Tag Archives: history

The Welsh Cyntell

Large cyntell - Les Llewellyn

I am going over the border today, to a country where traditional culture and language has been fiercely defended for years.  I am slightly wary as to where to start on this as I could easily emigrate and spend all my time just writing about Welsh stuff;  blankets, baskets, love spoons, clogs etc.  But as I have to start somewhere I shall start with the cyntell basket (I believe ‘ll‘ in Welsh is pronouned ‘th‘ so it would be ‘cynteth‘ – but please correct me if I am wrong).

The cyntell is a multi functional basket used around the farm to ‘carry stuff’;  animal feed, potatoes and fruit and they can also be utilised around the home, for laundry and sleeping babies amongst other things.  I also wonder if they were ever used, way back when, as a unit of measure like the trug in Sussex.

Cyntells - Out to Learn Willow

In fact, like the Sussex trug and the Cumbrian swill, the traditional frame basket was not confined to county or country borders.  Known as a cyntell in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, identical baskets were found across other regions and over in Ireland, where they were known as skibs, scuttles and Sally Saucers.

Cyntell Basket - Ruth Pybus

 

 

 

The cyntell is formed around a thick, dried willow or hazel hoop, with split and shaped wooden ribs, which together form the frame which is interwoven with willow.  The original farm baskets would have been rustic affairs but a tradition developed to weave more elaborate competition baskets and these are what are more common now.

 

 

The survival of the cyntell is said to be down to three men, D.J Davies, Marvin Morgan and Les Llewelyn.  In the late 1990′s they were all working at St Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff.  Mr Davis was the basket maker, Mr Morgan the miller and Mr Llewelyn whittled love spoons and walking sticks.

D J Davies - The Master (image - Les Llewellyn)

Mr Davies had been the resident basket maker at St Fagans since it opened in 1948, demonstrating the weaving of cyntell basket as taught to him by his farmer grandfather (who had been taught by his father, no doubt).  Aware that Mr Davies was one of the only craftspeople still making the traditional basket, Mr Llewelyn and Mr Mogan decided to ask Mr Davies to pass on his basketry skills.   As Mr Davies had begun to think he would be the last basketmaker in Wales to make the cyntell basket, he was delighted to pass on the skills which had been passed through the generations, via his grandfather.

Having gained the necessary skills to call themselves basket makers, the two younger men set about keeping the traditional Welsh basket making skills alive and kicking.  Mr Davies and Mr Llewelyn became founder members of The South Wales Basketmakers and Mr Davies also became President of the South Wales Stickmakers group.  I believe Mr Morgan became the resident basket maker at St Fagan’s after Mr Davies retired, but unfortunately, when I searched St Fagan’s website I could find no reference to either cyntells or Mr Morgan.

Learn to weave a Cyntell

Luckily for us, many people now seem to appreciate the relevance of craft items associated with particular regions.  The South Wales Basket Makers Group holds regular courses to teach others the essential cyntell skills, with Les Llewellyn running many of these.  It seems the knowledge passed on from Mr Davies is now safe in the hands of  keen basket makers in Wales and beyond.  Indeed, it could be said (at a stretch) that cyntell basket making is a growth industry and let’s be honest –  there is not many of those about these days!!

Courses and Sales

Links through to makers who produce cyntells and also to cyntell making basket courses for interested people.

www.traditionalwelshbaskets.co.uk - Les Llewellyn

www.welshbasketmakers.co.uk

www.framebaskets.co.uk - Ruth Pybus

www.outtolearnwillow.co.uk

www.bobjohnstonbaskets.co.uk

Ray Lister – Ray supplies a video of D J Davies weaving a cyntell, plus he runs frame basket weaving courses at various locations

Owen Jones – Owen also learnt to weave cyntells from DJ Davies and runs the occasional course to.

 

Posted in Basketry, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Traditional Crafts, Wales, Wood, Yorkshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Weird Wizards of the Yorkshire Dales

Yorkshire really is enormous!  Well, in British terms it’s enormous.  If you are used to the open plains of America or the Sahara Desert it is actually quite tiny, but as far as the counties of Britain are concerned – it’s huge.  So it follows that within the Ridings of Yorkshire there are many interesting traditional craft stories to tell, one huge story, which I will only be able to scratch the surface of here, is the story of the hand knitters of the Yorkshire Dales.

The Costume of Yorkshire Illustrated By A Series of Forty Engravings - George Walker, 1814

Hand knitting was an important cottage industry across the Yorkshire Dales from the end of the sixteenth century right through to the beginning of the twentieth century.  Sheep had been an important part of the local economy since way back when, and it followed that spinning, weaving and knitting industries developed in the area. Yet, it wasn’t just in Yorkshire that hand knitting was an important cottage industry.  During the seventeenth century, hand knitting had been a major source of income for the pauper classes throughout the United Kingdom.  Up to 13% of the very lowest earners across the country scrapped a living by knitting stockings. Thinking about it, it’s not surprising really, as everyone wore stockings back then and someone had to make them. However, by the beginning of the eighteenth century hand knitting as a cottage industry on any scale had already begun to decline due to mechanisation.  But hand knitting continued in the Dales of Yorkshire, because it was a poor, isolated area with little other options and people were able to combine it with farming.

Knitting in the Yorkshire Dales developed in a very distinctive style.  Descriptions from the 1840′s stated that knitters sat rocking to and fro like weird wizards!  On each rock of the body, both hands engaged in a variety of little motions which together formed a uniform tossing action.  Needles were pricks and crooked, with one attached to a knitting stick tucked into the belt called a cow band.  The technique was known as swaving and it enabled the knitter not only to knit very fast but also to knit one handed and this was vitally important as to scrape a living the knitters had to work day and night to make it worth while.

bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld

Knitting stick - often carved by young men for their sweet hearts.

All members of the family would be required to knit, children started as young as three or four and they would have to knit practically all the time.  Men would knit as they milked the cows and drove the wagons and once the days work was done, families would gather at each others houses, taking it in turn to host their neighbours.  Knitting throughout the evening by the light of the peat fires rather than waste candles, telling stories and singing to pass the time.   The Vicar at Dent even complained the women were knitting during the Sunday church service.

The items that were knitted varied greatly.  Stockings were the most important item but bonnets, hats, gloves and undershirts were also produced.  The wool, called bump, was thick and greasy.  As the industry developed a ‘bump’ master transported the wool to the villagers and took the finished articles either to market or back to the mill to be dyed.  Gloves and stocking made of finer wools were also made and it was these that displayed the distinctive Dales patterns.

By the beginning of the twentieth century the hand knitting tradition of the Dales had waned as a cottage industry but knitting for domestic use continued and luckily the traditional patterns and styles are well documented.  To be honest, whilst it is fascinating to read about a craft so strongly linked to an area, it is easy to understand why it’s not really a career choice today.  Hand knitted clothes are now reassuringly expensive to reflect the amount of time it takes to knit a jumper or even a pair of socks!  It is still not easy to make a living from this traditional craft in Britain but easier than it was.

image from Dent Village Heritage Centre

And here are lots of links if you want to know more,

Click’n’knit   -   Sue Carne knits tradition Yorkshire Dales gloves so if you need a pair she is your woman!

 www.vam.ac.uk

theknittinggenealogist.wordpress.com  - soon to release a book on the history of Yorkshire knitting!

 www.daelnet.co.uk

www.outofoblivion.org.uk

www.yorkshiredales.org.uk

Lesley O’Connell Edwards –  Working Hand Knitters in England from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries, Textile History, Volume 41, Number 1, May 2010 , pp. 70-85(16) (accessed online via ingentaconnect.com)

William Howitt - The Rural Life of England in Two Volumes, 1840, p307  (accessed online via google ebooks)

Posted in Heritage Crafts, Textiles, Traditional Crafts, Yorkshire | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Right Royal Sussex Trug

The Sussex Trug is a funny old place to start my Traditional Craft journey around the British Isle’s because some would say; it isn’t actually that old, especially in traditional craft terms, having first shot to fame in 1851.  But the trug is so very much associated with Sussex and is so firmly rooted in my childhood memories, it seems a very good place to begin.

There have been Trug’s in Sussex in one form or another since way back when.  The word trug is thought to have derived from the Old English word trough or trog which means ‘made of wood’ or ‘boat like form’.  The first trough’s or trog’s were carved, wooden, boat shaped vessels and were used by farmers for measuring and harvesting and there are references to them in medieval manuscripts. But what is a bit hazy is when these solid wooden Trog’s evolved into the baskets we now know as Trug’s.  It is known that a sixteenth century Sussex trugger called John Edwards left all his trugger tools to his son and the tools are almost the same as the trugger tools used today and trug’s also appear in paintings as far back as the 1700′s.

However the Trug really came into its own during the 1800′s,  In a village called Herstmonceux (Yes I know, it is a funny name!  It’s pronounced Herst-mon-zoo and it comes from combining the Anglo-Saxon word hyrst, which means “wooded hill” and the name of the Monceux family, who were lords of the manor in the 12th century)  lived a Mr Smith.  It seems that Mr Smith had the bright idea of taking the original trug and making it better.  Some say that he actually invented the Sussex Trug, it but it was more likely he was a master trug maker and he made the best trugs in the village.

We do know his trug were made in the traditional Sussex style; a lightweight basket made from Sweet Chestnut and Cricket Bat Willow. The Sweet Chestnut, grown locally on the wooded hills, he used for the rim and handle and the Cricket Bat Willow, from the nearby Pevensey Marshes, he used to make boards for the body of the basket.  Mr Smith’s Sussex Trug was very popular locally and he developed a thriving market selling to local farmers.

The really big moment in Sussex Trug’s history came in 1851 when Mr Smith took his basket to the Great Exhibition of 1851.  There, his stall was visited by Queen Victoria who order a number of Trug’s to give as gifts.  The Sussex Trug was renamed the Royal Sussex Trug and Mr Smith personally walked all the way to Buckingham Palace, pushing his hand cart, to deliver the Queens Trug’s.

Obviously Mr Smith was a very happy man, his business flourished and a trug making cottage industry developed.  Competitors sprung up and trug making spread throughout Sussex and Kent and even as far as Somerset.  Everyone chugged along quite nicely and the trug continued in production into the early twentieth century until, alas, along came mechanisation and plastic.

Now here is where the story could have ended, the lovely Royal Sussex Trug killed off by machines and plastic, luckily for us it isn’t the end. Admittedly things got a bit hairy for Trug making for a while, farmers no longer needed Trugs to collect their eggs and apples and the plastic punnet became the preferred container.  After the Second World War Trug production gradually shrank back into Sussex until there was only a handful of companies left, one being the original Thomas Smith company.  These Trug makers survived by pure tenacity  and also by adjusting their marketing plan.  Instead of selling mainly to farmers they begun to sell more to gardeners.  The Sussex Trug became the must have accessory for the dedicated gardener.

So there we have it, a potted history of the Sussex Trug.  Along the way the Sussex Trug really has had its ups and downs, through the seventies and eighties I remember more than one  story about how the last trug makers were on the verge of shutting up shop. But it does seem they have now carved themselves a niche market.  The Sussex trug makers have also diversified and now produce a ply version of the traditional trug.  Go to any gardening online shop and the chances are that there will be a wooden trug of some description for sale.  They now even have to fight off the threat of cheap, imported copies from China.  However, the genuine article for me remains the Royal Sussex Trug, made only by the original Smith company.  Although I must say if I am perfectly honest, I don’t think much of the music they play in their workshop, but despite the music – they make a jolly fine old Trug!!

Next post is going to be on the Cumbrian Oak Swill.  I am so loving this!  In an age when we all moan about generic high street brands, it’s so great to focus on the regional crafts which are still alive and kicking.  Think Cheddar Cheese and Cornish Pasty for the craft industry!!

There are many places to buy Sussex trugs, some are made in Sussex and some are imported from Eastern Europe or China.  It’s fair to say that the cheaper it is the more likely it is not to be a genuine Sussex trug.  If you want to be sure that you are getting the real deal then The Cuckmere Trug Company is where you need to go, deep in the sussex countryside and bizarrely the workshop is also within earshot of Druzilla‘s zoo.  So alongside the tweeting of blackbirds and sparrows you can hear monkeys and parrots too!

The Cuckmere Trug Company 

 

Posted in Heritage Crafts, Sussex, Traditional Crafts, Uncategorized, Wood | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments