The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Sussex trug making

 

The making of traditional handmade garden baskets known as Sussex trugs from cleft willow for the body and coppiced sweet chestnut for the frame. Ash is occasionally used for miniature trugs.

 

Status Endangered
Craft category Wood
Historic area of significance Herstmonceux, East Sussex
Area currently practised East Sussex
Origin in the UK 1829
Current no. of professionals (main income) 7
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
10
Current no. of trainees 1
Current total no. serious amateur makers
3
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Sussex trugs have been made in the county of Sussex since 1829 when they were invented by one Thomas Smith of Windmill Hill, Herstmonceux. He made his newly invented basket by taking an old idea used in Sussex as long ago as Saxon times and upgrading it to fit ‘modern’ needs. Trugs were made famous when Queen Victoria purchased some personally at the Great Exhibition in 1851.

After the end of the Second World War trugs became redundant in an agricultural industry that was then embracing mechanisation and yet, despite that, they survived and flourished by selling more for gardening. There were, in the industry’s heyday, trug makers along the south coast from Kent to Somerset. Gradually these companies closed down and production reverted to Herstmonceux, Hailsham and East Hoathly in Sussex. Today there are just three commercial businesses making the traditional Sussex trug, all of which are small concerns.

 

Techniques

The body is made from an odd number (usually five or seven) of thin willow boards, hand-cleft and shaped with a drawknife, fixed together with copper nails. The rim and handle are typically made from sweet chestnut.

 

Local forms

 

 

Sub-crafts

 

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Overseas competition: Chinese-made imitations of the Sussex trug have flooded the world market, thus reducing the number of genuine Sussex trugs made and sold.
  • Market issues: The demand for genuine Sussex trugs has fallen over the years due to competition from cheaper foreign imitation trugs. However, in recent years people have become more aware of the value of a well-made product.
  • Lack of awareness: Potential customers are not necessarily aware of the difference between a genuine Sussex trug and an imitation.
  • Raw material (cricket bat willow) has become more difficult to obtain.
  • Sweet chestnut is still in plentiful supply.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

  • The Truggery – based in Herstmonceux village, Sussex, has two trug makers.
  • Charlie Groves at The Trug Store – based in in Holmes Hill, Lewes, has one trug maker.
  • Robin Tuppen at the Cuckmere Trug Company (incorporating Thomas Smith’s Trug Shop) – based in Magham Down, Hailsham. As of February 2017 there are five trug makers, including three apprentices aged 21 and under. As well as making the traditional Sussex trug, they also make a birch plywood trug which is not recognised by the Association of Sussex Trug Basketmakers.

 

Other information

Robin Tuppen of Cuckmere Trugs has formed a not-for-profit limited company to create a Sussex Trug Heritage Centre, as a centre of excellence for the making of the Sussex trug and to train young people to become craftsmen trug makers.

 

References