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Leek & District Historical Society - April 2014

By Leek Post and Times  |  Posted: April 24, 2014

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GEORGE Hook is the managing director of a company that started up in Birmingham in 1824 and is the largest importer of sea shells in the country.

These singular claims to fame are George's way of introducing himself as the last Mother of Pearl maker in an industry that once produced millions of buttons, buckles, brooches, cutlery handles and furniture inlay in small workshops around Hockley, today's 'Jewellery Quarter', and Aston.

The joy of this evening's presentation lay in being in the company of history in real life.

The Mother of Pearl workshops sprang up in the late 1700s as trading companies and their sailing ships brought exotic cargoes from the east.

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At its peak in the latter half of the 19th century there were some 40 works using the same methods and materials George still uses.

Though there were no pictures of his workshop visitors are welcome to his Pope Street business in Smethwick. Contact www.hook-motherofpearl.co.uk for details, contacts and pictures of his beautifully hand-crafted products.

What was to see, handle and ask about were beautiful oyster shells from the tropical waters of northern Australia. It is the oyster alone that produces true mother of pearl, George explaining how the shell and pearls are produced from the saliva, 'spit', of the mollusc.

However, it was seeing how the shells were carefully cut to maximise the number of buttons and then polished that enabled everyone to appreciate the craftsmanship and artistry – now about to end as George has no heir.

The business dies in Birmingham when the Hooks finally shuts up shop. And that is surely history in the making.

There is no doubt that the society was privileged to have such a speaker, and there were members in the audience keen to invite George Hook, company director, master maker and superb raconteur to return to leek to talk to other local groups.

The final part of the evening was given over to the annual general meeting.

Here, as with George Hook & Company, history's pages were turning.

Robert Craddick stepped down from being chairman after seven years.

Robert has presided over some memorable meetings of the society and he and Joy's hospitality for committee meetings have been warm and generous. Joan Bennett is our new chairman, with Robert continuing to offer support for the coming year as vice chair. Special thanks and appreciation were given to Cathryn Walton who herself plans to step down next year. The Society has been fortunate to have Paul Beasley as treasurer and thanked Harry Ball and Chris Clark for auditing the accounts once more.

The meeting agreed to a change in the constitution which promotes the idea of committee members and officers having a three year tenure.

The thinking behind this is to encourage new ideas and leadership. Among the many lessons of history is the one that advises community groups to recruit fresh blood and to encourage members to become acquainted with and to take on the duties and responsibilities that enable organisations to continue and flourish.

In a sea shell, as with the Hooks, without regeneration the business becomes history. The irony of the inevitable befalling Leek & District Historical Society will need to be heeded if future celebrations of our heritage are not to become things of the past.

That being said, the next meeting will be during the Leek Arts Festival on Monday 12th May at 7.45pm in the Dove Room at Moorlands House, Stockwell Street, when Raymond Rush unveils the histories behind 'Country Customs'.

If it's as informative and entertaining as George was for us then we're in for another treat, so come early.

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