Musgrave, Wallace (b.1912)
Wallace Musgrave was a member of the Musgrave basket-making family of Stoke St Gregory, a village at the heart of the Somerset Levels.  He made baskets and worked for the Drainage Board around Aller Moor, Middlezoy and Westonzoyland.  Mr Musgrave attended Drainage Board meetings and collected rent from farmers; he was an expert on the history of drainage on the Levels.
Stripping willow. Stripping willow.
Sound File
Listen to Wallace Musgrave - 2.17MB Duration 4:44 min.

WM: One year, very depressing, he had one year’s crop in his barns, all stripped and ready to sell to somebody but ’e couldn’t sell them.  He could have given them away almost but a job to do that, and off was coming another crop.  He also used ...he had willow beds of his own; he also used to go to auctions and buy withies.  There were hundreds of acres of willow sold in acre lots for people; marvellous place.  There was nowhere, nowhere in the country where was there a situation where a man could develop without having any capital, to any size in business by going to the auctions and buying withies.


Now you had to pay ten per cent on, on the withies, you see, two shillings in the pound and on the night of the auction.  You also signed a promissory note to say that you would complete it by the following August.  Now you bought these willows in November, next month or mid-November, and the leaf would be coming off and off and you could gather the willows.  Buy willows in an auction room in Burrowbridge or North Curry tonight and tomorrow morning you could go with your hooks and things and get them off and you ’ad something and boil them.  They wouldn’t strip at that time of the year, not peeled.


AB: Oh yes, you had to boil them, didn’t you?


WM: You had to boil them to get the buff, you see, and strip them.  Well, families, they had plenty of children years ago, people did, and they’d have to strip these things.  Poor little devils had to strip some before they went to school a-morning and roughest time and the women would strip.  People would have a source of income, copper or two a bundle for doing it.


AB: Right.


WM: You can cut sufficient to have a boilerful done and probably you would have a hundred bundles within, within about a fortnight or so.  You’d have a hundred bundles of dried, finished, bundled withies to sell.  Anyway, the money ...I, I had to remember that you had to pay the rest of your money before August but...


AB: You had plenty of time.


WM: You could, you had plenty of time and you could go on, and another thing to remember, particularly in our underwater situation down there, that you could get in ...they, father would say ’Right, now we must get off the withies we’ve bought’ and um he might employ a casual because it was all casual work.  There were no permanent work then in our district down there.  A lot of them didn’t have any work for about three months of the year.


AB: This is North Curry, is it?


WM: No, Burrowbridge.


AB: Burrowbridge.


WM: Burrowbridge, Burrowbridge.


AB: Yes.


WM: Athelney, Stoke St Gregory.  I was born at Athelney which is in Stoke St Gregory parish.  Athelney’s in Burrowbridge now because we’re a parish of our own, but um this was Athelney, Burrowbridge postal address, but Stoke St Gregory parish.


Now, you see, the um, they, these ...you could begin cut the withies that we brought out because ours was more gettable and then have them all, have them all, horses and wagon.  Father used to hire a haulage contractor and I’m interested to note at Stoke St Gregory ...the grandson of, of that man that used to send things and horses to get out in the mud, out in the moor and swearing and whoops and one thing and another and the wheels cutting down to the boxes!  ’Cor you had to have a, you had to employ somebody with some steam and that man was a wonderful man.  He had about a dozen or ...horses, the big Shire horses, and he’d go anywhere and sometimes he went out with them.  He’d be cracking his whip in the field, out the mud, while they went up through, and jumping ditches as he went.


AB: Really?


WM: Ah, and that sort of thing, you see.  Well anyway, um get them home, well we had our withies home and away we goes, and you had an income.  When you couldn’t ...down comes the rain usually the end of November, December, those moors are flooded.  You couldn’t cut any withies but you had some withies on your premises and you could go on, and you could buy work.  They always used to say ’I’m going to the sales and buy some work’.  Now that’s a funny thing.


AB: Yes, yes.


WM: That’s only a story of my life and um so...


AB: Very interesting.

Copyright Information
Copyright. This recording was made by Mr Boodle in 1995. Photograph ©SRLM. For access to full interview please contact the Somerset Heritage Centre.