Sunday, April 4, 2010

What is that "Whatsit" - Straw Splitter

Hello everyone! Today we reveal the 'whatsit'. Thank you to those who added their vote. This is rather fun!

This little wooden implement comes from Luton, England. Children would collect straw and segment the pieces through the metal 'eyes' of this little tool. The segmented straw would then be braided and sold to hat manufacturers in the UK.

"This machine was used to split straw lengthwise. The straw plait industry was one of the main crafts in the South Midlands until the beginning of the 20th century. Men, women and children worked in their homes splitting straws and plaiting them into patterns with names such as 'brilliant' and 'whipcord'. The plait was sent to towns like Luton to be made into fashionable hats and bonnets, but sadly the plaiters themselves received very little money for their work." - text from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

The Plait Girl - A Bedfordshire Sketch
Before a rustic cottage door,
And sitting in the sun,
I saw a girl of eight years old,
And a tiny little one.
Each loft armheld a hoop of plait,
Fast growing to a score;
For quickly moved their fingers small,
As I drew near the door.
"Well done, my little folks," said I,
Unto the elder maid ;
"Is that your little sister there,
So busy at her trade ?"
"Yes, sir," she said, and from her mouth
Another straw she took ;
"And that's my brother Billy there,
A plaitin' near the brook."
"Do children plait so young," I said,
"Oh yes, 'taint nothin' new,
There's Billy, he are less than her,
And Billy he plaits too."
"What may you earn ? you cannot say,
Come, try and give a guess ;"
"Well, sometimes eighteen pence a week,
But sometimes I earns less."
"When father had the fever, sir,
We little money got,
But a lady kind, bayed all my plait,
And then I earned a lot."
"But mother splits the straws for ma,
And she does more nor that,
She clips the ends, and 'mills' it too,
Afore she sells the plait."
"And then she takes all what we've made,
And though it rains or snows,
To sell it all,on market days,
To Dunstable she goes."
"But mother says, that by and by,
If I makes haste and grows,
That I shall go to Luton, sir,
Where everybody sews."
"I do so long for that to come,
I are so proud to grow :
They don't do plait at Luton, sir,
They only has to sew."
"You love a romp at play, don't you,
On the green before the door?"
Yes, mother lets us play sometimes,
When we have done a score."
"And can you read this little book,
Which in my hand I hold ?"
"No, sir, I can't ; I means to try,
That is—when I are old."
"What! don't you go to school ?" said I
The child hung down her head;
"Oh ! please sir, we don't go to school,
We has to earn our, bread."
I gave the book, and turned away,
And musing o'er the chat,
I sighed that children are not taught,
Because they have to plait.
By ‘Nitram Wilsey’

(Poem borrowed from "Straw Plaiting in Preston, Hertfordshire", click here to view website)

The Gazette, Wed. 4th August

See article "Straw Plaiting in Dacorum" by clicking on 'The Gazette....." above

The plait hall, Cheapside, Luton c.1908
T. G. Hobbs © Luton Libraries

Types of Bedfordshire plait. From top to bottom:
Rows 1 and 2: 7-ends plain wholestraw, before and after clipping
Row 3: Brilliant split straw
Row 4: 17-end English Wave black-and-white improved
Row 5: Imitation Leghorn, made from bents
© Luton Museum

Click here to view Luton Libraries for photographs and article

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