Name: Pete Marden
Location: Herstmonceux, East Sussex
Sussex Trugs have been made in Sussex for at least 200 years, becoming world renowned for strength and durability. The craft is still alive today and I have been making trugs for over 20 years in East Sussex after a move from Haslemere, the town of my birth.
Why did I become a trugmaker? On leaving school, I spent 11 years as an Antique Clock Repairer but in 1991 decided to give it up and go to College to study Habitat Management and Conservation.
With a growing passion for conservation, on my move to East Sussex, I decided to do something practical rather than pushing paper around in a desk job. I became interested in woodland crafts, having experienced hedgelaying and coppicing at College and trug making fitted the bill because coppiced sweet chestnut readily sourced from High Weald woods is used for the handles and rims.
A traditional craft
Sussex trugs were originally used on the farm as measures for grain, feed or even liquid and ranged in size from one pint to one bushel (although wildly inaccurate by today's standards) and trugmakers still refer to them using the old measures. Originally, farmers would have made their own trugs with wood they had available from around the farm, but today as with many woodland crafts, they are made by only a handful of skilled craftsmen. Watch a short film about the history of trugmaking on The Truggery website (click on the 'play' icon on the top right-hand image on the page).
In the past, traditional trugs have been made from wood such as Ash. Today, they are made from Sweet Chestnut from the High Weald woodlands and Cricket-bat Willow - mainly because they are so readily available but also because they are both pliable and easy to work with.
My trugs are traditionally handmade using the same tools and methods that were first used by those original trugmakers. My tools include a cleaving axe, froe, drawknife, steamer, bradel and the shaving horse made to design that is reputedly hundreds of years old. Watch a trug being made on the Truggery website.
The handle and rim are cleaved from coppiced sweet chestnut, using a cleaving axe or froe, then held in a shaving horse and smoothed with a drawknife before being steamed to make the wood flexible and then bent around a former. Next, the boards are prepared from Cricket-bat willow, again using the drawknife and shaving horse. These are soaked in water to make them more pliable before being nailed in to the frame. The feet are made from cricket-bat willow.
There is no great technology involved: on the wall of the workshop hangs a former for each size and shape and much of the craft of trugmaking - including measurements - is still done by eye and comes down to experience and the trugmaker's skill at his craft.
Trugmaking is a truly sustainable process, using renewable wood leaving very little waste and a trug well looked after will last for years, is much more durable and hard wearing than plastic. In fact, I regularly meet people that tell me they have had their trug for 30 - 40 years or inherited one from a Grandparent. Not good for business maybe, but a good advertisement for my product!
Sussex trugs are made in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and can be put to many uses around the home and garden. The main shapes are the Garden (the traditional shaped trug), Oval, Square and Round. The most popular trugs remain the no 6 and no 7 Garden trugs used by gardeners the world over.
Trugs have many other uses - from gathering flowers to displaying fruit and eggs and even as a handy basket for knitting wool. Over the years various eccentric trugs have been created such as the Cucumber Trug and the Walking Stick Trug, mounted on a long walking stick and used for picking blackberries or mushrooms.
My own favourite is the Large Round; a 14" diameter round trug with a handle and feet, only created in the late 1990s and, when full of fruit, looks very impressive.
I haven't personally sold one of my trugs to anyone famous yet, although I live in hope but my trugs have been sold around the World and are regularly sold in places such as Wakehurst Place in the AONB. I also visit various craft shows throughout the year and I try to visit those that are based around the woodland and craft industry rather than simply commercial shows mainly because I want my craft to remain part of the tradition of coppice woodland: to me it not simply about selling a product.