Hancock, John (b.1961)

John Hancock talked about his work at English Hurdles, Curload, Stoke St Gregory, a company producing willow products. These were mainly hurdles but also rose arches, bowers and chairs. John originally works on harvesting willow in the 1990s, and describes machinery now used in cutting and hauling the willow from the beds.


The company rented willow fields in Devon and Swindon and took their own machines to cut it. John’s father, Ivor, is a basket-maker, but John watched and learnt from other hurdle-makers and has become renowned for his speed in weaving them. Whilst talking, he was working on a rose arch, weaving and describing what he was doing.

John Hancock, 2002. John Hancock, 2002.
Sound File
Listen to John Hancock - 1.48MB Duration 3:14 min.

AH: What kind of work did you come to do here?


JH: Originally, I came just to do harvesting.  I done all the cutting and hauling out the material and get it prepared ready for the hurdle-makers.


AH: And what kind of cutting machine then were you using in the early days when you first set up?


JH: In the early days we had a little two-cylinder self-propelled machine which cut the willow which is a bit slow, and in recent years, we’ve got a new machine now that goes on the front of a tractor which cuts a lot faster.


AH: And who’s the manufacturer of this machine?


JH: A person from Belgium called Fernand de Voss.  He grows willows in Belgium and he also develops machines for cutting the willow.


AH: And how does the machine work?  Is it, is it, did you say it’s self-propelled then, so are you cutting in front of the tractor then?


JH: The original machine was self-propelled.  Now we fit it on to a front of a tractor and it goes in, on the front and it’s a lot quicker.  Obviously you need the ability to watch what’s happening when you’re harvesting, like a combine.


AH: And how many rows are you cutting at once?


JH: It only does one row at a time, but there is one in the pipeline which will cut two rows which we might have in later years.


AH: And what other kinds of weaving do you do?  You mentioned the hurdles.


JH: Yes, the main product is hurdles, making all the different sizes.  We also make arbours and bower seats, chairs.


AH: Do you get involved with that?


JH: Yes, I do.


AH: So you are quite versatile in what you do?


JH: That’s right, yes.


AH: That, it’s interesting, you know, your father’s a basket-maker, isn’t he?


JH: That’s right.


AH: But do you, have you not thought about going into that?


JH: He keeps on trying to get me to come into basket-making, but I don’t think he’d have patience to teach me.


AH: That’s the old saying isn’t it?


JH: That’s right, with the family.


AH: It’s very difficult.  Who taught you to hurdle-make?


JH: Well over the years when I bin harvesting and coming in and talking to the other chaps there, I’ve just watched them and picked up different things and that.

Copyright Information
Copyright. This recording was made by Ann Heeley in July 2002. Photograph ©SRO. For access to full interview please contact the Somerset Heritage Centre.