The Verwood and District Potteries Trust

Mr. John Haskell

Area index

A Verwood broom-maker

The following appeared in the Dorset Year Book 1938 on page 98.

Hand Made Brooms


By Helen Jones

Many old English crafts are fast dying out, but in the little Dorset village of Verwood, Mr. John Haskell still follows the craft of his grandfather, making brooms by hand.

A visit to this maker of brooms is like stepping back a century, for here is no mass production but a man working alone in a thatched shed surrounded by the time honoured implements of his trade, a wooden bench, broom sticks, a old fashioned Dorset hook, and stacks of heather and twigs. Busy in the open air with the song of birds for company we found Mr. Haskell willing to tell us of his craft which has almost died out.

His introduction to the work came when he was ten years old for then he spent his holidays gathering bundles of heather for his father. At that time heather was commonly used for brooms but now birch is preferred. This comes from the New Forest or from Lord Shaftesbury's pheasant coppices. The twigs are stacked neatly in one corner of the garden and covered with rough thatching to protect them from the weather.

Leaving school Mr. Haskell was taught the craft by his father. The first part of the broom to be made is the handle. A strong, straight birch branch is chosen and the twigs stripped off. The wood is then held in a vice while a "shaver." removes the bark and smooths it before a sharp point is made at one end.

Finishing a broom
Mr. Haskell at work

When the handle is ready a bundle of heather or birch is tied together as tightly as possible with thin twigs. Long ago "sleets" were used to bind the broom twigs together. These sleets were thin shavings about a yard long cut from hazel sticks. To obtain them required considerable skill for a slit was made at the top of the stick while fingers and teeth ran the shavings down the stick.

The next thing is to hold the bundle firm and with a wooden mallet drive the handle deep into it. After that the handle has to be bored just above the broom and a small wooden peg driven into the hole in much the same way as a spade is rivetted. The broom is now finished ready for use after much thoughtful and skilled manual labour which makes the broom a real craftsman-like article.

Hand made brooms were formerly much in demand for sweeping out stables and yards but the advent of motor cars has made then scarcely necessary. Fortunately there are still lawns and gardens to be swept.

Before leaving we were told of a use for brooms certainly not common today. In olden days a broom was often built into the wall of a house in the hope that it might bring good luck to the occupiers. As late as 1930 while alterations were being made to Dale House in Salisbury Street, Blandford, a broom was discovered built into a solid partition wall.