US TROOPS IN AN ENGLISH VILLAGE: EVERYDAY LIFE WITH THE AMERICANS IN BURTON BRADSTOCK, DORSET, ENGLAND, UK, 1944© IWM (D 20135) From the Imperial War Museum Collection
“ Mrs Annie Northover (in traditional bonnet) uses a wooden needle to braid nets on the doorstep of her cottage in Burton Bradstock, Dorset. According to the original caption, net braiding is “an old established local industry. Before the war they made billiard table pockets, sports nets. Today they make camouflage nets for the Services.”
When we recently met up with Human and Cultural Geographers at the Exeter University who we are collaborating with on Storyweir. Nicola Thomas brought along a list of people from the 1851 census who were working in the fibre industry in Burton Bradstock: cord winer, hackler, net maker, flax dresser, cordwinder, twine maker, twine spinner, flax dryer, flax spinner, flax packer, rope maker… Ghosts of an industry that had been prevalent in this area for hundreds of years, shaped by the geology and in turn shaping the architeure, society and future.
Burton Bradstock where we are working on Storyweir (a project about the connection between the human story and the geology of the area) has a long association with flax production and rope manufacture. It is very close to Bridport which had a key role in the flax and help industry for over 750 years from well before 1200 till later in the 1900’s. Though rope is not made the net making industry continues to this day. King John in the 1200s commissioned;
“to be made in Bridport, night and day, as many ropes for ships large and small and as many cables as you can, and twisted yarns for cordage for ballistae”
Later Henry Vlll ordered that all hemp grown within a five mile radius of Bridport be reserved for rope for the Royal Navy, Bridport eventually was granted a monopoly to produce rope in the 1500s. Later the area provided rope to the East India Company. The geology of the area provided the well drained soils and sheltered slopes with warm weather that suited the growing of hemp and flax. I’ve come across some films on the British Pathe wesbite of flax and Bridport net production in the 1940s and 50s.