History of the Trug

Video - History of the Trug

History of the Trug

Trug making is a traditional craft which has been established in Sussex for at least 200 years.

The word 'trug' is derived from 'trog', an Anglo Saxon word meaning wooden vessel or boat shaped article. Originally used as measures or scoops for grain or liquid, they have become world renowned for their strength, durability and usefulness.

Our trugs are still handmade in the traditional way. Work begins with the handle and rim of sweet chestnut which is split with a cleaving axe and smoothed with a drawknife, using a wooden 'horse'. After steaming, the chestnut is bent around wooden formers.

The boards of cricket bat willow are sawn to the appropriate width and shaved smooth. Finally they are dipped in water to make them pliable and nailed into the frame.

'The Truggery' at Coopers Croft, Herstmonceux is a cottage on the outskirts of the village built in the early eighteen hundreds. About fifty yards along the road there is a shingle tiled workshop dating from about one hundred years earlier.

Left, Mr Rich trugmaker circa 1890, right, Sarah Page owner of the Truggery, 2009

Left, Mr Rich trugmaker circa 1890,
right, Sarah Page owner of the Truggery, 2009.

In eighteen ninety-nine, Reuben Reed, already an experienced trug maker, and his wife bought both properties and started up in business. Trug making was a well-established craft in the region at the time and farmers all over the country found these strong baskets invaluable for harvesting crops and measuring or bagging grain. Regular carriers would pass with horse and cart to collect consignments bound for nearby Hailsham railway station and onwards to all parts of the world. Apart from agricultural use, they were popular items at Victorian bazaars where ladies bought them to use for collecting eggs, displaying flowers or using as needlework or knitting baskets.

In time, Reuben's son Thomas came into the business after being sent as apprentice to a trug maker in Cowbeech. Thomas carried on through two world wars, when most able-bodied young men were called away and it left few to keep up the traditions. Modern agricultural methods meant that little harvesting was done by hand and plastics replaced many wooden objects. In spite of this, his son Rupert, and one of his three daughters, Mollie, stayed at home and carried on the business. Neither married and carried on until it was time to retire.

In the nineteen seventies a craft teacher named Dave Sherwood and his wife Sue bought the house and business. Rupert and Mollie were able to go into semi retirement and at the same time help out the newcomers with their expertise. When a trug makers was closing in East Hoathly, Dave and Sue bought it and later brought many of the tools to 'The Truggery'. Also came Ben Dadswell, a trug maker since the age of fourteen and about to retire.

In nineteen ninety-five Dave and Sue Sherwood left and Sarah Page and family moved in. By this time, all the older trug makers had passed on or retired and the younger ones gone on to other things. Fortunately one man, Tim Franks, who had been taught by Ben, wanted to come back and carry on the craft while Mollie and others were on hand to give advice.

At 'The Truggery' we are proud to continue the tradition of producing trugs using the same methods and often the same tools as Reuben Reed did more than a hundred years ago.

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