginner’s or hobbyist’s course on blacksmithing, lime plastering, stained glass, carving (wood or stone) and more.

Tom, who is a Lead Woodcarving Lecturer at City and Guilds of London Art School, is holding workshops in woodcarving and letter cutting. There are also several courses available for those with more advanced skills.

So far, he has taught a mixture of people from all different backgrounds, with a variety of different ages, some local and others travelling across the country. His aim is to introduce people to a skill or series of skills that have a rich history. Once learned, the skills can be taken in any preferred direction or possibly even lead to a highly rewarding career. “To make a living from something you enjoy is very special. It can’t get any better than that,” said Tom.

With so much interest in preserving rural history and crafts, the workshops at Coleshill Estate are really important in increasing people’s appreciation for heritage skills. Tom said: “When I first got into carving as a career, I never thought of myself as learning an endangered skill or about passing it on to others in order to preserve it.”

But this is exactly what the workshops do, and Tom explained that they offer the chance for people to achieve something with their hands – hand skills appeal to many people and can give a great sense of purpose and satisfaction. It can also provide an escape from the fast pace of life, and they end up with something tangible that they can be proud of.

When he’s not teaching, Tom likes to focus on hand-carved memorials and taking more one-off commissions. “One of my most enjoyable recent commissions was to design and carve a wearable brooch, which was not something I had ever done before! But the highlight of my career so far is probably working on the Grinling Gibbons carving at Trinity Chapel Oxford.”

If anyone is interested in learning any of the skills mentioned, please check out the Coleshill Heritage and Rural Skills Centre on the National Trust website. You can book now and there will be regular courses throughout the year. Some of the courses are selling out fast, so please book early on:

Article by Chris Roberts MBE PR

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