Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


1. I was shown how to make these whistles by my father [b.1891] and my grandfather. My brother Den [b.1919] was good at making these whistles and also made gypsies’ clothes pegs, using hazel twigs and oxo tin metal.
You need to find a straight stem of sycamore, about as thick as your middle finger, with the sap rising – just as the buds are emerging. Cut through the bark leaving a length of about 4 inches in between (1). Soak the twig in water for about a minute, then carefully hit it with a knife handle or another twig, so that the bark of the piece of twig between the cuts can be gently twisted off. When it is possible to remove the stick from inside the bark, cut through the stick and bark, leaving the stick 4 inches long, with loose bark. About three-quarters of an inch from the top of the stick cut a mouth-shaped notch (2). Remove the inner stick, and cut off the bit above the notch. Cut a bit off this smaller piece of stick, so that it appears as (3) in cross-section. Then put it back inside the bark, and blow. The sound can be varied by moving the lower (larger) piece of stick [Thorncombe, Dorset, April 1990].

Image: Tooting Common, London Borough of Wandsworth; March 2014.