Friday, 10 September 2010

Sepia Saturday: Working With Hazel

My maternal grandfather, Asher Gregory, was skilled in a range of woodland and country crafts. Hedge-layering, thatching, and coppicing. Inextricably linked to the latter, was hurdle-making.


Grandfather (on the left) is seen here, in conversation with fellow hurdle-maker, Reg Cole. I think this photograph was taken in Deeps Copse, near Owslebury, Hampshire. Asher would have been approaching 70 around this time. He had a little pick-up he drove to work although, for many years beforehand, he rode a motorcycle, with a rickety wooden box attached to where the sidecar should have been.

Here, you can see a hazel hurdle 'in progress'. The uprights, held firm in a heavy wooden mould on the copse floor. The split lengths that would eventually be woven around the uprights, are laying against the rail to the right of the picture. In the foreground and, in the clearing to the left, the hazel stumps are clearly visible. The wood is ready for cutting every seven years.

Very little was left to waste. By-products included bundles of pea sticks and bean sticks/poles. There was always a considerable market for these, in the days when most country-dwellers grew their own vegetables. I remember how I was fascinated with the way grandfather tied up his bundles with lengths of twisted, green hazel. His hands were so calloused, there was no need for protective gloves.

22 comments:

  1. This is such an interesting post and I enjoyed following the links you included, these old crafts are worth remembering and what a wonderful photo to have of grandfather.

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  2. Wonderful picture and memories -- I'd love to have a few hurdles in my garden.

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  3. What a wonderful view into the past. It really looks like a job to get all the parts to work to get the hurdle made.

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  4. I found this so fascinating. I once would have thought a hurdle was something a horse or athlete jumped over, but while in England in 2005 friend Monica took us to Chiltern Park, a wonderful Open Air Museum.
    There I saw hurdles being made from ash trees. There was a simple woodland dwelling too that the bodgers would have built as a shelter while working in the woods. So interesting that your grandfather was a hurdle maker. Do you use the term bodger?

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  5. I love hearing about work and jobs that are to me so out of my ken...I have learned now what coppicing is, and very interesting indeed! Lovely post.

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  6. What an interesting photo and post. I didn't know what a coppice was and I want to know if hurdles are portable fences. It would seem so, but if they are, how are they fastened into the ground to prevent them falling over? Did you see your grandfather at work while he made hurdles? His hands, as well as being calloused, were probably also very, very strong!

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  7. such a wonderful skill - I think its just about still alive in the UK? its a great photo

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  8. He was a true artist in his own way. I sincerely hope these ancient skills don't get lost. I like the resurgence of "living willow" structures - there's a leafy tunnel made of interwoven willow, in our local kid's playgroud.

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  9. It'd be such a shame if these old crafts were to fade into obscurity...

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  10. I have some willow thing-ys for my garden, but I don't know what they're called. Some are trellis like; some are expandable, as if to go around tomato plants or plants with large flowers in need of support.

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  11. Interesting post and thank you for the links. I understand the market for pea sticks. Each year I go off to the woods to seek out some suitable sticks to support my peas.

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  12. Most of these wonderful crafts are lost. And I like it how you say nothing was wasted. People were much more frugal they had to. Especially rural people were inventive and good with their hands. Sticks are always wanted and needed by gardeners still today!

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  13. It's that thing about nothing going to waste that seems to have changed these days. We waste so much that could be used.

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  14. Do not believe I have ever seen a hurdle. In fact I'd never heard of one. Now thatching I know and was thrilled while on vacation in Britain to come around a corner and find some men thatching a roof. I sat and watched for a long time completely fascinated by the process.

    Thanks for education today. And wonderful photo.

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  15. I've read all the comments and have gone to the link but I still don't know what a hurdle is or what it's used for. Am I missing something? I'm feeling kind of dumb but I still enjoyed the post.

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  16. Marilyn - Thank you. This photograph only came to light a few years ago. My grandmother had it stowed away in a small case.

    Vicki - Do you have hazel growing where you are? If so, maybe John could try his hand at making some for you.

    Larry - Like many country crafts, this one isn't quite as simple as it looks. I tried it as a boy but, didn't have the strength in my hands, then.

    Joan - I know the term 'bodger' but, I think it refers, mainly, to those who turn green wood to create rustic furniture etc.

    Leah - Thank you. I, too, have learnt so much from other blogger's posts.

    Nancy - Yes, hurdles are portable fences. Originally used to pen livestock, they are now used in gardens in a more ornamental sense. The bottom end of the uprights are trimmed to make a sharp point. These are then driven into the ground, making the hurdle stable.

    As a small boy, I spent many hours watching my grandfather making hurdles and, yes, his hands were incredibly strong.

    lettuce - Hurdle-making in the UK has been ticking over for years but, there seems to be a renewed interest in the craft now. I've noticed various courses on offer hereabouts.

    jennyfreckles - I, also, hope there continues to be enough interest to keep these skills alive. The living willow tunnel sounds great.

    jinksy - I agree.

    Meri - I know what you mean but, I don't know what they're called. They do add something special to a garden, though, don't they?

    Christine - It's great to hear that people like yourself still gather sticks to support their peas. So much nicer than canes and string.

    Titania and Fran - We'd do well to try and be a little less wasteful today. There is a value that springs from the 'make do and mend' culture.

    Tattered and Lost - Well, maybe you'll track down some hurdles on your next vacation. So glad you came across some thatching, though. We passed a couple of cottages in our area, undergoing the same treatment, just the other day.

    Barbara and Nancy - A hurdle is a fence panel, woven from lengths of split hazel wood. Originally used to pen livestock, they're now used, primarily, in gardens.

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  17. Fascinating post and what a great photo and memory of your grandpa. I have now learned what a hurdle is. Thanks for sharing!

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  18. An awesome plunge into history, as are all of your Sepia Saturdays. It's no secret that life was more laborious in the past, and sometimes I am stumped by the amount of work it likely took to keep life functioning. Thank you for sharing these jewels, Martin.

    Nevine

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  19. Amazing post! I must confess, up until I read your post the only hurdles I knew of were obstacles that track-and-field runners jumped over! But I see now that this "green fencing" requires skill and artistry. Nothing goes to waste? I think there should be a revival! We definitely need more craftsmen like your grandfather.

    Thank you for teaching me something today.

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  20. Well you learn something every day (well, you do if you read the blogs I do). Like some of the others I had failed to appreciate that hurdles were more than the fences athletes and horses jumped over. As always, quite fascinating.

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  21. Another lovely Sepia Saturday post, Martin. So many ways of life are now disappearing.

    I once saw a guy in the woods who had fashioned a lathe from a bent tree and some string. It was something to behold.

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  22. nice piece about these folks daily life.
    :)~
    HUGZ

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