[This material comes from Chapter 9, "Tools and Rural Industries," in Gertrude Jekyll's Old West Surrey: Some Notes and Memories (1904). GPL]
Now , when every builder has his steam-saw, the old country saw-pits have gone out of use. But in the older days it was good to see and hear the rhythmical working of the great pit-saw, and to note the clever, handy way the men would shift the mighty tree-trunks with lever and rollers. And the saw-pit was generally in some pretty place close to sharply-sloping ground, so that the bottom of it was kept dry by natural drainage. And it was easy to see how the word 'top-sawyer' came to have a special significance in country speech, in the way of meaning something rathri grand, or, at any rate, is good bit raised above something or somebody else.
Cider is still made with the old wooden press. The apples are first crushed by a roller in the cider-mill. Two men work it together by a handle on each side, while one of them presses the . . . apples down towards the roller. The crushed pulp falls into a tub, and is then put into coarse fibre bags. Those are then packed one over the other in the press with boards between. The picture shows how the heavy presser is screwed-down on to the bags of pulp till they are quite flattened, and all the juice that can be squeezed out of them has come away.
The heaps of apples, mostly of the poorest of the orchard produce, do not look at all inviting. Many are muddy and bruised, but in they go, mud and all; and when a mug of the freshly-pressed juice is offered, and is accepted, with some internal hesitation, whose outward expression is repressed for civility's sake, one is pleasantly surprised to find what a delicious drink, tasting clean and pure and refreshing, is ths newly-drawn juice of quite second and third-rate apples. For though cider of a kind is frequently made, it is by no means a cider country, and no refinements, either of growing or making, are practised.
Copse-cutting is one of the handy labourer's winter harvests, and is done by piecework. One of the industries. that grow out of it, namely hoop-making, was described at some length in 'Wood and Garden.' It is the making of hoops for barrely and packing-cases; hoops shaved on both sides and made up in neat bundles of standard lengths. The shavings make a capital and durable thatch. Hoop-making, which is still carried on in the woods of the district on a rather large scale, is probably not an ancient industry. It must have grown with the modern facilities for communication, for the largest and longest of the hoops go to the tropics for sugar hogsheads.
But another industry that goes on in the copses in winter and spring is probably much older and is still well alive. This is the making of wattle hurdles for sheepfolds. They are made pf hazel, ash, or willow.
The hurdle-maker has a long-shaped block, slightly curyed, called the hurdle frame, something over six feet in length, with vertical holes to hold the uprights that form, as it were, the warp of the hurdle. These are round rods, pointed at the bottom ; they are driven into the holes and stand upright. The man then weaves in- horizontally the smaller split rods till he has filled up the hurdle. When he comes to either end he gives the rod a clever twist that opens the fibres and gives it something the character of rope, so that it passes, tough-stranded and unbroken, round the end uprights. In the middle of the hurdle, about one- third down from the top, he leaves an open space. This is for the shepherd to slip his hand into, to carry two hurdles at a time, one under each arm: or he puts two or three together, passes a stake through the opening, and carries them on his back with the stake over his shoulder.
The hurdle-maker wears a stout leather pad on his left side to protect his clothing where the rub of the loose . rods in weaving and splitting- would otherwise tear them about. Some of the men use two tools, some only one. ' This is a form of hand-bill that acts as chopper, cleaving tool, mallet, and, held short ,by the back of the blade, as a knife to trim off projecting ends and give the work a general tidying up.
The old local Word rozzling, rustling, or rahstling stands for an industry akin to hurdle-making, but coming within the^work of the hedger. It is the making of a wattled fence on a hedge-bank. The hedger drives in stout stakes a few inches apart and weaves or rostles in his rods of hazel, ash, oak, or chestnut. Two thicker rods at-the top, worked together and crossing between each stake, make a firm finish.
An interesting local tool is a kind of spade used on the heathy wastes for cutting heath-turf for burning. It is used as shown (on page 203). The man throws the weight of his body against the heavy cross-handle. It looks a cumbersome, lumbering thing, but in actual use its weight helps the work. The cutting of heath-sods for fuel is one of the commoners'privileges.
Bricklayers are now so constantly moving about, often to far distant jobs, that there are not nearly so many of the old stay-at-home sort, who have that perfect knowledge of local ways, but here is one of them (p. 204). He is dead now, but for many years 1 had to do with him on garden and other building work. He was nearly stone deaf, left-handed, and had lost one eye, but his work was some of the truest and best I have ever seen. His whole heart was in it.
Jekyll, Gertrude Old West Surrey: Some Notes and Memories. London: Longmans, Green, & Co, 1904. Pp. 194-99, 202-204.
12 February 2009