The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Cricket bat making

 

The making of willow cricket bats.

 

Status Endangered
Craft category  Wood; Sporting equipment
Historic area of significance  South East
Area currently practised  UK
Origin in the UK  17th century
Minimum no. of craftspeople required
Current no. of trainees  Unknown
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  Approx. 11-20
Current total no. of craftspeople  Approx. 11-20

 

History

The game of cricket began in the Kent-Sussex borders, with hedgerow sticks for bats, the wicket gate of sheep pens for stumps, and droppings rolled with wool for balls. The sport grew popular in the south east of England, and the first mentioned use of the willow cricket bat was in 1624. The Weald became a hub for bat making – although originally bats were shaped more like hockey stick and didn’t take on their blade shape until the late-eighteenth century (Countryfile).

A cricket bat has a willow blade and a cane handle. Bats must conform to specific sizes and be no longer than 38 inches and no wider than 4.25 inches. The blade is made from English cricket bat willow (salix alba, var. cærulea) which grows primarily in East Anglia. Only English cricket bat willow has the properties required for a professional bat, being light but fibrous (Salix Cricket Bats). Even bats made in India and Pakistan are made with English cricket bat willow.

 

Techniques

Cricket bat making includes the following steps: grading, selecting and seasoning the timber, machining the clefts into, pressing the bats to compress the fibres (pressing happens at several stages) fitting the handle into the blade, shaping the blade with a drawknife, shaping the shoulders and handle with a drawknife and rounded spoke shave, sanding the shaped bat, rasping the handle, binding the handle with linen thread, and polishing the completed bat.

Detailed descriptions of the cricket bat making process, with images, can be found at Woodstock Cricket Co. and Salix Cricket Bat Company.

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Brand versus manufacturer: While there are nearly fifty bat ‘brands’ claiming that their bats are made in the UK, there are only 12-13 genuine UK made brands. Many brands sell bats that have been made in India or Pakistan and only finished in the UK. Other people might buy-in parts and only finish the bats themselves. It is very difficult for the consumer to know which is which.
  • Market issues: There are a lot of small bat makers around the country, making 1000-2000 bats a year, but the bigger brands have been forced to outsource.
  • Market issues: There are not as many bat makers as there once were as most bats are now made in India and Pakistan due to the cheapness of labour abroad. While this is starting to level out, the disappearance of the skills in the UK means that the craft is unlikely to return to the UK.
  • Market issues: There isn’t the demand for bats that there once was, as the market is covered by imported bats and it is difficult for small makers in the UK to compete with that end of the market.
  • Market issues: It is very hard to make a living from bat making – to be a genuine bat maker you need to work full time and in some cases seven days a week during busy periods
  • Marketing issues: Salespeople push bats from India. The players are also paid by the big companies and so smaller companies cannot afford the sponsorship for players to use their bats
  • Supply of raw materials: Cricket bats can only be made from English cricket bat willow. There are only a few timber merchants dealing in willow and while there is enough, there isn’t an abundance as much of the willow is sent to India/Pakistan for bats to be made there.
  • Supply of raw materials: English cricket bat willow suffered from watermark disease in the 1990s. This was eradicated, but today there is a lot of storm damage to the willow. High winds cause the fibres to fracture, which causes the bats to snap – although this can usually be spotted in the making.
  • Cost of raw materials: The price of English willow is increasing every year.
  • Supply of equipment: Cost of machinery and the infrastructure needed to store it. Some manufacturers do the pressing for smaller makers as they require specialist machinery.
  • Ageing workforce: Many of the existing makers are getting older – almost all are 40+. There are hardly any apprentices/junior bat makers learning the trade.
  • Foreign competition: Labour costs in India and Pakistan, where most bats are made, is significantly cheaper than in the UK.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

Other information

 

References