ZCZ Films / Handmade in Bolton

Shaun Greenhalgh / Janina Ramirez
Shaun Greenhalgh and Janina Ramirez / all photography: Matt Conway, 2019

Shaun Greenhalgh was once a prolific forger. Based in a garden shed in his parent’s house in Bolton, he fooled the experts for three decades with an impressive array of fakes. Obsessed with the techniques of the past, Shaun could make anything – from Medieval church carvings to Islamic drinking vessels. But a spell in prison convinced him to cross back over to the right side of the law and he has now teamed up with Oxford historian, Dr Janina Ramirez. Together, they are trying to keep alive the secrets of the ancients.

Shaun Greenhalgh with Bob the Barn Owl.
Shaun Greenhalgh
Shaun Greenhalgh
Shaun Greenhalgh
Janina Ramirez
Shaun Greenhalgh
Janina Ramirez
Shaun Greenhalgh and Janina Ramirez
Janina Ramirez and Shaun Greenhalgh

The episodes →

In the first episode, Janina sets Shaun the challenge of making a jewelled eagle brooch of the kind worn by Visigoth chieftains in the Dark Ages. Inspired by a live eagle he befriends in an animal sanctuary in Lancashire, Shaun is confident he can do it. But sourcing the materials proves tricky, and making the brooch is more difficult than he expected. Can he finish in time?

In episode two of Handmade in Bolton, Dr Janina Ramirez sets ex-forger, Shaun Greenhalgh, the challenge of making an alabaster carving of the kind mass-produced in Catholic England in the centuries before the Reformation. But the mines in Nottingham that produced English alabaster were closed down long ago. And the destruction unleashed by Henry VIII has left behind precious few examples. So Shaun’s views about how the Nottingham alabasters would originally have looked, shock Janina.

In episode three of Handmade in Bolton, ex-forger, Shaun Greenhalgh, is set the task of making a Renaissance animal plate of the type invented by the great French potter, Bernard Palissy. Palissy’s plates are alive with writhing reptiles, but for Shaun, killing grass snakes in Lancashire is not an option. So how can he source some examples for his moulds? And will it mean journeying back to his dark past as a forger?

In episode four of Handmade in Bolton, Oxford historian, Dr Janina Ramirez sets ex-forger, Shaun Greenhalgh, his hardest task yet. Shaun has to carve an Islamic bottle out of rock crystal in the style of the 10th century Egyptian Fatimids. Rock crystal is notoriously fragile. Sourcing the right quantities of it is almost impossible. The real problems begin, however, when the carving is finished.