The making of walking sticks, shepherds’ crooks and ceremonial staffs.
|Historic area of significance
|Area currently practiced
|Origin in the UK
The making of sticks and staffs is an ancient craft found throughout the world, although shepherds’ crooks with their distinctive curved heads are believed to be unique to Britain. The curved head is intended to help catch sheep by the leg or neck, while the upturned tip offered a place to hang a lantern, and the sturdy shank provided support for the shepherd while walking long distances. Until the early-twentieth century, shepherds probably made their own crooks. Over time, competition between shepherds grew and crooks became finer, later becoming a status symbol for a wealthy landowners.
Walking sticks became popular in the mid-seventeenth century among gentlemen as a more civilised replacement for the sword while still offering some means of self-defence.
The main wood used for making sticks is hazel, but holly, ash, blackthorn and cherry are also used. The main horn used is sheep, but buffalo, goat and cow horns are also used. Alternatively decorative wood such as burr elm and ripple sycamore is used instead of horn.
The curve is formed by steaming the wood or immersing it in hot sand and then bending it around a brake. However, sometimes the wood is cultivated so as to grow to the desired shape, or a suitable shoot and root base can be chosen from which to carve the stick.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- The social circumstances when sticks have been traditionally used have changed with sticks being less relevant and out of fashion
- Sticks for medical and sports purposes are often produced using a mix of synthetic and metal textiles and not made purely from wood
- Stick dressing has currently more of a symbolic and ceremonial appeal comparing to the functional impact it had in the past
Craftspeople currently known
The Scottish Crookmakers Association has 400 members, but there will be many more, either unaffiliated or represented by the other stick dressing organisations.
Grant, D, and Hart, E, (1980) Shepherds’ Crooks and Walking Sticks (Yorkshire: The Dalesman).