John ‘Dog’ Collister….Rushes….19.1.12….John Slater


I was a little anxious about this event. Given the large numbers who attend our meetings, I wondered how everyone could be involved in following instructions in the ancient craft skills using rushes.

My concerns were swept away in moments. John’s lovely, gentle manner had us all under his spell within moments.  He had a long table at the front with piles of rushes, completed examples of a wide range of articles and a glamorous, though bearded, assistant, introduced to us as Kevin. He leapt into action at intervals, in between making pieces, himself.
John paid credit to George Quayle who had taught him, including many ancient legends associated with this craft. George’s book, Legends of a Lifetime was recommended reading.
Traditionally, reeds were used for thatching spud butts, stacks in the yard but not on houses. They were used to cover earth floors, in houses, making bee skeps and are still used on the processional way at Tynwald.
Another important use was in making rush lights as a cheap alternative to candles. They might just be dipped in tallow or, better still, a mixture of bees’ wax and tallow. All ingredients were found to hand and did not involve any extra expense. We were showed how to strip off most of the bark by pulling over the thumb as an anvil which prevented tearing. One strip was left on to give some rigidity. The strips pulled off weren’t wasted but made into rope.
Amongst the items we were shown were playthings such as rattles, bumbee (Bumble Bee) cages, St Bridget Crosses, hot mats, egg cups and goodness knows what else. Children used to weave a bumbee cage, leaving a hole at one end. They caught a Bumble Bee on a flower and pushed it into the cage, completed the cage trapping the insect inside. This was then used as a rattle!
The tradition was that bumbees were fairies that had been naughty and were changed into bees by the fairy captain, sentenced to bumble around for the rest of their lives. However, when the children were asleep, parents would release the bee, replacing it with stones to maintain the rattle. In the morning, the children were told that the fairy captain had released them as they had completed their punishment!
Following more delightful tales came refreshments followed by practical sessions where we tried our hands at making various articles. John, generously, gave a number of items to members who had birthdays on particular dates. This was an amusing version of pantomime when sweets are thrown into the audience,
We brought home an instruction sheet on making a bumbee cage. I’ll have to have a go!
John and Kevin, thanks for a lovely evening.
Our next meeting is on Wednesday, 15th February at 7.30 in the Centenary Centre. Ian Young will give a slide show on his boat trips along the coast from Peel plus our brisk AGM. Not to be missed!