Monthly Archives: September 2011

Bodged Rag Rugs

I have just discovered another variation on regional rag rugging that I was unaware of until today.  In Staffordshire rag rugs are known as bodged mats.  Bodged meaning poked and each of the strips of fabric are poked, or bodged, through the backing material and knotted to hold them in place.

I shall have to update my post on ‘A Bodger is not a Botcher‘ now, as this is yet another meaning for the verb ‘to bodge’!

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The Bodgers of Buckinghamshire

Museum of Rural Life

Its a good job this is a virtual journey around the British Isles, because geographically my journey so far has not been logical.  Starting in Sussex I have zipped up, down and across the country as the whim has taken me.   For this post, as I am going down to the Woodfair at Bentley Wildfowl Museum at the weekend, I thought I would take a look at a woodsman craft and so are featuring the Bodgers of Buckinghamshire. To be strictly accurate they were the Bodgers of the Chilterns, which stretch over Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire.

The Bodgers of Buckinghamshire were woodsman who made the rungs, stretchers and legs of chairs to supply the local Windsor Chair industry in High Wycombe. Traditionally, rather than transport the wood to a workshop bodger’s would work in the wood or forest, building a temporary structure to work under and using  a foot powered pole lathe.  Later some had their workshops at home.  They weren’t, as it is sometimes reported, an itinerary band of men travelling  from place to place, picking up work but rather their workshops could be said to be itinerant, moving around within the wood.

The bodger’s craft can be traced back over five hundred years.  Stuart King has written a very interesting article on the last of the Buckinghamshire bodgers who clung on until the 1950s. Thankfully, there are still a handful of people who make a living from hand turning on a pole lathe but they don’t exist by bodging alone, which has gradually ceased to exist with the mechanisation of chair production.  I have written another post on the origin of the word bodger, which has more details, if you are interested take a look.

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A Bodger not a Botcher

The Last Chiltern Chair Bodger (image by Frank Ghysen, copyright Chiltern Society)

In the traditional craft world a bodger is a very specific term.  Craftsman known as bodgers were highly skilled workers, originating in the Chilton’s in Buckinghamshire. Bodgers were pole lathe turners who worked in temporary workshops out in the woods; producing rungs, stretchers and legs for the local Windsor chair industry based in High Wycombe.

The word bodger is an example of how, over time, meanings can change.  It is also proof of how difficult it is to actually be sure of the origins of a word.  Having spent quite a few hours trying to get to the bottom of the word I am none the wiser.   I do know there has been many different uses of the word over the years.

At various times in history there has been five distinct uses of the word bodge and bodger, which I have been able to uncover.  Some of these have fallen into disuse and some are still around or have a recognisable link to a modern term;

1.     A “bodger” was a travelling or merchant, referenced in Holinshed’s Chronicles of 1577.

2.    “Bodge” derives from Middle English boccen, which means “to mend” or “patch” which shares this root word with the word “botch”.  Samuel Pepys had his coat botched on Sunday 26th April 1663.

3.    “Bodge” was a Black Country word which meant ‘to poke’ and a stick used to poke holes were known as bodgers.

4.     A “bodge” was a unit of  false measurement in the middle ages,  Interestingly, I have seen reference to a Kent bodge which is similar to a Sussex trug and a trug was originally a unit of measurement.

5.     Shakespeare uses the word “bodge” in Henry VI part 3 Act 1 Scene 4.

“We bodged again; as I have seen a swan
With bootless labour swim against the tide
And spend her strength with over-matching waves”

If you look this phrase up in contemporary study guides, ‘bodged’ is said to mean ‘bungled’, but whilst trawling through google books I found an old Dictionary of the English Language which states that in Shakespearean terms bodge derives from boggle which means to hesitate. Now, if I crank my brain into gear and think really hard about the speech this quote comes from, I think the earlier definition might actually be right. Shakespeare seems to be describing the swan paddling away under the water but not going anywhere, thus it hesitates.

Given all the different uses the term ‘bodge’ has had,  it is no wonder there is confusion as to why chair part turners around High Wycombe became known as bodgers and confusion as to when they became know as such.

Nowadays botch and bodge have very similar, but subtly different, meanings.  A “bodge job” is an emergency repair done by a competent worker who lacks the correct tools for the job but has bodged it together until it can be mended properly.  Whereas a ‘botch job” means a job that has been done very badly.  A botcher is not someone who you would want to decorate your kitchen.  This subtle difference is often lost and the words have become interchangeable, but it is still possible to see the link between these two words and the original bodge and botch – meaning to mend or patch.  Though this meaning of bodge doesn’t really link to the Chair Bodgers.

So tracing the origin of the word bodger and botcher still doesn’t explain why the chair turners of the Chilterns became known as bodgers.  Here are just a few of the possible explanations of the word bodger in relation to chairs;

The bodgers were itinerant workers who travelled from place to place.  It is now accepted the bodgers of the Chilterns were not itinerant workers but were local men with homes to go to at night who travelled to their workshops in the woods each day.  I have found reference to itinerant bodgers, who travelled from town to town to provide a service to regional chair makers, but there were not many of these.  I sopose the bodger’s workshop could be said to be itinerant, being moved around the woods to where the timber was, thus providing a link to the original travelling merchant known as a Bodger.

Owen Dean’s workshop,  Monkton Wood, Great Hampden (image by Frank Ghysens, copyright Chiltern Society)

Bodges, were sacks of corn, closely resembling the packages of finished goods the bodgers carried when they left the forest or workshop.  This has echoes of the old units of measurements, but sounds unlikely to me.

Bodger was a corruption of badger, as similarly to the behaviour of a badger, the bodger dwelt in the woods and seldom emerged until evenings.  How terribly romantic! According to what I have read, bodger’s didn’t go to their workshops until late morning when the dew had lifted, by which time all the badgers would be well tucked up in their sets.

Bodger is a new word made up about 1910 by a journalist.  There does seems to be a few discussions suggesting that bodger is a twentieth century term, but I am not sure about this.  My searches on google books has revealed many books from the early twentieth century which describe the life’s of bodgers and various authors spend much time detailing how their trade has been past from father to son.  In none of these books does the author mention the men have only recently become known as bodgers.  Dorothy Hartley in her book Made in England, spends time discussing the origin of the word and she makes no mention of it being a recent invention.  Also, in the book Country Relics, H. J. Massingham interviews various bodgers and again, does not says it was only recently they have become known as such.  He describes the bodging career of a Mr Rockall who at the time, was 61 and had alway been a bodger.  It is stated, he “lived as a boy at Little Marlow where the wood bodgers taught him the use of the pole lathe” (p.56 Country Relics, Massingham).  This would put the term in use in the 1880′s at least.

Bodger derives from the old french word ‘bouger’ – to move about.  This is a suggestion put forward by Dorothy Hartley.  I guess it’s a possibility, I will look into this one, but with so many possibilities within the English language it seems unlikely that the word would be plucked from another language.

Bodger was a derogatory term used by the carpenters in High Wycombe who considered themselves better craftsmen than the chair part maker’s who worked in the woods.   But this doesn’t really fit.  If they were being derogatory then they would call them botcher’s. Maybe they called them bodger’s because they were craftsman but couldn’t complete the whole chair because they didn’t have the right tools in their workshops in the woods. This explanation would fit with the true meaning of the word bodge.  I actually quite like this theory as it fits on more than one level and would explain why the term was applied just to the bodgers around High Wycombe.

Finally and this one is my one suggestion which I have no idea if it is right, if a bodger was a stick used to poke holes then a bodger would bear a remarkable similarity to the sticks, rungs and legs made by the chair part turners.  Maybe they were called bodgers because they made bodgers.

Anyway after all this research, I still don’t really know how the Chair Bodgers of the Chilterns got their name. What I do know is the discussion is far from over.  Bodger is now beginning to be the term used for all pole lathe workers, of whom there are but a few. Amongst themselves there is discussions as to whether they should call themselves green wood workers or allow the term bodger to be their collective name.

If one was to be pedantic the chair bodger’s pole lathe differs from other woodworkers such as bowl turners, because the driving string is wrapped directly around the material to be turned and the lathe is not equipped with a chuck.  So strictly speak the job title is defined by your equipment.

However I must say that if I met a man in the woods wielding a big, sharp tool who said he was a bodger I would be inclined to agree with him, even if his lathe did have a chuck!

 

 

A dictionary of English Language, in which the words are……….. Vol 1 – Samual Johnson 1932

A dictionary of weights and measures for the British Isles: the Middle Ages to the twentieth Century  -  Ronald Edward Zupko 1985

Traditional Country Craftsmen – John Geraint Jenkins

Made in England – Dorothy Hartley – 1939

Country Relics: An Account…….H. J. Massingham – 1939

www.chilternphoto.org.uk

www.pepysdiary.com

www.worldwidewords.org

www.bodgers.org.uk

www.stuartking.co.uk

www.shakespeare-literature.com


Posted in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Heritage Crafts, Oxfordshire, Traditional Crafts, Wood | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yorkshire Buttons

This is going to be short!  I have been searching for information on Yorkshire buttons and they are proving elusive.  There is a type of button which goes by the name of ‘Yorkshire button’ and I have found references to them here and there, but I can find no historical proof that they were linked exclusively to Yorkshire.  I have a sneaking suspicion they might be a relatively recent invention but I remain unsure.

Anyway, for now all I can say is that they are a type of hand stitched button.  Made by creating a circular woven wheel, traditionally from woollen yarn and stuffing it to form a sphere.  You can find more detailed instructions on how to make them here, as for no particular reason the Yorkshire Button is the subject of my very first tutorial found on my How to….page.  So, even if its own history is a bit hazy, it now has a place in the history of Potter Wright and Webb!

If, by any chance, you can shed light on the history of this humble button then please let me know.

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How to Make a Yorkshire Button


Yorkshire Buttons are basically an extension of an embroidery stitch called a ribbed wheel.  (Also known as ribbed spider’s web, back stitched spider’s web, woven wheel or woven spot).  Somewhere in Yorkshire, someone had the bright idea of taking this stitch and weaving it free of any backing material.  Instead the stitch is woven onto a circular template, thus they were able to take the finished circle off the template and gather and stuff it to form a little sphere and hey presto a new button was invented.

To make a Yorkshire button follow the instructions below.  Anything in italics is details which some people might not need or want.  Note that I am left handed so the photos show me sewing clockwise.  Right handers will probably want to go the other way!


1.    Make your template.  Cut a circle out of strong cardboard or plastic.  No bigger than 5cm (2″) if this is your first one.

a)  Use a compass or draw round something the right size.

b)  Cut 12 V shaped notched around the edge of the circle, big enough to hold the thread.  These should be evenly spaced like a clock face – that is at 30° intervals.  Best way to do this is to divide into quarters and then divide the quarters, this way the notches stay even. Imagine or mark the notches as a clock face

c)  Pierce hole through the centre.

Bear in mind that the diameter of this circle will end up as the circumference of your finished button.  If you want your button to be a certain size and don’t remember all those complicated formulae from school then take the buttonhole measurement and double it and then add about 3mm.  You can pull it tighter if it is a tad too big.

2.    Thread a blunt darning needle with about 2.5m of thread, this seems alot but it is best to do the whole button without needing more thread.  Wool would be the traditional choice in lace weight but I like to use cotton crochet thread (no 8 is good).  Bring your needle up through the centre hole of the template, pull the thread to the front leaving about 10cm at the back to hold on to.

3.    Next you need to form the spokes to weave the button onto.  This sounds more complicated than it is but follow the instructions as two threads must form each spoke and you do need to end up in the right place.

Start by taking the thread from the centre to notch 1, go around the back to notch 12, come to the front and go down to notch 6, go round the back to notch 7, come to the front and up to notch 1,  continue in this way in the following order

b = thread at the back,  f = thread at the front

1  b 12  f 6 b 7 f 1 b 2 f 8 b 9 f 3 b 4 f 10 b 11 f 5 b 6 f 12 b 11 f  5 b 4 f 10 b 9 f 3 b 2 f 8 b 7

4.    From 7 come to centre, take needle UNDER all spokes and come up between 12 and 1, loop over the centre between 6 and 7 and back to form a little anchor stitch.  Check that the spokes are sitting centrally before pulling the stitch tight.  This will show so it needs to be neat!

5.    You are now ready to weave the stitch.  It is basically a spiral of back stitches over the spokes, working from the centre outwards.  Work as follows – take thread back over a spoke (should be spoke 12 if you came up between 12 and 1).  Take needle under this spoke and the next (12 and 1). Pull thread through.  Repeat – back over spoke 1 down and under spoke 1 and 2. (basically it is one spoke back two spokes forward).  After a couple of stitches the ridges will start to appear and it is clear how the button is formed. Continue in a spiral until the whole template is filled.  Neaten the stitches as you go, pushing them together so the spokes do not show and the template is tightly packed.

 

6.    When you can fit no more stitches onto the template the button, turn the template over and run a running stitch through each of the loops on the back.  Then slide each of the loops off the template and pull the thread to start to form the spherical shape.  Cut off your loose starting thread at this stage, leaving about 1cm inside the button so it doesn’t unravel. Stuff your button with small amount of wadding.  Alternatively a spherical bead which is the right size.  Draw the loops tight.  Lastly make a few stitches at the back to neaten the button up and then leave the thread to sew on to garment.

There you go – a Yorkshire Button, easy to make and can be made to compliment a special garment or when you just can’t find anything in the right colour.

NB  This is the first of many tutorials.  If you use this and find I have made an error or there is part of the instructions that really don’t make sense to you – Please let me know so that I can correct them. Thank you.

 

 

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