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This page of the Virtual Museum includes a number of photographs of rural crafts, and an artical and photographs about CFF Snow.
- Various photos of CFF Snow and the rural crafts he recorded
CFF Snow's records:
The following notes on rural crafts in the Chilterns and Kennet Valley are derived from an exhibition relating to the work of David Liddiard's uncle, C.F.F. Snow, whose photographic collection recorded many aspects of rural life in the early 20th century.
Born In 1903, C.F.F. Snow was well known as a country life photographer in the 1940s. His particular interest was in recording rural workshops and craft processes. Yet photography was a hobby taking second place to his career as headmaster of Braywood Church of England School, Berkshire.
Snow's interest in rural life grew from visits to his father-in-law, Albert Pragnell, who farmed at Mapledurham and enjoyed a local reputation as a herbalist and an authority on old farm tools and processes.
But it was not until the Second World War that Snow's photographs began to be published. The earliest, a series on rabbit keeping for food production, appeared in Eggs in 1911 and then in the Smallholder. By 1944 he had recorded a variety of rural crafts within fifty miles of Reading. He was assisted by his wife, Mary Snow, who wrote most of the articles illustrated by her husband's photographs and their work could be found in Country Life, The Field, Farmer & Stockbreeder, Farmers Weekly, the Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News and other country journals. Snow also undertook to supply the British Council and the Rural Industries Bureau with photographs.
By the end of the war Snow had recorded many of the more important surviving workshops in Berkshire and neighbouring counties. His last significant contribution to country life photography was a commission by Katherine Woods to provide illustrations for her detailed survey, Rural Crafts of England, published in 1949. Thereafter Snow has been content to pursue other aspects of his hobby with the Windlesham Camera Club and the Berkshire Visual Aids Committee.
The Rural Workshop - an introduction
The Golden Age of the rural workshop began in the late 18th century. But already by the 1870s the tide of prosperity had ceased to flow, and after 1890 it began rapidly to ebb. By the: time of the First World War many of the trades and industries depicted in the exhibition had decayed, and some were almost extinct.
It is against this background that C.F.F. Snow's contribution to rural industrial history should be viewed. He was recording country workshops in an advanced stage of decline when the numbers of craftsmen were only a few hundreds, compared with the mid 19th century, when there were many thousands. But, many of the crafts that survived into the Second World War, or which were revived as part of the war effort, were not representative of the old industrial order. In the 1940s the typical unit of production was the small independent workshop whereas in the 1860s the trend was towards larger workshops or even small factories, employing between 10 and 20 men, situated in the bigger villages and market towns. In the woodland industries, in particular, very few craftsmen were, in the strict sense, 'independent'. Most were employed directly by master craftsmen or were dependent on 'dealers' who supplied .the raw materials and marketed the finished products. Only when the trade had withered away, and its traditional organisation had broken down, was the small craftsman able to assert his independence and set up on his own. It is significant that most of the craftsmen recorded by Snow were either old men, who failed to escape, or young boys, drawn into the industry during a period of temporary revival. We should be careful, therefore, in assuming, that Snow's rural workshops were true heirs of a long industrial tradition in the English countryside.
But of one thing we can be sure. That part of England with which Snow was primarily concerned - the broad sweep of countryside running across the Chilterns westwards into the Kennet Valley and north Hampshire - had been in the not too distant past a very important centre of rural industry, especially of the wood-working trades which were the speciality of the region.
Chiltern country with its forested uplands, sloping meadows and jigsaw of tiny commons, had been a major producer of wood and wood products since at least the 15th century and was one of London's leading suppliers of timber and firewood. Chair-making became important there in the late 18th century and by 1850 the industry employed several thousand persons. As late as 1920 chair manufacturing could still be seen in its various stages of industrial development, from the primitive workshops in the woods and small village turneries which made the legs, to the large factories in High Wycombe that mass-produced the chairs. Beech was the stock raw material and the usual practice was to thin the trees out in rotation every seven or eight years. Other beech-wood industries included bowl-turning and tent-peg making which were carried on extensively in and around Chesham Bois.
The Kennet Valley and North. Hampshire Woodlands on the other hand were famous chiefly for their coppice ware. Hazel, and ash were grown as underwood beneath a canopy of oak standards, birch on the sandy soils adjoining the commons, and alder in the gullies sweeping down from the hills overlooking the Kennet Valley. Vast quantities of barrel hoops and broom handles were being sent to London in the mid-18th century and this trade increased after 1800 with the opening of the Kennet and Avon and Basingstoke Canals.
Other specialities included sheep hurdles and hay rakes, large quantities of which were sold to the West Country. Crate-rods used for packing crockery became an important item of commerce after 1860 and a lively trade soon developed between north Hampshire and the Potteries. Besoms were also important, especially in the heath-land villages of Tadley, Crookham and Baughurst. Many were sent by rail to the South Wales ironworks but others were sold from a pony and cart as far away as Croydon and Leighton Buzzard. Charcoal burning, although much less widespread than in the pre-coal age, was still locally important on the Berkshire-Hampshire borders.
Important changes in the organisation of the turnery trades, such as broom-handle and rake making, occurred in the 1860s when large turnery factories using steam engines and power-lathes were established in Thatcham and Newbury. Hoop-making too appears to have become more a workshop than an open air trade and a large manufactory was opened at Aldermaston Wharf. In other ways, too, the underwood industries became more highly organised and professional. Coppice-dealing became much more a trade in its own right and dealers sometimes travelled 20 or 30 miles to procure raw materials. On many estates the annual coppice sale, held in November, was the great event of the year. And after the sale began the cutting, done by gangs of itinerant workmen, often sleeping rough in lean-to shelters under the trees, who moved from wood to wood, felling and sorting at so much an acre. Behind them came the coppice-dealers who carted the bundles away, some to sell as hop-poles at Alton Fair, the rest to sell as firewood or to distribute among the various trades.
The fascination of the scene was its meticulousness and economy; the utilization, each for its own special purpose, of every small piece of the coppice stem; and also its secretiveness, its concealment by winter and deep woods.
It was perhaps because of their modesty that the decline of the underwood trades in the later 19th century went for a long time unnoticed. A series of articles published in Country Life around 1907 created almost the impression that they were a vital and necessary part of rural England whereas, in fact, they were at death's door. The detailed survey of rural industries in the Oxford and Reading areas carried out by Katherine Woods in 1919-1920 paints a gloomy picture of decay, the root causes of which are sometimes misunderstood. The rural workshop survived for as long only as there was a demand for its products. Some craftsmen, such as wheelwrights, blacksmiths and hurdle-makers, produced goods and services mainly for local farmers and local people. Others, such as hoop benders, crate rod makers and tanners, produced intermediate goods or raw materials for other industries. The forces of change were many and complex, but together they exerted a pressure which the small manufacturer, in town or country, was unable to resist. The blacksmith and wheelwright did not long survive the decline of the horse; nor the scythe-handle and rake-maker the mechanisation of the hay and corn harvests; nor the hoop-maker the substitution of iron for wood in the binding of casks; nor the hurdle-maker the demise of the arable flock and sheep fold. Foreign competition, too, played a part, and after 1890, barrel hoops and baskets, suffered acutely. Another important factor was, of course, competition at home from urban factories using mass-production techniques, a trend which had been anticipated in the 1860s and 1870s, by the shift of production from the villages to the market towns; In the countryside itself there was agricultural depression and depopulation, which caused markets to collapse.
Thus it was that coppices in the Kennet Valley which had sold at £10 or £15 an acre in 1850 fetched barely £3 in 1914. Many were abandoned, where formerly they had supported a large number of craftsmen. Snow records some of the few survivors of a Deluge which between 1870 and 1940 had swept whole industries away.
- Museum of English Rural Life, Reading