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Trug Tales

Nearly 200 years ago a young Sussex gardener, Thomas Smith, became irritated with the clumsy boatlike ‘trogs’ he used and set out for his workshop to streamline their design. He changed the shape slightly, used individual boards, added feet and a handle, swapped a vowel and the trug as we know it arrived.

Derived from the old Anglo Saxon word ‘trog’ meaning wooden vessel or boat,they were originally used as measures for liquids and grains before they evolved into garden and ornamental baskets. Likewise the maund which was used in Devon for the collection and storage of potatoes, apples and onions.

Convinced of the superiority of his enhanced design, Thomas Smith sent a trug to the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, London. A bronze medal and diploma of merit were awarded and Queen Victoria was amused. She was so enchanted by the trug she immediately ordered several as presents for her family, ranging in size from little ones for the children to larger ones for the adults.

Thomas Smith insisted on making each one personally and pushed them in a handcart the sixty miles from Sussex to Buckingham Palace. These same trugs are now in the South Kensington Museum.

From these encouraging beginnings flowed success for the trug makers who set up their workshop at Herstmonceux, Sussex where they still make trugs to this day.

Here in Golden Bay the tradition continues. The trug, maund and flower baskets are examples of craft in one of its finest forms. The trug and flower basket Brett makes are light enough for the smallest child to handle yet rugged enough to withstand decades of garden use. The clean simple lines have an aesthetic appeal which invites one to hold them.

The maund or Devon splint basket as it is sometimes known, with its copper bound base and larger dimensions is beautiful, strong and sturdy without being too heavy.

The work of trugmaking has a peaceful simplicity about it and in today’s world of virtual reality and mass production, the baskets are grounded in their making by traditional construction, simple woodworking tools and the individuality of a handmade treasure.


Tony Hitchcock - The Trug Maker, Takaka, Golden Bay, New Zealand