England Occupations Tool Making, Sports Equipment (National Institute)
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 ($).
Tools and Sports Equipment
Agricultural and Woodworking Tools
The combined efforts of the carpenter and blacksmith of the village sufficed to produce all that was needed for local agricultural needs. The construction of rakes, made completely of wood, is covered by Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968 and All Made by Hand. John Baker, London, 1970), Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974), Sparkes (Woodland Craftsmen. Shire Publications, 1991), Wymer (English Country Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to Present Day. Batsford, London, 1946). Most tools had a wooden handle and a metal blade of some kind. The making of early ploughs is discussed by Bailey (The Industrial Heritage of Britain. Ebury Press/Book Club Associates, 1982) and other tools by Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968). Walker’s well-illustrated book (Woodworking Tools. Shire Publications, 2000) on woodworking tools is excellent. Lawrence (The Manufacture of Agricultural Hand Tools. Family Tree Magazine Vol 14 #11, page 3) has an article on a small foundry in Devon concerned with making hand edge tools, and now run by the National Trust. Some other special items are covered by Ingram (Dairying Bygones. Shire Publications) (dairying tools), Halford (Old Lawn Mowers. Shire Publications)(old lawn mowers), and Mockridge (Weathervanes. Shire Publications) (weathervanes), and old terms can be identified with Milward’s glossary.
Line, twine and nets have been made from hemp and flax around Bridport in Dorset since the days of King John and they still export worldwide; another net making area is around Lowestoft in Norfolk. The trades are described by Filbee (Cottage Industries. David and Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1982), and Wymer (English Country Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to Present Day. Batsford, London, 1946). The best crab and lobster pots, eel traps, and other fish traps are made of willow and the crafts are explained by Dixon (A Heritage of Anglian Crafts. Minimax Books, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, 1981), 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). Fishing rodsseem to have been made from the 17th century and by the 18th were very sophisticated. Most fishing rod and tackle makers were in London and other large towns, but they just assembled parts made by different country craftsmen. Dixon describes the making of older split-cane rods as well as modern fibreglass ones.
Sewing needs include buttons, which were first made out of gold, silver and precious stones for the luxury trade, and leather or metal disks for the lower classes up to Tudor times. The button industry in Dorset began in 1622 and produced buttons from sheep horn covered with linen, then metal wire covered with thread. In Cheshire and Staffordshire silk buttons were made, whilst the London button makers used gold and silver thread. By the early 19th century (mother-of-) pearl buttons were made, and factories around Birmingham made metal and pasteboard buttons cheaply. Horn and shell buttons also started to be made in the Midlands, and at the Great Exhibition of 1851 a machine for making cheap linen-covered buttons was shown and eventually caused the demise of the Dorset hand industry. Whole Dorset villages were sponsored by the landowners to emigrate to Canada or Australia (Filbee). The history of buttons is described by the Meredith’s (Buttons. Shire Publications), and Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol II. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991) deals with the early trade. Other sewing needs are covered in the Shire book by Eleanor Johnson (needlework and embroidery tools; and thimbles and thimble cases), and Carol Head (old sewing machines).
Various tools needed in the preparation of food can be identified by means of Milward’s glossary (A Glossary of Household, Farming and Trade Terms from Probate Inventories. Derbyshire Record Society. FHL book 942.51 H25deo), and Shire books exist for domestic bygones (Jacqueline Fearn), firegrates and kitchen bygones and old cooking utensils (David J. Eveleigh), corkscrews and bottle openers (Evan Perry), and nutcrackers (Robert Mills). Miscellaneous household items for which reference materials exist include keys (Eric Monk), buttonhooks and shoehorns (Sue Brandon), briar pipes - the best of which are actually made of heather roots (Arnold’s The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968), ash and sweet chestnut walking sticks (Arnold’s The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968, Wymer’s English Country Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to Present Day. Batsford, London. 1946, Manners’ Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974, and Dike’s Walking Sticks. Shire Publications), and early electrical appliances (Bob Gordon).
Sports and Games Equipment
The bow and arrow was the main defence of England in its lengthy wars against the French in the Middle Ages and every able-bodied man and boy was expected to attend regular practice at the butts or risk imprisonment (Wymer 1949). A long bow hung ready in every English home, and a good archer could loose ten shafts a minute, considerably more than with the awkward cross-bow (Arnold 1970). The bowyer used the wood of the yew for his bows and these trees were planted throughout England, but the best and most-used wood was Mediterranean. The reason these dense evergreens are so common in churchyards is probably not because they were poisonous to cattle, as Wymer suggests, but that planting protected buildings and continued ancient pagan customs (Friar). The bow string was at one time flax or hemp, but later linen thread was used, and modern toxophilites have aluminium alloy or glass-fibre tubing shafts and synthetic fibre bow strings (Arnold 1970).
The fletcher made the arrows and engraved his name, by law, upon the steel-pointed heads. The arrow shafts were ash and the flights were made of carefully trimmed goose, peacock or turkey feathers. Archery targets are made from heavy gauge oat or rye straw rope wound into coils and sewn tightly together. A modern one sewn with nylon thread can withstand up to 200,000 arrows before disintegrating (Staniforth). Guns made these instruments obsolete, but they have continued to be made for sport and hunting. The apprenticeships of the Bowyers’ Company 1680-1806, the Fletchers’ Company 1739-1754, 1767-1808, and the Longbowstringmakers’ Company 1604-1668, 1709, 1714-1717 have been indexed by Webb (London Apprentices Volume 3. Bowyers’ Company 1680-1806; Fletchers’ Company 1739-54, 1767-1808; Longbowstringmakers’ Company 1604-68, 1709, 1714-17. Society of Genealogists, 1996).
The purely recreational game of billiards has been played since Tudor times, with tables made at first from oak and covered with coarse green cloth. Standards improved when Welsh slate began to be used in 1839, giving a much truer surface, and covered with fine green cloth and surrounded by African mahogany (Wymer 1949). The making of cues and balls (formerly carved from elephant ivory), are specialized tasks described by Clare. The equipment for other formerly popular recreational board and table games are described in two books by Bell.
Now we come to the quintessentially English sport of cricket! Cricket bats were made in Cambridgeshire, Sussex, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire from Suffolk and Essex willow with handles of East Indies cane. The trade is described by Wymer (English Country Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to Present Day. Batsford, London, 1946), Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974), and Sparkes (Woodland Craftsmen. Shire Publications, 1991). The hand making of cricket balls around Tonbridge and Southborough in Kent for at least 400 years is described by Jain (Old Occupations: Cricket Ball Making. Family Tree Magazine Vol 14 #6, page 3-4), Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974), and Wymer (English Town Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to the Present Day. Batsford, London, 1949) and field hockey balls are made the same way but enamelled white instead of being dyed red.
Football used to be played with an inflated cow’s bladder and was a sport in which the whole town participated at once. The construction of the later variety made of leather is given by Wymer (English Town Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to the Present Day. Batsford, London, 1949), who also has a section on the making of rackets for various games using wood and gut for strings.
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