The Straw Dealers of Buckland
by Vanessa Worship
The latest Woodlander’s Lives and Landscapes blog, researched and written by Vanessa Worship.
Throughout the nineteenth century, many residents of Buckland parish worked in the straw plaiting industry. For example, in 1851 one third of the population were straw plait workers. An introduction to the straw plaiting industry can be found in an article from the Bucks Herald in December 1920. The feature is entitled ‘Two Vale Industries’, the other one being duck-breeding. The writer first explained that he had ‘brought together a few facts while it is still possible to obtain first-hand information.’
Apparently, the role of the dealer was crucial in the first stage of the straw plaiting process. First, he or she would make an offer to the farmer for a stack of unthreshed wheat, the raw material of straw plaiting. Workers were then employed to make up the straws into bundles weighing sixty to seventy pounds each, setting aside the ears, which were removed and given back to the farmer. The straws were then stripped and cut just above the knot, leaving straws nine to ten inches in length. At this stage the straw was bleached by placing it ‘in a box into which a cup of molten sulphur was introduced’ and sometimes ‘straws were dyed black or blue’. It was then graded through a series of sieves and tied into bundles four or five inches in diameter. These bundles were then sold to the cottagers for plaiting. The plaiters would take the finished scores (twenty yard lengths of plait) to the weekly market in Tring. The writer stated that straw plaiting was a ‘highly specialised industry in which straw dealers first figured, selling the raw material to the cottagers who plaited it and sold it to the plait dealers, who in turn sold to the hatmakers’.
So it seems that the dealers played a vital role in the straw plaiting industry, often involving their whole families in the business too. This blog will tell their stories through the records they left behind.Read the whole blog post
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