MBE for canal boat painter Phil Speight in the King’s Birthday Honours


MBE for canal boat painter Phil Speight in the King’s Birthday Honours

Traditional canal boat painter Phil Speight has been awarded an MBE in the King’s Birthday Honours, in recognition of his unparalleled craftsmanship and tireless work in ensuring his skills are passed on to future generations.

Phil was nominated by Heritage Crafts for this year’s Birthday Honours, following 30 other successful nominations since 2013. Last year, the charitable organisation – which was set up in 2009 to support and champion traditional craft skills – added traditional canal boat painting to the latest edition of its groundbreaking Red List of Endangered Crafts, the first report of its kind to rank craft skills by the likelihood they will survive into the next generation.

Having trained as a coach painter in the 1960s, Phil fell in love with the distinctive folk art of the inland waterways and began his career in traditional canal art in the early 1980s.

For decades Phil has worked in respected boatyards which specialise in the restoration or maintenance of historic vessels, serving for several years at the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum as craftsman consultant on their national collection. His work is held at the V&A and the National Waterways Museum, as well as in many private collections, and was included in an international exhibition of folk art held in Japan in the 1980s.

Former apprentice Meg Gregory, who worked with Phil on the hand painted signs used to introduce each nation at the 2022 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, said:

“His enthusiasm and dedication to his craft has meant he has ‘weathered the storm’ and kept a vital link in the chain from the last of the traditional working boat painters whose livelihood all but died out…”

In the late 1990s Phil founded Craftmaster Paints to address the issue of replacing the qualities of poisonous lead paints, working closely with chemists and manufacturers to develop new alternatives. The company retains a close relationship with him and still uses his formulae for its paints. It remains the leading supplier of paints to those working on traditional canal boats, steam engines and fairground machinery.

Amy Tillson, Inland Waterways Association Campaigns Officer and Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Waterways, said:

“Thanks to him and the others who he has inspired with his work and passion, the tradition is a living one.”

Heritage Crafts encourages anyone who supports the continuation of traditional craft skills, whether or not they are makers themselves, to join the organisation as a member.

The charity provides an Endangered Crafts Fund to provide small grants to projects that increase the likelihood of endangered craft skills surviving into the next generation, and is currently seeking donations to save more of Britain’s most endangered crafts from oblivion – click here to find out how to donate.

Photo: Christopher Thomond