Horton, Ilminster, Somerset

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Teasel Farming in south Somerset

Many readers will have seen TEASELS (or Teazles or Teazels - all forms are used) growing wild in south Somerset as weeds in the garden or on patches of waste ground.

 

Wild birds love teasels and they especially attract Goldfinches.

Seeds of this plant are offered in catalogues and often described as "Fuller's Teasel".

 

However, this name is not correct and was given by botanists who mistakenly thought that it had been used by fullers in the cloth making industry.

The teasels that fullers used were similar but with vital and distinct differences.  

 

There is still some confusion over the names but using the botanical Latin names, the wild form that is so common probably should be called Dipsacus sylvestris (the woodland teasel) though the name Dipsacus fullonum is still commonly used.

 

However the true Fullers's Teasel should be called Dipsacus sativus.  

 

The proper Fuller's teasel has much stronger and more pronounced hooks on the seed heads.

 

It is a cultivated form of the teasel and was sometimes called the Indian Teasel.  It was used in the cloth industry to help finish the higher quality woollen material.  

Dipsacus fullonum

Dipsacus sativus

The teasel heads were mounted on frames or on wide beams and pulled over the cloth so that the hooks on the seed heads caught on any small tangles or knots and pulled the stray fibres upright to be shorn off by the shear man. This was known as "raising the nap" of the cloth. These methods were changed over time and metal forms replaced the seed heads with natural teasels only being used for the top-quality cloth such as for billiard table tops.

Teasels were at one stage an important local crop in this area and one of the very last two Somerset teasel growing families lived in Horton.  In 1973 a Yorkshire historian - Robert A. McMillan was researching the north country cloth industry and visited our area to find the last examples of the production.

 

He took many photographs of the harvesting of the crop and featured the Brunt family who he stated lived near the Five Dials.

Rachel Brunt aged 5, learning the 'tools of the trade' at a very early age.

Teasels were a difficult crop to grow.  They were sown in May in special seedbeds to be transplanted into the fields in October to grow to maturity by the following August. At the peak, the Brunts, working with an uncle, had a total of some 10 acres of teasels mainly in the Beercrocombe area just north of Ashill, Somerset.

 

The teasel heads were cut by hand using a small specially made teasel knife and made up into neat bunches to be later strung onto a long pole for drying and storing.  

 

Buyers from the woollen mills of Yorkshire – the last of whom was Terry Ledger from Edmund Taylor (Teazle) Ltd – came down to meet farmers and assess the quality of the teasel harvest and agree a price. They left a deposit with the growers who were then paid the rest once the teasels had been despatched.

 

Bunches of teasel heads came in 40s or 50s but a ‘pack of teasels’ contained 20,000.

Somerset teasels were grown mainly north of Mendip and also in the Fivehead region of south Somerset.

Some were used in the woollen cloth industry of the Cotswolds, in Wiltshire and East Somerset but most went in more recent times to Yorkshire.

 

A few photos taken from McMillan's book which show the Brunt family hard at work can be seen below.

If anybody wishes to borrow McMillan's book please contact the webmaster and if anyone wishes to see samples of the proper Fuller's Teasel, on the Horton Open Garden day in June, visit The Cottage, Church Lane where they are growing.

 

Please click on this link to email the webmaster:  

Some typical teasel tools

The family consisted of Maurice and his wife Doreen plus their children, Stephen, Graham and Rachel.

They were shown in the fields with the tools of their trade harvesting the crop.

 

It was not until 2012 that the photos appeared in the book by Robert A McMillan "Teazles and Teazle Men".

Doreen harvesting teasles in 1973

A Somerset teasel spade

Please click on any of the photos below to reveal a much larger image

Maurice sliding another bunch of teasels onto a pole for drying and storage

Stephen cutting using a teasel knife with strong protective gloves

Maurice & Graham taking a filled pole of teasels to dry under a nearby tree

Rachel showing the hoes for 'spudding' (weeding) the teasel crop

Dipsacus Fullonum Teasle sativus Doreen Brunt Brunt child Five Dials Teazle tools 4 Teasel spade1