7th April 2020

Craft / Featured / Edward Carefoot

Lessons from a Journeyman: Learning from Tradition, Learning from Others, Learning as You Go Along

35 8 mins 3

After a five year apprenticeship in antique restoration in The Lake District, Edward Carefoot embarked on his expedition as a Journeyman: to see if the Medieval tradition of practising your trade on the road -for food and lodgings- could still be done today.


Edward took two years to travel from Scotland to The Isles of Scilly, working for farmers and Royalty, fixing gates to restoring shipwrecked furniture. After these two years away, Edward has now returned to Cumbria, with his dog Swift, and has opened a workshop where he designs and makes bespoke furniture.

Some Good Ideas: When did you first embark on the travels as a journeyman? What brought you to that point?

Edward Carefoot: I had one year left on my five year apprenticeship. I was at a point where I was looking for something to head towards. By chance, I was working on a restoration piece on a farm close to home when I got talking with the owner. Hans is of German descent and he was telling me how groups of young apprentices finish their training and embark on three years and one day on the road to hone their skills in their trade. This sparked something instantly and I couldn’t wait to finish my apprenticeship. So after a bit of research, which refreshingly there isn’t much to find, I pieced together a rough plan, looking back it was very rough and not much of a plan at all.

Out of respect for the Journeymen and women, I squared it with myself that I would attempt my own travelling and learning, as closely influenced by the European tradition as I could. Sadly, it doesn’t exist in Britain today but it is very much alive in Germany, France and Scandinavia, and is said to date back to the Medieval period. So with my Dad’s 1970s canvas rucksack and my Grandad’s tools, a blue canvas jacket and trousers (bought from The Good Life Experience – now very loved and patched) I set off.

SGI: What kind of people did you work for and what kind of work did you do?

EC: Really wide and diverse. My first job was at a reclaimer’s yard in Bristol, I’d had to jump on a train, after failing miserably to hitch hike from what I now realise is one of the busiest motorway junctions in the North West. It was one of those proper hot, claggy city days and I must have looked a state walking into the yard because Paul, a bear of a bloke, didn’t need much convincing. Within minutes I had a work bench, a bacon butty and a brew. When the time came to move on, Paul put me in touch with another reclaimer’s just outside Penzance, so I headed down there. I worked for a lad called Joe who would tell me about German Journeyman that used to come through and work for his Dad in the past. I hung on every word. Anything to learn what small snippets I could. From Joe’s I went over to The Isles of Scilly and set up a small workshop there offering Restoration to the Islands. The pieces that used to turn up where amazing, old carvings from shipwrecks, rifle butts, Captains’ chairs from wrecks from the 1700s.

In the time away I helped with lambing on farms, dug ditches, fixed gates, French polished board room tables, helped with timber framing on Prince Charles’s Estate, and everything in between.

SGI: What was it like following in the footsteps of an ancient tradition in a modern world?

EC: Surprisingly easy. Pubs were the best places to find work which was probably the same back in Medieval times. I suppose if you walk in, looking a bit odd, folk want to know your story and you soon get talking. Old fashioned word of mouth too, people would recommend or suggest someone to call on and visit and it pretty much always paid off.

I guess we are dictated to and conditioned to be wary of people these days, but in the two and a half years away I received nothing but help, intrigue and kindness.

Edward Carefoot

SGI: How did you navigate through the travelling life?

EC: It was mainly through people’s help. I guess we are dictated to and conditioned to be wary of people these days, but in the two and a half years away I received nothing but help, intrigue and kindness. I found that if you wittered on and explained why you were doing it; they saw your intent and that you were genuine and would offer to help. It was really reassuring.

SGI: What lessons have you learnt as a Journeyman?

EC: One of the earliest lessons was to plan something but be prepared almost on every occasion to change those plans and adapt. Rarely did things go to plan. But then that’s really the point, with no ties, you’re free to move around and take opportunities wherever they take you, you’ve got everything you need on your back.

The other lesson was to accept people’s kindness. I found it difficult at first, folk would chat and offer you a pint and I’ve always felt I want to pay that back so I don’t owe anyone anything, but then I realised people just want to offer you something to acknowledge what you’re doing and make life that bit easier, whether it be a pint, a bed, a meal or work. I’ll probably never meet those people again, but I pay it on to others where I can.

SGI: What has been the most useful guidance or advice anyone has given you?

EC: Routine was and is important for me. I lived with an elderly couple on a farm in Cornwall for a few months, they treated me like their son, I ate ridiculously well, and slept so well. We would get up at 6:00am have porridge, I’d get a lift to work, then I’d come home and ask for a list of jobs to crack on with. It’s the structure to the day and weeks that helps when life on the road is -by its nature- quite unstructured.

The other advice, which was harder to learn, because you’re planning what’s ahead or worrying about what opportunities might come up, is to take a step back and be content in the place at that moment not to be looking too far ahead all the time.

SGI: What feelings do you get when you are travelling? Many of our contributors have said their best ideas come when they are walking. Is this true for you?

EC: The overwhelming feeling for me when travelling, especially walking, is the simplicity and calm. I know it’s talked about a lot these days, about distractions and our need to be entertained. In our daily lives, we have to be determined and actively stop that from happening, but I think when walking through a landscape, be it town, coast, woodland or fell, I find my mind takes over and dictates to me what I’m intrigued by, and often it’s things I’ve been interested in since a child, that in turn creates a stillness that allows creativity.

SGI: Well said. Thank you, Edward.

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After a five year apprenticeship in antique restoration in The Lake District, Edward Carefoot embarked on his expedition as a Journeyman. To see if the Medieval tradition of practising your trade on the road -for food and lodgings- could still be done today. Edward took two years from Scotland to The Isles of Scilly, working from farmers to Royalty, fixing gates to restoring shipwrecked furniture. After these two years away, Edward has now returned to Cumbria, with his dog Swift, and has opened a workshop where he designs and makes bespoke furniture.

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