Horn and antlers craftsman believes the tradition still has a future

A craftsman who was one of the last people in the UK to make horn and antlers for a living, believes the 5th century tradition has a future.

John Lacey, 64, has worked tools such as spoons, knife handles and whistles for nearly 40 years.

He learned his skills from father-in-law Cameron Thomson, 95, who started a workshop in Lawers, Perth and Kinross in 1959.

Father-of-two John worked there for 36 years and ended up in it accidentally.

The horn carving is considered endangered by the Heritage Crafts Association, but John believes that antlers and horns are natural resources to use.

The horn or antler is prepared by cutting, heating and shaping, before being sanded and then polished – and it can take John as little as 90 minutes to make a spoon.

John said, “I am one of the few horn carvers left in Scotland.

“But there are people who are trying and there is still interest in it.

“I hope people will continue the craft and I believe it will always be there because the materials will be too.

‘There is an abundance of antlers here and they fall off every year.

“But you never know what’s around the corner.”

Horn and antlers craftsman believes the tradition still has a future

The carving of horns is believed to date back to the fifth century, and in the Middle Ages, horn-making workshops were common in the UK.

However, a lack of raw materials, such as cattle and ram’s horn, due to breeding and import problems, as well as a shortage of recruitment and skills, have hampered the craft.

The introduction of cheaper materials such as plastic also made horn cutting products less popular, and now carvers make more luxury items.

Grandfather of three John said, “It takes some time.

‘You have to cut things manually.

‘It probably takes about half an hour to make a spoon.

“The whistles and spoons are popular, but the walking sticks and shepherd’s sticks are no longer as popular as they used to be.

“I’ve been doing it for almost 40 years.

“Once I got married, I drifted into it.

‘It was my father-in-law who did it before.

“We work with horn and antlers and make spoons, whistles and knife handles.”

John has no plans to retire anytime soon and is considering whether to hire an intern to boost the craft.

He added, “There’s no one else here – I’m just a one-man band.

“I’m not training anyone at the moment, but maybe in the future.

“I don’t think I’ll retire anytime soon.”