Title ID 7137Collection ID844
TitleSussex Trugs
Collection[Ledermann] Lederman / Tutt
Genre/TypeAmateurIndependent Artist/Film-makerNon-fictionActuality/Factual
ThemeRural Life Working Life
KeywordsWorkers Trades Shops Royalty Labour Rural Areas
RegionalEast Sussex
NationalEngland United Kingdom
ProductionATHL Productions
CameraHarry Lederman and Alan Tutt
DirectorHarry Lederman and Alan Tutt
ParticipantsSarah Page
FormatColour Sound
Duration22 min. 10 sec.
Copyright & AccessCopyright restrictions apply, contact Screen Archive South East for details


Trug makers Sarah Page and Tim Franks demonstrate how a traditional Sussex basket is made using sweet chestnut and willow, a craft that is under threat of extinction. The film, produced by amateur film-makers Harry Lederman and Alan Tutt in 2007, features footage of The Truggery from Screen Archive South East, filmed by F. P. Barnitt in the 1930s.


'The word trug means any sort of boat-shaped vessel, and is derived from the Anglo-Saxon "trog". But a Sussex trug has come to mean a certain kind of recognised basket particular to a region of East Sussex and there is nothing stronger, lighter or more durable than a trug basket.' Archive photographs of turn-of-the-century trug makers are seen, including one of Mr. Rich of East Hovely taken in 1890. The narrator explains that trugs are made with the raw materials available in the area. In East Sussex, coppiced sweet chestnut and willow are readily available. Until the 19th century, trugs were mainly used in agriculture, during which time Sussex trugs took on a more sophisticated form. Footage from Screen Archive South East follows. A trug maker saws and splits the coppice. Standardised shapes and sizes were introduced to hold graduating volumes, starting at a pint. 'Fancy trugs' in smaller square and round shapes proved popular and these are seen on display at a workshop.

Thomas Smith of Herstmonceux, not far from Eastbourne, is introduced, who helped to put trugs on the map in the 19th century. A photograph, showing Smith and three other men in the Herstmonceux workshop. Narration explains how satellite businesses sprang up in Kent, Sussex and Surrey; the Hardings in Mayersfield, Cats in Cowbeach, and Rich family in East Hovely. The Smith family continued to make trugs until the 1960s. 1960s colour footage of the Smith family making trugs is shown. Ruben Reed is introduced, who sarted a business in a cottage now known as The Truggery. Narration explains that he was succeeded by his son Thomas and his grandchildren Rupert and Molly. Thomas Reed is seen in a photograph taken in the 1920s, outside the business that employed six or seven people at its busiest times. The trugs were shown and sold at agricultural shows and admired by royalty, as seen in local newspaper clippings.

The Sherwood family took on the Reeds' business, that has been run since 1995 by Sarah Page. Based at The Trugary in Herstmoncex, Sarah is seen measuring lengths of coppiced sweet chestnut, that has been 'cleft' to season the wood over three to twelve months. Sarah clefts the wood again, with a throw and mallet. A cleaving break helps with leverage. She works with the grain to spilt the wood before cutting the ends and any knots off with a machine. She is seen making the handle and frame. A foot operated shaving horse or dolly clamps the slat tightly while she uses a draw knife to shave the wood. She explains the draw knife is a precious object to a trug maker, and you never lend it out. The shavings don't go to waste and are used for fires. Sarah shaves the pieces in order to get an even thickness and a smooth and rounded finish so the handle fits in the palm of the hand. Tim Franks who also works at The Truggery, puts the chestnut in the steamer for twenty minutes before bending round a former, some of which are a hundred years old. The handled and frame are pined in place while the wood is still pliable.

Sarah drives steel pins through the handle and frame. She collects pieces of willow from outside, leftovers from cricket bat manufacture. She measures and cuts out the slats mechanically, which she feeds through a machine so they are an even thickness. Sarah explains that the process has been mechanised since the 1930s but some trug makers still cleave the pieces by hand. Tim shaves them to the appropriate shape so the slats have curved edges. Footage of Tim at work is shown side by side with footage from Screen Archive South East, taken by F. P. Barnitt in the 1930s, of Thomas Reed working in the same workshop in the 1930s, performing the same operation in exactly the same way. The boards are tapered to fit into the framework and are soaked for twenty minutes to make bending the boards into the frame easier. Sarah cuts rounded corners into the feet, and uses a cleaving break to start off the curve for the trug. Tim positions the middle board exactly and begins pinning the other slats into the frame. Sarah lists trugs that are less well known, also made in the workshop, including the square trug, round trug, flower trug, cucumber trug, walking stock trug and log trug.

Sarah tells the story of Mr. Smith, who showed his trugs at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London. He was awarded a gold medal and an received an order of trugs from Queen Victoria. It is said that he walked to Buckingham Palace with the trugs in a wheelbarrow, trusting no one else with the cargo. He received further prizes and a royal warrant for this work. She says it takes a year to learn how to make a trug, and another five before you are good at it. Each maker finishes their trug in a particular way, and Tim is seen cutting the boards and finishing the trug according to his signature style. He fixes the feet to the base, making it stable and keeping the wood away from damp ground. Sarah explains that Tim has given up trug making since the making of the film. She does not know what the future holds, 'only time will tell'.

Contextual information

The film revieved the Best Documentary Award at the IAC Sussex Festival in October 2007, and Best Photography Award at the IAC SERIAC Festival in 8 March 2008.

The Screen Archive South East footage featured in the film is taken from [Country Magazine] (1930s), a compliation of four films by F. P. Barnitt, a keen amateur cinematographer who won several Amateur Cine World awards, which focusses on rural craftsmen and farmers at work in Sussex. The first is titled "Sussex Trugs and How they are Made" and is filmed at Ruben Reed's workshop in Herstmonceux, where Sarah Page still makes trugs today. Sheep-sheering, Ironworkers and views of Bodium Castle are also included in the film. Many of his films focus on Sussex and Kent rural life and traditions. Others include In the Hop Fields of Kent.

Related titles

Related resources


Trug Maker Carries on Old Tradition

Telegraph article on Sarah Page and The Truggery, June 2009: 'But when Page decides to call it a day, she wonders what will become of the Sussex trug. "You can buy cheap plywood imitations, mostly made in China, but they're not the same at all. There's nothing like the genuine Sussex article."'

How to Make a Trug

A short film featured on 'Disappearing Acts' section of The Guardian website, of narration and photographs. Further pieces on heritage crafts include blanket weaving, stonecutting, calligraphy, blacksmithing, glassblowing letterpress and wood carving.

Heritage Crafts Association

The Film and Video Institute, devoted to promoting amateurs working in film, video and audio-visual formats.