Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


0121.  The Greenham Common women lived in benders made with hazel [Balham, London, October 2023; between 1981 and 2000 the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp occcupied a site at Greenham to protest against nuclear weapons being based at the local RAF station.  Benders, traditionally used by traveller families, consisted of hazel branches bent to form arches with a tarpaulin secured over them].

2. When I was small gypsies used to come to our door selling orange chrysanthemums that I thought were made of hazel.  I know they used to camp in a hazel coppice close to Sherborne [Dorset].  The wooden flowers were the size of a good double chrysanthemum and had wonderful swirly ‘petals’ [Orpington, Kent, March 2015].

0103.  [1940s] Grandfather made us bows and
arrows from the hazel sticks with binder-
twine (normally used with the binder for tying the wheat and barley into sheaves) [Tregaer, Monmouthshire, October 2013].

4. When I was a child growing up on the Dorset/Devon/Somerset borders in the late 1950s a family of gypsies would occasionally camp beside a small road leading off the main Crewkerne to Chard road, near the pub at Windwhistle. My parents used to like to see inside their caravan, which was a traditional wooden one, and to strike up a conversation they would ask if the gypsies had any clothes pegs for sale, as ‘gypsy clothes pegs were always best’. Some pegs were produced. They were made from hazel twigs, about seven inches long and one and a half inches thick. One end was crudely trimmed so that it was bluntly pointed, and the twig was split for about two-thirds of its length from this end. At the end of the split a band of shiny metal, presumably taken from an old tin can, was tacked around the twig to prevent the split from spreading.
Although my parents claimed to prefer gypsy clothes pegs, in fact my mother preferred commercially produced wooden pegs, which were more efficient when it came to holding clothes in place during windy weather [Tooting, London, July 2013].

5. Hazel – small forked branches are used in water divining. I have tried this and it seems to work [Ludlow, Shropshire, March 2012].

6. [c.1930] I well remember some of the gypsies as they used to settle on Beaminster Down which joined our farm. They were not bad, but used to cut hazel sticks from our hedges to make clothes pegs [Thorncombe, Dorset, August 2003].

7. Three pointed hazel sticks driven into the ground were used to place a curse on an adversary. You uttered your imprecation while planting the sticks and an evil result was said to follow.
A rod taken from a hazel bush has been used for generations by people divining for water [Ballymote, Co. Sligo, May 1994].

8. [1940s] As a child I lived for a while in the village of Wye in east Kent … It was well known that fresh hazel nuts are a strong aphrodisiac, although we did not know that name of course [Alton, Hampshire, June 1993].

9. Lots of nuts in the autumn means lot of babies next spring [Charmouth, Dorset, January 1993].

10. Hazel (Corylus avellana) – stock owners would never use a hazel stick to drive cattle to a market or fair, because it was associated with bad luck [Cong, Co. Mayo, January 1992].

Images: main, Barretts Green Road, London Borough of Brent, July 2014; top inset, ‘wooden flowers’ being made at the Morden Hall Park Country May Fayre, London Borough of Merton, 2 May 2015; second inset, completed flower; third inset, dyed ‘flowers’, Bourne Hall Museum, Ewell, Surrey, September 2022; fourth inset, gypsy clothes pegs, Bourne Hall Museum; fifth inset, Denham Country Park, Buckinghamshire, December 2014; lowest inset, coppiced hazel, near Harlington, Bedfordshire, April 2021.