BROOMS, RAKES AND CIDER
In past centuries, Verwood people greatly relied on self-sufficiency. The open commons and woodlands provided an opportunity to make a living or supplementary income from natural objects lying around in a way that was denied to inhabitants of more structured villages.
The Potters made use of the clay seams and firing wood but there were other trades relying on a free supply of materials which could be turned into saleable equipment with very little outlay and the crudest of tools.
One of the most evocative of these was the manufacture of birch and heather brooms or "besoms" associated in everyone's mind with witches' broomsticks and lately of course with Harry Potter and friends. It is doubtful if any such exotic thoughts crossed the minds of Verwood broommakers as they plied their tasks in turning out hundreds of such brooms for more mundane but very useful tasks.
Even in this day and age, a birch broom is still an effective method of sweeping yards, driveways and patios. Modern versions can still be bought in local shops and the trade still exists though not in Verwood itself.
BRINGING HOME THE BIRCH
Suitable lengths of birch twigs were collected and often left to soak in a convenient pool on the common, like the one on the left, until required.
A snapshot of the 1861 census shows the following broom making families in Verwood and Three Legged Cross.
Bailey, Colborne, Haskell, Joy, Keith, Orman, Oxford, Phillips, Revell, Shearing, Sims, Steel.
There were 20 working Broom Makers on this census out of a working population of 257 though no doubt other family members helped out. At this time, of course, the majority of rural adult males worked as Agricultural Labourers.
The broom making families, particularly in Three Legged Cross, were very close knit with several marriages taking place between their various offspring. The vicar must have been very confused when on 18 November 1852 two brothers and two sisters married in a double ceremony. Charles Knowlton married Tabitha Phillips whilst Charles Phillips married Ann Knowlton. Both brides were registered as "Ann".
HEAD AND HANDLE
Mr. John Haskell, born 1875, was a Broom Maker like his father before him. He had a thatched, cob workshop in St. Stephen's Lane and is shown here being assisted by Mr. Reg Hayward.
A bundle of twigs of the right length and thickness was selected and bound together with a length of peeled bark. This bond was tightened firmly around the head. The handle was shaped from peeled birch sharpened at one end to a point. The "Head" of the broom was then boiled in an iron kettle over a makeshift stove and the handle hammered into it. As the twigs cooled and dried they tightened around the handle and sometimes a further bond was added to secure it.
It has been told that eventually the Broom Maker's hands became impervious to boiling water so that they could work with the scalding material unharmed.
John Haskell had an interesting sideline as a village barber. He used to cut hair inside at night by the light of a candle held by his daughter Maud. There were admonitions as to where the candle should be held so that the hot wax did not drip onto the unfortunate customer.
THE FINISHED PRODUCTS
Mr. Albert Andrews, born 1886, had a cottage and workshop on the corner of Edmondsham Road and Coopers Lane.
Here he made a variety of household and agricultural implements such as besoms and hayrakes, as demonstrated here in the photograph.
He was widely respected as a fine craftsman and for his kindly and irreproachable character.
WHEN THE JOB'S DONE
or maybe to give it a helping hand. In a time when water had to be drawn from a well, good use was made of the annual cider apple crop.
Albert was also the possessor of a home-made Cider Press from which he could extract the juice for the benefit of himself and those around him.
A travelling cider press used to call at Three Legged Cross.
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