Last week I was on holiday near Bridport which was once the centre of the rope-making industry in the South West. Flax and hemp grown in West Coker were possibly sent there to be spun into yarn then returned to West Coker to be made into twine or canvas. It’s quite hard to work out the movements of the material but there was certainly some back and forth, with different villages and towns having distinct specialisms. The reputation of Coker canvas was so great that the Bridport manufacturers began to use the village in their address “Bridport, near Coker” to lend their products the same assurance of quality.
I had forgotten I’d visited Bridport a few years ago and by chance visited the Vintage Market at St Michael’s Trading Estate – a fantastic place if you’re ever in the area on the last Sunday of the month. I’d bought a netting needle there on my previous visit and recently I’ve been making a few nets with it. I have netted in the past for installations I’ve made, I even carved my own needle when I was making them before. It’s funny how I thought I’d forgotten the technique but my hands remembered what to do. Spare room studio shots below…
Nets may well appear in the work I make for the Ropewalkers exhibition and also possibly what is made with the flax that is currently growing and about four inches tall in my allotment). Ross Aitken (Director of the Coker Rope and Sail Trust) kindly lent me a whole pile of articles and books about the flax history and somewhere there was an anecdote about a fishing net so finely made that it fit through a wedding ring. A rather lovely poetic image that has stayed with me. Another that has persisted from this tiny booklet is the idea of ‘pladders’ – huge apple pies made by the ladies of the village to celebrate the flax harvest. I’ve looked in vain for a recipe so if anyone reading this knows more do let me know!
I’ll be heading back to Bridport later in June to do some research at the Local History Centre which has an extensive collection of photographs, nets and netting tools. I popped in last week after visiting Bridport Museum, pictures of some of the netting exhibits below (thanks to Bridport Museum Trust for permission to reproduce the images.)