Why being a master cooper is no barrel of laughs

The last master cooper in England desperately needs an apprentice.
The last master cooper in England desperately needs an apprentice. Photo: iStock

The last master cooper in England is appealing for an apprentice, in an effort to stop the ancient trade dying out.

Alastair Simms, 52, has advertised for someone to join his business in Masham, North Yorkshire, but there has been a disappointing response.

The work, which involves making wooden casks and vats for beer and cider, is physically demanding and an apprenticeship takes four years.

The successful candidate must be able to lift heavy loads and demonstrate an affinity for using traditional tools.

Do as the Romans did

It is a fascinating job, according to Mr Simms. “Not a lot of people know what a cooper is, and that was probably true even in its heyday,” he said.

The younger generation don’t think they should be doing hard work, they think they should be sat behind a desk working on a computer.

Alastair Simms

“We pretty much do things the same way that the Romans did. The advent of machinery has made the process a bit easier, but we’re still classed as hand coopers. It’s physically a hard job. Sometimes you get to the end of the day and don’t look as though you’ve achieved anything, but your body says different.”

Mr Simms, who started in the industry as a 16-year-old apprentice and spent 15 years becoming a master cooper, said the paucity of applicants was a reflection of the times.

“I hate to say it but I think we’ve got Americanised,” he said. “The younger generation don’t think they should be doing hard work, they think they should be sat behind a desk working on a computer.”

Nevertheless, he is hopeful of finding someone to take on the apprenticeship and potentially take over the business when he retires. The successful candidate can look forward to a salary of £21,000 ($46,000) when he or she becomes a qualified cooper. The job is open to anyone, regardless of age or gender.

Precise skills

Mr Simms said: “People think it is a much easier skill to learn than it actually is. There is incredible precision involved. An apprentice would need to learn how to repair casts and make them, as well as work with different timbers and to measurements as specific as 2000th of an inch. The skill of making the barrel is something that has to be cultivated and refined.”

When he began his career at the Theakston Brewery in Masham, there were around 100 coopers in the UK. People with the surname Cooper have ancestors in the trade – as do those called Hooper, the job title given to people who made the hoops that encircle the barrels.

The introduction of metal casks in the 1960s has resulted in the trade almost being lost. “I want to keep the industry alive in England,” says Mr Simms, who set up his own business, White Rose Cooperage, in 2013. Wooden casks are now having a renaissance thanks to the rise of microbreweries.

The Telegraph, London

Looks like lots of hard work and manual labor. Canberra First Aid Courses will make sure they cover manual handling of patients so that you don’t end up injuring yourself when applying first aid. First aid courses in Canberra are run over a one day program and make sure to cover all of the most important aspects of first aid training. There are many providers offering great first aid courses in Canberra but we feel ours are the best and on top the cheapest. Book in now.

Leave a Reply