LOCAL RUSHWORK HISTORY

With a long history of use in many parts of Britain, as a floor covering and for basketry, local records show that the harvesting of rushes from the River Stour in north Dorset, in the vicinity of Marnhull and Sturminster Newton, is an ancient craft stretching back several hundred years. Whilst harvesting was traditionally a man’s job, over the  years, rushwork employed both skilled craftsmen and women, as a full-time occupation, and provided work – and extra income - for a larger number of people over the winter months. Children were also involved in these activities. It is known that rushwork (the manufacture of log baskets) was being taught to boys in Blandford St Mary in 1902 and it is believed that a similar class or school was also in existence at about this time in Marnhull, teaching girls to make hassocks for church use.

In the 1930s rushwork or "rushing" was described as a flourishing industry, with baskets, mats, pew cushions, hassocks and beehives, amongst other things, being sold at all the local markets and sent to Portsmouth, Totnes and London. Liberty’s in London, for example, sold log baskets made in Marnhull until the 1950s. The Queen was also sent a log basket made in Marnhull as a present, to mark her coronation in 1953. Rushwork was practised in this area until the 1960s, when Ron Crew, the last local rush cutter died.

Until the RushWorks project was set up, it is believed that no rushes had been cut since the 1960s from this region of the River Stour and knowledge of the sustainable industry they supported had all but disappeared. A small quantity of rushes are now cut each year on the river. To celebrate these harvests, two "rush-bearing" celebrations were held, in September 2006 and 2007, in collaboration with the Wessex Morris Men and the Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival.