History of Leadworking

Egyptians, Assyrians, Romans and Spartans have used lead for centuries.  It also has a mention in the Book of Job.

The earliest known lead object is dated 3800 BC; this is a small female figurine from the Temple of Osiris at Abydos in Upper Egypt.

In Britain, the art of leadwork developed into the craft of ‘Plumbing’ (‘Plumbum’ being the Latin word for Lead).

For the domestic collection, storage and channeling of water, lead hoppers, cisterns and pipework systems evolved.  The peripatetic plumber used and improved upon patterns, ideas and working methods that had been developed and passed down by generations of plumbers before them.

As part of their work, and as a testimony to their skill, plumbers would incorporate decorative motifs, so that these essentially utilitarian objects took on an artistic quality.

The historic houses of Britain offer many such examples of the plumber’s art.

However, lead is an infinitely recyclable substance: many of the beautiful lead objects of antiquity have been destroyed with the advance of new social and political causes.  For example, lead fonts in churches were destroyed during religious purges and lead cisterns and hoppers from public buildings were melted down for munitions in time of conflict.

In the Edwardian and Victorian era, lead enjoyed something of a renaissance.   Great garden designers such as Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) and her collaborator the architect Sir Edward Lutyens developed a passion for the paleness, patina and timeless, classic quality of lead when set against the lush greens of foliage.

This characteristic paleness, giving lead an unobtrusive and harmonious quality is one of the chief delights of the substance – which in England, at least, has come to be regarded as the characteristic garden metal.

‘There can scarcely be a doubt that the happiest material for our garden sculpture and ornament is lead’  Gertrude Jekyll

Stimulated by this new passion for garden ornamentation, the old English art of decorative leadwork enjoyed a revival as the planters, fountainsfeatures and plaques of the modern era became natural successors to the hoppers and cisterns of the past.

Meanwhile, plumbing became increasingly specialised – and – with the advent of cheaper modern materials – many of the traditional techniques such as sand casting, lost wax and lead hand skills were forgotten.

Today, Brian Turner’s work reunites these two strands of plumbing and leadworking.  Already highly qualified as a plumber, Brian became increasingly fascinated with what could be be achieved by combining modern structural principles and design ideas with traditional techniques and materials.

“I started making planters about 10 years ago using my own ideas and designs, having studied examples made by plumbers that have gone before me.  I began experimenting using a bed of sand to cast the lead sheets and panels, very much as my forebears would have done. From these early beginnings I have progressed to bigger and increasingly complex projects, learning all the time.”

Mastering these traditional methods has given Brian a real hands-on affinity with leadworkers of the past as well as a practical understanding of the way they structured their designs.

“The study of antique lead pieces helps me with the development of my own contemporary designs, drawing inspiration from the proportions and principles of the past.”