It's a story about John and Graeme Rudd, Cumbria's last traditional wooden rakemakers. April 2009, North of England.
Technical data: Shot on 5dMark2 with Canon 24-70mm/2.8, Canon 50mm macro. Steadycam work with Nikon 28mm and Canon adaptor. Background Audio all 5dmark2, all other some 5dmark2, some on Marantz Audio device. Edit in Final Cut Pro with conversion to AppleRes.
Written piece by Tansy Sibley
In the Cumbrian village of Dufton, a traditional handcraft business - one of the few remaining businesses of its kind in the country - continues to thrive. Here, in a workshop that dates back to 1632, the Rudd family have been producing traditional wooden hay rakes for four generations. Founded by joiner John Rudd in 1890, the business is now run by John's grandson, John Henry Rudd, and his son, Graeme Rudd.
The setting of the business, an old workshop filled with tools and machines dating back to the 1940's and a fire roaring in an open hearth, evokes a feeling of nostalgia befitting of the craft practised here. Rather incongruously, a pair of old Doc Martin boots sporting a peace sign are to be found among the tools on one of the shelves. A relic from Graeme’s days as a ‘scooter boy’, explains his father.
Little appears to have changed since the time John Henry Rudd, now in his seventies, started making rakes here with his father as a young boy. The design of the rake - a six foot long shaft made from ash, with a head and sixteen teeth inserted into it - has not altered at all in his lifetime. “It’s been tried and tested for well over a hundred years, so it can’t be far wrong”, John explains. I don’t think someone’s going to invent something better than a wooden hay rake, really", agrees Graeme. “I think it would’ve been done by now”.
The biggest advancement came in 1949 when the business was mechanised by John’s father, John Joseph Rudd. Purpose-built machines were introduced, each aptly named to describe the task it performs. These include the “demon dentist precision driller” – for putting teeth in rather than removing them - and the “pencil pointer” for shaping the ends of the teeth into a pencil point shape. Remarkably, the machines survived a fire in 1982 that destroyed the workshop round the back from the old workshop in which they were housed, and to this day still proudly produce the rake components for which they were designed.
Although no longer used for their original purpose, the Rudds continue to produce close to a thousand rakes a month, mostly destined for golf courses, parks and gardens. Their light-weight design makes them ideal for raking golf bunkers and leaves. More unusually, one of their rakes even featured in the 1990 film 'Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, intended to be “in keeping with the time of Robin Hood”.
Sidelines to the rake making business have included undertaking. The Rudds originally produced wooden coffins, which were stored in the room above the old workshop, later getting them in pre-made. Although this line of work came to an end about ten years ago, the pair still do the odd spot of grave digging for Dufton Church. “You couldn’t make a living from it!” jokes Graeme. “There’s not many [people] dying these days”.
The Rudds appear to be quietly proud of the work they do, “carrying on a tradition where traditions are dying out”. There are not many traditional country craft businesses left nowadays. There is certainly no-one else in the country producing the number of wooden hay rakes John and Graeme produce each month.
As far as the future of the craft is concerned, "you just keep hoping that people are going to keep wanting rakes", says Graeme, although Graeme may be the last generation of the Rudd family to keep the business alive. His young son, Matthew, aged seven, has yet to show any interest in rake making and Graeme is keen for him to make up his own mind about what he wants to do in the future.
Three o’ clock is tea-time and the pair take a well-earned break, each pulling up a chair each by the fire. During break times Graeme often reads the paper and the pair - both avid Liverpool supporters – like to discuss football. “A nice fire like that, after you’ve done an afternoon’s work, you can soon drop to sleep”, muses John. The pace of life here seems to be gentle, to say the least. With just the two of them working together, they often see no-one else during the course of a working day. Occasionally farmers will pop by for saw dust. “It’s just the two of us mainly", explains Graeme.
When asked what makes a good rake maker, John replies “A good pair of hands” The two men still have all their fingers intact, despite working on machines for so many years. "A lot of people will work on machines for a couple of weeks and lose two fingers", remarks John.
Five o’ clock and it is time to shut up shop for another day. Although the long-term future is uncertain, and Graeme is starting to wonder if the business will survive until he is ready to retire, it seems that there are still plenty more rakes to be made here, at least for a few more years to come.