Not everything need arrive in a box delivered by Amazon. This month Elestr Lee talks to Billy Goodworth, a young master craftsman from Emmer Green whose skills create unique items for clients’ homes.
THERE CAN be few of us these days who’ve not furnished (or at least part-furnished) our homes using a flat-pack, whether it be a table, cupboard or wardrobe. Functional, even stylish, good value for money…
But there are a growing number of people who don’t want something built in a factory, designed and even made by robots. There is renewed interest in owning something unique, beautiful, and created by a highly skilled professional.
One craftsman who is making a name for himself in providing such items is Emmer Green’s Billy Goodworth. Having lived all his life in this area, where he attended Highdown School, Billy is trained as both a woodworker and a blacksmith, having learned his trade working alongside skilled professionals. Since April last year he has been working for himself and is establishing a reputation for creating eye-catching metalwork and unique pieces of furniture from his base, called Bill’s Workshop.
“At the moment, I am restoring a 1950s desk”, he explained. “Originally I found the desk in a salvage yard, and decided to sell it – then the new owners asked me to restore it for them.
“Meanwhile I am creating a commission for some clients to make a ‘resin river table’. To do this, I am joining together two huge elm boards using a clear resin, giving the impression of a river. Throughout the commission I involve the clients fully. Initially they showed me some pictures on Instagram of what they wanted, so I took up the idea and ran with it. I brought them round to inspect the wood and show me how they want it to be orientated, what aspects of the grain they wanted to see – ensuring they get the table they dream of through this bespoke service. Now they have decided, I must make it work!”
Billy also creates ornamental pieces using his blacksmithing skills. “A client in Woodley wanted a sculpture of a double-headed iris, which I made using off-cuts of reclaimed steel. She wanted something artistic to display amongst her collection of indoor plants”, he said.
While lots of the artists and crafts-people interviewed here have revealed they share their passion with their parents, Billy doesn’t come from a long line of blacksmiths or carpenters. “However, as was often the case with their generation, my grandfathers on both sides were very practical and hands on with making things, one an excellent wood turner, though neither were professional.
“I have always been interested in making things. I remember making a birdbox with my dad when I was about eight years old. At Highdown, I did Design and Technology GCSE. When I went into the 6th form, it wasn’t possible to do it for A level, but my dad helped fix up an apprenticeship with a family friend of ours who was a blacksmith for six hours a week”.
As a teenager Billy was delighted to find a long-handled ball pein hammer in the family greenhouse, which he showed to the blacksmith, who confirmed it was a proper metal-working hammer – a tool he now uses regularly. Then, when setting up his workshop, he found a completely unused, boxed Faithfull plane. “My father knew it had belonged to his dad, so it seemed as though it was his gift to me, just as I was starting out. The workshop had once been my grandfather’s summer house, so I have named my business Bill’s Workshop after him”.
Billy either sources new UK-grown hardwood, or else he seeks out both wooden and metal items in salvage yards
Attracting commissions is now key to growing Billy’s business. “Friendliness and professionalism are key. As they always say, word of mouth is the best advertising, though having an online presence is just as important. I have started to attend craft fairs, such as the Artists & Makers Fair at Caversham Methodist Church in Lower Caversham. I sell small hand-forged craft items, some made from left-over pieces of metal, which start out at quite low prices. I also went to the Henley Décor Fair this April – fairs are great to get chatting to people. Customers can buy something small from me, and I can let them know what else I do”.
Together with photographer and film-maker Adam Adrian – another ex-Highdown pupil – he has presented a short documentary called Bill’s Workshop, which is useful in showing prospective clients what he can do, and his attitude to his work.
Billy is confident of a growing market for the items he creates. “People are turning against mass manufacture, and there is a resurgence of interest in crafts such as blacksmithing and woodworking. The need for art in people’s homes has never been bigger, so my small workshop is where I can create bespoke and unique commissions, often up-cycling salvaged pieces of wood and metal which can now be re-used and admired”.