Celtic revival

John Scott meets a journalist who moved away from the
'coal face' and discovered a gold mine

When journalist Vin Bootle was offered early retirement on his 50th birthday while working for the BBC in London he felt very hurt. "But it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me," he says. So instead of being a radio programme controller Vin took up weaving... but weaving of a very unusual kind - using strands of wire-like gold and silver. The result was the creation of a unique kind of jewellery which can take the form of bracelets, rings and necklaces all hand made and each as individual as its wearer.

Vin, who was born in Whitley Bay, began his career as a journalist on Tyneside and then moved south to work in the capital. Yorkshire came into his life because of the frequent journeys he was making between London and the north. To break up the journey he regularly stayed with friends at Great Ouseburn and, he says, he realised what a wonderful county Yorkshire was.

So when the blow of early retirement fell Vin knew where he wanted to settle but how was he to make a living? As a hobby he had been making jewellery out of brass and copper. And when he and his wife bought a house in a village near Boroughbridge a new influence was brought to bear on the fledgling jeweller. Their new home was close to the remains of a Roman town and the area was also once the tribal home of the Brigantes in Roman times. In local museums Vin had seen examples of the styles and decorative patterns produced by the Brigante 'locals' and the idea took root about re-creating some of the old Celtic and Roman designs in precious metals.

"I had always been handy with my hands, always wanting to make things but perhaps too 1 felt some of the vibes from the craftsmen in the Roman settlernent," he says. After buying himself some equipment he progressed from brass and copper to silver and then to gold at a time when the only gold available was in South African coins which had to be melted down.

Vin crafts another bracelet in his workshop

"I had journalistic job offers in Yorkshire but I decided 1 did not want to go back to the 'coal face' and all the old worries and hassles." He decided instead to try and make a new career out of his hobby. So with the help of a £2,000 enterprise allowance grant he set up in business with a workshop at his home. The idea of weaving strands of gold and silver came to him at Harrogate College when he went on a training course. He saw a fellow student using fabric to weave a head band in a traditional Celtic design.

"I asked myself. can I do that with gold and silver?" And after a few problems had been overcome and adaptations made to accommodate the change in materials he found that he could - and that there was a market for his work. During a visit to a craft fair at Helmsley he sold everything he put on display. Since then his business has flourished. Most of his commissions come by word of mouth, many for Celtic style wedding rings, and he has outlets at various craft fairs and in two shops in the county.

Inspired by his fellow student's traditional braiding pattern one of Vin's most popular designs is what he calls the Brigante Eight. This starts with eight strands of silver or gold which he weaves into a square-shaped rope which is then shaped and polished. He believes he is probably the only person who has converted this particular Celtic braid design into metal in this way. The basic weave has become the basis for a variety of items - not just wedding rings and bracelets but torques and chokers. Wedding bands he makes from 18 carat gold because 9 carat gold is too hard to weave and his designs now extend to many more items influenced by Celtic and Roman culture.

Vin works slowly and painstakingly in his tiny workshop which has tools and equipment covering every inch of wall space. He admits he could not cope if he suddenly received a mass order for his work, nor does he want to employ an assistant. "I tick along nicely by myself and it gives me a comfortable living;' he says. "But 1 am never going to make a fortune because each piece takes so long to make."

Vin Bootle can be contacted via his website: www.vinbootle.co.uk

Dalesman March 2004

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