I was, initially, amused to say the least when I wandered around The Truggery’s website and saw Sarah Page’s blog about the Association of Sussex Trug Basket Makers that was formed in 2015. She sites one of the reasons for the decline in the making of the traditional Sussex Trug as being the “explosion in production of plywood copies”. She accuses people of being “duped into being sold a passable lookalike”. She also accuses the plywood makers of marketing plywood Trugs as being “genuine”. How much respect does that show for the people who buy Trugs of any sort???? So it sort of got my back up at that point and I don’t mind admitting it.
Well, folks, I make the genuine South Down Contemporary Sussex Trug and I am damned well proud of it! I consider plywood Trugs made in Sussex to be genuine Sussex Trugs, just of a different style to the traditional Sussex Trug and made with different woods. The plywood Trug was invented in Sussex by two men of Sussex and they were given a Design Centre Award for their creation. We’ve obviously got under Sarah’s skin with our highly successful South Down Contemporary Sussex Trug made of plywood.
She goes on to say that “every time a real Sussex Trug is chosen over a plywood copy helps keep this traditional craft alive”. She also asks people to “object if they see the name Sussex Trug being used for an inferior copy”. Well, let me put the record straight once and for all Mrs. Page because, without the formation of my company in 1983 there would likely not be any traditional Sussex Trugs made in Sussex anymore!
The material costs for plywood Trugs is far in excess of those for traditional Trugs and there is skill involved in their making. They are not “cheap” – the ones we make are of a very high quality and I sold them to the Crown Estate for over 20 years where they were re-sold through Saville Gardens on Windsor Great Park all of that time. I reckon that must give more of a true reflection of our quality than the ravings of someone who obviously does not understand anything about the making of plywood Trugs.
I own Cuckmere Trug Company and Thomas Smith’s Trugs and Thomas Smith’s were the original Sussex Trug and all other traditional Trugs are copies of our company’s!! In 1989 Thomas Smith’s Trug Shop in Herstmonceux was going to close down because of problems with the local council concerning noise. My brother Peter and I were making our plywood Trugs at Lower Dicker at that time and we advertised for traditional Trug makers in order to expand our inventory and to help preserve the traditional craft, giving jobs to those skilled people who would, otherwise, have been made redundant. Mike Charlton who owned Smith’s at that time telephoned me and asked if I would like to buy the company before it closed. Peter and I were joined by Anna Piper and Frank Odell, two German friends of ours and we purchased Charlton’s business and moved our operations to Herstmonceux, combining the two types of Trug in one company but retaining our two trading styles. Thus we saved the original TRADITIONAL Trug making business from closing down – you know the plywood Trug makers that are responsible for the decline of traditional Trug making!
Today there are three commercial traditional Trug makers in Sussex, ourselves (we open six days a week), The Truggery (opens three mornings a week – maybe) and The Trug Store (don’t say when they are open on their website). Peter Marden who works part time at The Truggery learnt his skills in my workshop. Dominic Parrette who also works part time at The Truggery worked for me for a short period of time and was trained in Trug making, I believe, by Peter Marden. Charlie Groves who owns The Trug Store and makes a comment on his website “Don’t be fooled by cheap plywood imitations” was engaged by me when he left school and learnt to make, wait for it………plywood Trugs, before I moved him to my traditional workshop where he learnt his traditional Trug making skills. Just as a point of interest, before we combined the two companies our plywood Trugs were selling at the same price as the traditional version.
So, Mrs. Page and the Association of Sussex Trug Basket Makers, without the plywood Trug business my brother and I started there would be no traditional Sussex Trugs made in Sussex anymore!!
The Association of Sussex Trug Basket Makers is a grand sounding name and comprises Charlie Groves and the Truggery staff and a couple of others as I understand it. Their stated aim is to “protect and preserve the craft and tradition of Sussex Trug Making, something that I have been doing for the past 27 years – longer than any of the Association’s members have been in the Trug Industry, apart from one person. I have worked tirelessly for the past almost 34 years to ensure the preservation of our Industry and the fact that my competitors are there making Trugs is down to that work and dedication.
The objectives of the Association state that they will “work towards preparing an apprenticeship formula fit for purpose”. Good thing that, except you cannot have an apprentice if you only work part time! To put this in perspective, they are working towards preparing a formula but I have actually been engaging and training apprentices for the past six years and am just about to engage another. I am not procrastinating about it – I am doing it! AND, my “formula” is definitely fit for purpose as I have a dedicated team of lads who work damned hard! My apprenticeship is very intensive and lasts for three years.
As for promoting the Sussex Trug, I have, for many years, been attending shows in the United Kingdom and mainland Europe, carrying the message to all who will listen. In September this year we were featured in an article in one of Germany’s top newspapers, spreading the message now not at some indeterminate time in the future when it is too late. We’ve also been on television many times both in the U.K., mainland Europe and twice in Japan.
What is a “Sussex Trug”? In my opinion it is a Trug made in Sussex, whether it be a traditional or contemporary version. Mrs. Page and her Association may have their own opinion but she does not help their cause or the wider cause for preserving our craft by stating opinion as being fact or by repeatedly denouncing what is, after all, a fact of life – plywood Trugs are made and they are here to stay, so live with it! I have done more to promote the industry and our craft than any other living being and I am damned well proud of the two high quality versions I make of the Sussex Trug. The Association of Sussex Trug Basket Makers needs to stop griping and get on with putting their stated aims and objectives into action rather than denouncing the opposition as charlatans and, perhaps, even consider working with me towards a common cause. That’s sensible isn’t it? And it would be far more productive than fighting amongst ourselves.
Robin Tuppen, Owner of Cuckmere Trug Company and Thomas Smith’s Trugs, the original Trug Makers from Herstmonceux.
P.S. I was never asked to join the Association, probably because I make the accursed plywood Trugs.