Cousins, Fred (b.1915)
Fred Cousins was born in 1915.  Fred began his working life as a farmer; growing withies and teasels was a way of earning extra money in his spare time.  He took early retirement after working in the Bridgwater concrete works for twenty years, and went back to teasel growing at Coate’s willow works, Meare Green. It is now difficult to buy the tools and gloves required to grow teasels.
Workers with a crop of teasels somewhere on the Somerset levels, early 20th century. Workers with a crop of teasels somewhere on the Somerset levels, early 20th century.
Sound File
Listen to Fred Cousins - 1.37MB Duration 3:59 min.
FC: Oh no, back in those days, see, that was the only way to get a bit of extra money, that, see, grow teasels and that, you see, in your spare time and that, weekends, Sunday mornings, Saturdays and that. Of course it was well, several hundred acres growing round here.  Years ago, I mean people used to, well, some of the older people used to make their living, see, used to go partners with a farmer, you see.  He used to supply the ground, see, and they’d go halves in the crop, see.  That was all they used to do all the year round.  That was, any amount of people used to do that.

And of course labour, money, rose and that, see, wages rose and that, and the teasel price didn’t come up to the standard, and therefore all these old teasel growers died out and of course they gradually dwindled away.


Well, the last one ever grew them round here, you know, every year was Mr Mell at Fivehead there, and that was the last one ever grew them.  That was the last one ever grew them.  I don’t think he, well, he’s getting on, mind, he’s seventy odd, I don’t think he’s bothered the last couple of years.

But I mean, it’s a lot of work to it, its all handwork, you see.  But, well, we used this year the cabbage planter for planting them and we made a thing, see, on the hydraulic down the tractor with a hay knife to go under the ground to cut the plants off.  All you had to go, do then was to go and pick them up with your hands, like that.


But before, see, you used all these old tools, you see.  The spitter for a single plant, you see, get it out, and you had to beat the dirt all off, like half the root, else you wouldn’t get it in the hole when you planted them again, see.  All the planting was done by hand, see.


MG: You mentioned that women worked on teasels.  Was that common?


FC: Oh yes, teasel cutting.  Oh yes, some women, some women will cut as fast as a man will.  Oh yes.  Oh yes, one woman there went out with us two or three years, well, she’s done it for years.  She’s sixty-four or five, and she’ll cut, somehow, you know, keep going as long as a man will.  But last summer when one day she nearly, she nearly collapsed, you know, like, the heat out there.  And I said, ‘Go back, go back to the car, open both doors, let the air in, sit on the passenger seat, let the air draw right through.


Oh, it was hot at the time, because the sweat, of course, you’ve got your own clothes on, see, coat on and gloves, you know what it is, we had that in August out there.  It was hot, you know, the sweat was running off your brow, running in your eyes, and that.  Your eyes were stinging, that, it was warm. One day out there I woke up next morning, ah, what’s matter with the top of my head?  And that day, oh, it was probably sunburn, but there was such a breeze out there we didn’t take any notice of it, there was such a breeze out there on the moor, see.  But they said on the news that night that it was eighty, see, eighty-three something, that’s, you know, when the sun did catch us all, you know. Oh it was hot.


Well, I said several nights out there, it’s a good job we’ve got the cars right near so we, you know, drove across the fields.  I said else I don’t think I could walk in there, you know, it would take me half hour to walk in where we used to live then in our farmland, there.  Oh, it was warm.

Copyright Information
Copyright. This recording was made by Mary Gryspeerdt in September 1987. Photograph ©SRLM. For access to full interview please contact the Somerset Heritage Centre.