Tag Archives: heritage craft

Southport Boat Basket

 

Ok, I know – I haven’t managed to blog for a while.  I don’t know how these people keep their virtual worlds going – week in, week out.  It seems to me that every time I think I have the time to blog a bit, real life gets in the way and I have to postpone my virtual journey.  But today is the day, it is almost a year since I first started this lovely traditional crafts road trip and I am back on the fibre optic track.

Today I am in Southport to look at the Southport boat basket and before I even begin to look at the boat, which is not a boat by the way, I need to work out where I am.  I have found over the course of this trip, regional traditional crafts don’t usually stick to modern county boundaries, instead they follow the geography of the land and local industry.  However, as I like things nice and tidy, I usually list things under the modern county boundaries, but that was before I looked up Southport!   It seems Southport hasn’t quite decided where it should be, it used to be in Lancashire and is now in Merseyside, but many people who live there would like to move back to Lancashire.

Anyway I am not to discuss local county boundaries,  I am here to look at local baskets.  I found out about the Southport boat through a friend of mine, Greta Bertram, who works at the Museum of English Rural Life.  We had been discussing Historypin and Greta wrote a great post on their blog, A Sense of Place about how Historypin was evolving and she mentioned the Southport boat within her post.  So I absolutely had to trot off to Southport to go and find the basket.

This basket has proved rather elusive.  It is known locally and amongst basket makers, but there is very little information out there about it.   The first thing I did find out was it doesn’t come from Southport at all but from a small village nearby called Mawdesley, which incidentally is still in Lancashire.  It is said the name Mawdesley originated way back, when a certain Matilda-Mawde married a local lad and the town was named after her as part of her dowry.  The Mawdesley family were the local ‘lord of the manor’ type and have lived in Mawdesley Hall, built by William Mawdesley in 1625, pretty much ever since.

Over time the town became famous for its basket making and the baskets were known for their strength, mainly due to local growing conditions which resulted in nice strong willow.  By 1862 there were eleven basket making businesses in the village and this rose to twenty in 1874.  Even the Mawdesley family established themselves as basket manufacturers and ran one of the larger businesses at Towngate Basket Works which remained open until the 1960’s.

The industry supported many people, some working full time and some working at home to supplies the frames of the basket lids.  Plus, there were many farmers who grew the willow, dependant on the industry too.  In 1914 there were 200 acres of willow around about the village and all those twigs had to be cut by hand and then sorted, dried and peeled.  The local industries mean there was no shortage of demand for the baskets.  Supplies were made for coal mining, shipping, fishing, agriculture and mills.

Cobham Basket Works

So, the Southport boat was one of many baskets made in the basket making village of Mawdesley.  What made the basket special was that the design can be put down to one man, Mr Cobham of Mawdesley, who reportedly came up with the design in 1830.  The boat basket was invented to carry eggs and butter to Southport market and the design combined the Morecombe Bay cockle basket and other gipsy baskets.  Once Mr Cobham had come up with the design, the manufacture was developed by Thomas Cowley, who owned a local basketmaking firm and then adopted by other basket making firms.

However, I tentatively suggest it is more probable that Mr Cobham actually refined and commercialised existing traditional baskets rather than actually invented a new one.  I say this as the development of the Southport boat is similar to the Sussex trug and although not familiar with the Southport boat, I know in great detail how people in Sussex dispute whether the trug was invented or whether it was ‘refined’ from earlier spale baskets.  I would love to know more if anyone can add to the Southport boat story, please let me know!

Whatever its origins, the Southport boat was a very successful design and was soon made by many basket makers.  The boat is a type of frame basket (a basket made around a frame, rather than self supporting).  It’s rim and handle are made from hoops of split ash and it has ribs which fan out, radiating from the handle.  These ribs are not attached to the rim but added  as the basket is woven.  Interestingly, like the Welsh Cyntell basket, the Southport boat is woven from the top down as opposed to bottom up, as most baskets are.

The basket making industry in Mawdesley began to decline, like many other traditional crafts, during the twentieth century due to all to familiar reasons;  the migration of workers to the cotton mills and rubber works, the invention of plastic, cheap imports and the effect the over extraction of water and river pollution had on the osier beds.

Nowadays, although the shape of the Southport boat will be very familiar to many people,  I have not been able to find any basket makers which list the basket as one of their products.  So please, please – if you know of anyone who still makes Southport boats then get in touch so I can list their details in this post – thank you very much.

www.mawdesley-village.org.uk

www.lancashire.gov.uk – libraries services

www.lancashire.gov.uk – image archive

www.reading.ac.uk

www.ribblelife.org

 

Baskets in Europe  - Maurice Bichard

Complete Book of Basketry – Dorothy Wright

Traditional Country Craftsmen – J. Geraint Jenkins

 

 

Posted in Basketry, Endangered Crafts, Lancashire, Merseyside, Traditional Crafts | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Lots of Lovely Dorset Buttons

Finally finished my second tutorial on Dorset Buttons.  Had lots of images of all the samples I made and so I thought I would share them with you all.

Got a bit carried away and kept making more!

One great big Shirt Waister (yes, I know it’s off centre)

Open Weave around a Curtain Ring, a Christmas tree decoration perhaps

I like these ones – On a nice cardigan or maybe a brooch.

I think I have got the Dorset button bug now.  I may even branch out and do some colourful ones.  I found a really nice booklet which gives intricate details of how to make many of the traditional dorset buttons including the High Tops and Singletons.

I am planning on integrating some big ones into some of my embroidery pieces next.  Have a look here.

 ‘How to Make Dorset Buttons Booklet’ by Marion Howitt is available from

www.dorsetbuttons.co.uk

Posted in Dorset, Textiles | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

‘Working Woodlands’ The Story of Coppice

The Coppice Association NW – ‘Working Woodlands’  - The Story of Coppice

Sat 31 March – Sun 29 April

Head over to Farfield Mill to experience the natural wonders of green wood craftsmanship, learn about its place in social history and its relevance in our modern world.

Farfield Mill – Which is in lovely Cumbria

 

Posted in Courses, Cumbria, Events, Exhibitions, Heritage Crafts, Traditional Crafts, Wood | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

The Sussex Pimp!

The Sussex pimp is a little known traditional coppice product, a small bundle of kindling – twenty five small lengths of birch tied up with tarred string.  Made by woodsman in the area around Petworth, used locally and also taken up to London by the cart, lorry and train load.   There is still one man who produces pimps and this is Alan Waters who is based near Chichester and sells through woodland fairs.  There is a nice video of him making some pimps and explaining the use of faggots and benders here;

www.coppicegroup.wordpress.com/gallery/

A pimp is used to light a fire.  There is two other related coppice products;  a faggot, which is a larger bundle of sticks used to fuel ovens and now also utilised in the regeneration and protection of  river banks and a bavin, which like a faggot was used to fuel a fire.

Well there you have – what more can I say.  I did try to find an image for this post but when I googled ‘Sussex Pimp” all I got was a picture of a nasty looking man on the run in Brighton!

Posted in Heritage Crafts, Sussex, Traditional Crafts, Uncategorized, Wood | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments