Coate, Emrhys (b.1912)

The recording of Emrhys Coate deals with the details of willow growing. In the 1920s women would strip the withies ready for basket-makers, growers would drop bundles of willow at the cottages and pick them up the next day, paying the women per bundle. The income generated by women was a crucial contribution to the pot, especially in the 1920s and 30s when Somerset – like the rest of Britain - was in the grip of an agricultural depression.


There are a number of Coate families in Stoke St Gregory and North Curry, who are distantly related.  Emrhys’s great-grandfather kept the pub the 'Black Smock' in Stoke St Gregory, his great-grandfather wore a black smock.

Emrhys Coate. Emrhys Coate.
Sound File
Listen to Emrhys Coate - 1.64MB Duration 3:33 min.

EC: Soon as the water was out you had to work like a slave then really, get on all you could.  When you were cutting forty bundles a day was a good day's work and then when you wanted extra money you cut another ten bundles, sometimes you would cut sixty bundles a day it was a long day.


AH: I was going to say how long a day was it when did you start cutting?


EC: Well it was a dry weather job, you had to wait until it was dry in the morning, you know if you walk across the lawn don’t you it is quite wet and the withies was wet, you see, and some mornings they would dry quickly and some mornings they wouldn’t, you see you would be hanging about then as soon as they were dry you had to go out then.


AH: So you can only cut them when they are dry then?


EC: Oh yeah, well, I used to wear a black mac, a short black mac, so you didn’t have to wait until the last minute, you know, but , they don’t handle the same, no, they are better when they are dry, you can get on with the job, yes.


AH: And when you were cutting did you tie them as you cut?


EC: Yes, yes that’s right. You would take on eight ranks and you would cut one rank up a little way and go over on the other and cut the other coming back and you would have an armful then.  You would put down on the binds. You made two binds and you put them down ready, you see, and you would go up and back again, and you would have another armful, you had four armfuls and they would make a bundle.  And when you were used to the job and been doing it all right, you know, and a withy bed bundle would be three feet four inches in circumference three feet four inches.  When you made a bundle stripped for sale, that sort of thing, they were three feet one and a quarter.  Well when the war started of course, some how or other the quarter inch disappeared and then finally they were tied up three feet, so the odd inch and a quarter disappeared during the war.  They were three feet in circumference.


AH: Do you know why there was the different measurement?


EC: Well you’d have a bit of weed amongst them, something or other, you are bound to have a bit of weed, grass that sort of thing.  But that was the size of a withy bed bundle three, feet, four yeah.


AH: Now you started to tell me about what the next stage was when you said you put the wads into a boiler?


EC: Yes that’s right, they were all tied up in these wads, still in their various sizes.  They stay in those sizes the whole of the time; after they are sorted and tied up they stay in those lengths the whole way through.  And we put them in the boiler, now if the willows were green when we started cutting, they are green, we put them in boiling water, or right, and, like I say the boiler was fifteen feet long, about five feet wide and five feet deep, you see and we used to have what we want on a lorry and one stand one side on the lorry, you would throw these wads in.  The long ones in the bottom, seven or eight feet, because they would lap in the middle and then we would put in the smaller sizes and some more bigger sizes and build it up like that.  So we kept it as level as we possible could, you see.  And they would boil then for about eight hours.

Copyright Information
Copyright. This recording was made by Ann Heeley in September 2001. Photograph ©SRLM. For access to full interview please contact the Somerset Heritage Centre.