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Besom Making in Verwood.
  (The following information was obtained from an interview with Mr. Sims.)  

 

   Note that this article was originally written in 1968 by Mrs. P. Reeks. 

Seventy-three year old Mr. A. Sims is carrying on a family tradition. His grandfather travelled by horse and waggon selling besoms from door to door from Verwood to Warminster and on to Andover, His turning point was Andover as besoms were made at Tadley and were sold between there and Andover. Mr. Sims' father made besoms, which were also taken by horse and wagon together with pots from the Verwood pottery westward across Dorset as  far as Portland .

Heather for besoms is plentiful today and has been in the past, but the future for heather growing is not good. At the present time, Mr. Sims cuts heather from Ringwood forest which is on the Hampshire-Dorset boundary; but the land is now leased to the Forestry Commission which is planting every available acre with fir trees and unfortunately these will ultimately kill the heather. Mr Sims, when he was working full time often travelled into the New Forest to cut heather.

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Mr. Sims said that when he cut heather he cut the whole patch clean. He chooses a patch; two feet six inches to three feet high and after cutting with a reap hook, ties the heather into bundles, each bundle containing enough heather for approximately six besoms. Now, as heather can be cut all the year round, he cuts 50 to 60 bundles at a time and has them delivered to his workshop.

At one time Mr. Sims also worked in the local copses alongside the hurdle maker making birch besoms, with the fine birch that was too small for the hurdle maker to use. These days as he is unable to cycle far, Mr. Sims only cuts birch in the village or has bundles of birch delivered to his workshop. The wood for handles he obtains from an old friend who makes hurdles.

Mr. Sims has won many besom making awards in the past at Agricultural shows including the New Forest Show and the Bath and West Show.

These days Mr. Sims can sell as many besoms as he can make. He now supplies Whitsbury Racing Stables, Bournemouth and Weymouth Corporations Parks Departments, as well a private individuals whom he has supplied for most of his life.

When he was working full-time Mr. Sims used to make 24 besoms per day. The only thing that he do by lamp light was to twist bonds. He said that the heads could only be made in daylight or they would have looked more like a birds’ nest!!

 At that time buyers came from as far a field as Birmingham for several gross of besoms at a time. One of his local markets was Oakwood Bacon factory at Gillingham where he used to send one gross every three months. He told me that after the pigs had been slaughtered the carcasses were laid in and covered by straw which was set alight. This burned off the pig’s hair, and the carcasses were then brushed off and cleaned with heather besoms.

Unfortunately Mr. Sims has no one to carry on his craft when he is unable to work, so besom making is likely to die out in this area. This seems a great pity as, at the moment besoms still cannot be made by machine.

Copyright © P Reeks.     

 

 
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