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bought a piece of land in the village on which to build a workshop and ran his new business as a profitable concern. Through several owners trugs continued to be made there until early this century.


The popularity of these trugs grew rapidly, particularly after they were shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851 at Crystal Palace in Hyde Park and drew the attention of Queen Victoria who subsequently ordered a number for use by the Royal Family. The story goes that when Thomas had completed the order, he loaded his baskets in a wheelbarrow and walked the 60 miles to Buckingham Palace to deliver them in person. From then on, the Sussex trug’s fame grew and they were sent out by carrier to the new railway station in Hailsham and on to destinations all over Great Britain and beyond.


One trug-maker who worked at Smith’s was Reuben Reed, born in 1849. After a wage dispute he left and opened up his own concern,


97 | ukhandmade | Autumn 2011


The Truggery, just three quarters of a mile down the road in 1899. It is still going to this day, even though it had to be sold out of the family after the third generation.


The manufacture of Sussex trugs has hardly changed over the centuries. Sweet chestnut is still coppiced in winter, often by the trug-makers themselves, to make the frame. In early times, willow poles (often known as sally) would be cleft (split) by hand for the boards. Since the Second World War, much of the willow supply has come from the local cricket bat making industry, with the trug-makers using the unwanted offcuts. These are ideal for most trugs, being generally straight and fairly knot free. Larger trugs require longer pieces, so whole trees are needed and usually obtained from local farmers with small willow plantations who might have a tree down which is not to the exact specifications needed by the bat- makers. The tools are basic: A froe (cleaving


axe) is used to split the sweet chestnut poles which are left to season for several months. When ready they are split again and the heart wood removed. The trug- maker sits astride a ‘shaving horse’, a foot operated vice which clamps the timber securely in order for it to be shaved with a ‘drawknife’. The sweet chestnut is steamed to make it pliable enough to be bent around a former to the required shape. The willow boards are shaved smooth, tapering towards the ends, soaked in cold water and eased into position. The middle board is placed first, making sure the correct curve is achieved and nailed into place. The rest of the boards follow in the manner of a clinker built boat. Finally, willow feet are attached for stability, or chestnut straps for the larger trugs.


The Sussex trug industry is definitely in decline.


It may surprise some


that trug-making was a reserved occupation during the war, which shows that the Sussex trug was seen as an important agricultural tool.


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