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England Woodworking Occupations, Plant Products (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


Wood and Plant Products (cont.)[edit | edit source]

Carving[edit | edit source]

English woodcarvers worked mainly in oak, although many other native species were used as well as mahogany from about 1725. The work of the finest carvers, like Grinling Gibbons (1648-1720), survives in ecclesiastical buildings and the great houses and can often be identified by the carver’s signature emblem such as his peapod. Some history and description of the craft are given by Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968 and All Made by Hand. John Baker, London, 1970) and Filbee (Cottage Industries. David and Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1982).

Clogs and Pattens[edit | edit source]

Wooden-soled clogs were once a very common, cheap form of footware good for use on wet stones and farms, particularly in northern England and Wales. They are still used where workers have to stand on wet floors, or need the extra protection in steel and electrical production (Sparkes 1991). Two craftsmen were involved:

  • The clogger, often a gypsy, made the roughly shaped sole from alder, sycamore or birch in the forests of northern England and Wales.
  • The clogmaker personalized it for the individual’s foot, made the leather uppers and fitted them together.

The processes are depicted by Sparkes (Woodland Craftsmen. Shire Publications, 1991), Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968 and All Made by Hand. John Baker, London, 1970), and Wymer (English Country Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to Present Day. Batsford, London, 1946).

A common type of patten consisted of a sturdy iron ring, wider than the shoe, on the ground connected with iron to a wooden platform on which the sole of the shoe was placed, and with a leather toe and strap. It looked like a slip-on slipper raised a couple of inches off the ground. Passmore (Old Occupations: Clogmakers. Family Tree Magazine Vol 8 #3, page 4-5, 1992) has an illustration and describes both patten and clog making, and Jeremy Atkinson has produced a Shire book on clogs and clogmaking. Webb (London Apprentices Volume 13. Pattenmakers’ Company 1673-1805. Society of Genealogists, 1998) has indexed the apprenticeships for the Pattenmakers’ Company from 1673-1805.

Fencing, Gates, Clapboard and Shingles[edit | edit source]

Fences and gate posts were best made of oak, and gates of oak or elm (Dixon). In the south east of England weatherboarding the sides of houses with overlapping elm or oak boards was popular, a style taken to New England and developed further there. Roofing shingles were mainly of oak, but imported red cedar from North America also became popular. The manufacture of these products are all described by Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968).

Hurdles, Wattles and Animal Shelters[edit | edit source]

Hurdles are fence sections made from a series of upright coppiced stakes with split hazel stakes woven between them, and wattles are a more closely woven and superior kind of hurdle. They have been in use since the Early Iron Age to build house walls between the main timber framing posts. They were daubed with a mixture of clay and chopped straw or cow dung to create a solid wall, the whole being known as wattle-and-daub construction. Hurdles are also used as temporary shelters (shrough sheds— see Dixon), movable fencing, sheep enclosures in fields or market places, gates, wind breaks and screens, and a round form as feeding cages (Wymer 1946). Details of the method of making a hurdle are given by Arnold (All Made by Hand. John Baker, London, 1970) but in more detail by Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974) and Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968).

Ladders[edit | edit source]

The sides of ladders were made of spruce, larch or Norwegian pine, and the rungs (or rounds) of oak or beech. Extension ladders need parallel sides, but others are slightly splayed at the base to aid stability. The Kentish fruit growers’ ladders have very wide bases (about 3”) and narrow tops to facilitate picking fruit. Average heights are from 15 to 30 feet and the craft was naturally widespread. Construction details can be found in Wymer (English Country Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to Present Day. Batsford, London, 1946), and Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968).

Turning and Treen Making[edit | edit source]

In early times food was consumed from a trencher, originally a large slab of bread, later a square wooden platter with perhaps a small depression in the corner for salt. When, about 2,000 years ago, the pole-lathe and later the hand wheel lathe and treadle lathe came into use then round wooden platters and bowls, collectively known as treen became popular, and many other food and household items were possible. The wood turner also made a much smaller group of articles by shaving, these include spoons, ladles and forks and here the work of turner and carver overlap. Turned and carved wood tableware was displaced by pewter in urban settings from Elizabethan times, and later by pottery and chinaware, but continued in rural areas until the 19th century, and has made a comeback in the 20th century. Bobbin turning for lace making is almost a distinct craft (Bailey 1982).

A considerable variety of woods is used by the turner:

  • Sycamore is preferred for the preparation of food as it has no taste or smell.
  • Walnut is used for egg cups, cruets and peppermills.
Ash, beech, box, cherry, elm, laburnum, lime, pear, plum, walnut and yew are used for ornamental ware.
  • Apple, ash, birch, dogwood, hazel, maple, plum, spindle and willow are used for bobbins.

The craft is described by Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968 and All Made by Hand. John Baker, London, 1970), Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol II. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991), Filbee (Cottage Industries. David and Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1982), Sparkes (Woodland Craftsmen. Shire Publications, 1991), and Wymer (English Country Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to Present Day. Batsford, London, 1946).


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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