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Trugmaking plays a small but important part in helping maintain our coppiced woodlands which support a diverse range of flora and fauna. Areas of Sweet Chestnut poles are traditionally cut in rotation to supply not just trug wood but also hop poles, fencing stakes, bean poles, pea sticks, for building and charcoal production: every bit of wood can be put to use.
The willow used for trug boards and feet is a waste product of the cricket bat industry. Trug production methods are very low impact and create little waste. Offcuts end up as hurdles or firewood, sawdust is composted and shavings go for animal bedding.
What is a Trug?
The word 'Trug' is derived from the Anglo-saxon 'trog', meaning 'boat shaped vessel' but a Sussex Trug has come to mean a light but strong basket made from willow and sweet chestnut. The village of Herstmonceux has been known as a centre for this traditional craft for at least two hundred years although there are records of trugs and makers dating back to the sixteenth century.
Originally used in agriculture for harvesting produce and measuring grain, the trug became famous after a Mr Smith showed them at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and Queen Victoria ordered a consignment for members of the Royal Family.
On completion of the order, Mr Smith loaded his trugs into a wheelbarrow and walked all the way from Herstmonceux to Buckingham Palace trusting no-one else with his precious cargo. By this time many shapes and sizes had been added to the range so that there were trugs for all purposes; for gathering cut flowers; carrying logs; decorative square, oval and round ones for the house; fish scoops for the Yarmouth herring industry and for use in the stable and poultry yard.
With modern farming methods and the invention of plastic, the trug industry almost died out. Fortunately there were always gardeners who have found that there is really nothing to replace the traditional Sussex Trug for its strength and durability. With a minimum of maintenance a trug should last a generation and often a lot longer as it is typically possible to repair.