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Rural Crafts of Sherington

and District

The following article is taken from Doris Stephens' Memories of Sherington c1969.

The best known craft of this part of North Bucks in the 18th and 19th centuries was lace making. The majority of women of the neighbourhood were skilled lace makers (a few of the older residents still are) and Olney was the market town for both the sale of Bucks lace and for the purchase of the necessary cottons and bobbins. In the marriage registers of Sherington church dated 1698 - 1837 even several men are described as 'lacemaker'. In those days, of course, the village could boast of a representative of most crafts. My grandfather's grandfather was a smith, my grandfather a carpenter and undertaker and the wheelwright had his shop here in my memory, though now it is replaced by a garage. I am not sure whether or not had its own thatcher (yes it did - NA), now the nearest one lives at Lavendon 5 or 6 miles away.

A considerable number of men were listed in the marriage registers as 'matmakers' between the years 1750 and 1820 as many as 20% (it is interesting to notice the number of men who signed the register with a cross).

It was the custom to collect rushes from the river Ouse near Olney, presumably because a better crop grew there than in the river near Sherington. The villagers travelled the three or four miles usually on foot, while the rushes were carried back to the village on carts. The crop was spread out to dry on a piece of grassland in the centre of the village known as "The Knoll". Some of the older villagers can remember this taking place though it has not been done for the past 40 years. A lot of the actual work of plaiting was done in one barn in the village, belonging oddly enough, to the local butcher, but quite a few families worked independently.

The craft was doubtless discontinued because of lack of trade; and of course as various industries with their offers of better paid employment came to the area. It is not at all likely that there will be any revival of rush plaiting, or for that matter, of most other rural crafts in the area while there is the constant attraction of town employment, with its higher wage.

Basket making

One other craft using the product of nature readily to hand was basket making. This was done in the neighbouring small town of Newport Pagnell until 20 or 25 years ago. A Piece waste land just outside Newport Pagnell was quite obviously at one time a spot where willows were cultivated. Today it yields a plentiful supply of "pussy willow" in the Spring, though whether it will do so for much longer is a matter of doubt for the area seems to be being cleared gradually and filled up with surplus soil and rubble to prevent flooding. Once again basket making was often a family concern in the same way as rush plaiting. It was the job of the women to prepare the willows or 'withies' but the men usually did the actual basket making. Various types of baskets were made, particularly the square or oblong bakers basket. Here the bottom portion is worked first on the floor, then more spokes are rammed in to make supports for the sides and weaving is continued around them. Needless to say the type of basket most often made was the one to sell more easily in the neighbourhood. In villages near the coast one would find lobster and crab traps quite popular, while in the valleys of the Severn and Wye salmon 'putchers' were consructed and mounted across the rivers on stakes.

As with rush-plaiting, the coming of industry has made basket weaving a thing of the past in this area.

The article above is taken from Memories of Sherington by Doris Stephens, c1969, SHS.


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