Teasel Growing

Teasels are also commonly spelled Teasle, Teazle and Teazel.

The Fuller’s Teasel (Dipsacus Fullonum) was formerly widely used in textile processing, providing a natural comb for cleaning, aligning and raising the nap on fabrics, particularly wool. The dried flower heads were attached to spindles, wheels, or cylinders, sometimes called teasel frames, to raise the nap on fabrics (that is, to tease the fibres). By the 20th century, teasels were largely replaced by metal cards, which could be made uniform and do not require constant replacement as the teasel heads wear. However, some people who weave wool still prefer to use teasels for raising the nap, claiming that the result is better; in particular, if a teasel meets serious resistance in the fabric, it will break, whereas a metal tool would rip the cloth.

Teasel growing was introduced into Yorkshire in the middle of the 18th century in order to supply the growing woollen industry in the West Riding. The plant prefers heavy clay soil as found in the Vale of York and the proximity to Leeds, which was the main market for Teasels, gave the area an advantage over the traditional growing area in Somerset. However, the volumes grown in Yorkshire never outweighed those from the West Country as the warmer climate there allowed a longer growing season.

Although, at its height, the growing district in the Vale of York was quite extensive the main growing area was centred in the area around Sherburn in Elmet and South Milford. Maximum production seems to have been around 1850 and owing to increasing competition from imports and declining demand, the industry died out almost completely very early in the twentieth century.

The organisation of the growing trade was largely determined by the peculiarities of the plant. It is a biennial requiring two years to reach maturity and it takes a lot out of the soil and therefore had to be rotated. It was labour intensive, requiring repeated weeding with a long wait of 18 months or so before any return was likely to be seen. The risk of loss remained to the very end, for damp weather at the time when they were ready for cutting would rot and destroy the crop. This, in addition to the vagaries of market prices, made the business a notoriously speculative one. It was for this reason that the trade was dominated by professional growers often known as ‘tazzle men’.

The farmer would provide the land at an agreed rent, plough it before planting the seed and hoe the plants on one occasion. The grower assumed responsibility for the investment and arranged for all the other activities necessary some of which may be provided by the farmer under a separate agreement. Part of the attraction for the farmer lay in the fact that the intensive and repeated weeding cleaned the ground for the following crop, usually winter wheat.

The growers had to have some capital to put at risk and the freedom to see the crop through its two years in the field and then arrange for its harvesting, drying and marketing. They were often farmers themselves or sometimes shopkeepers, butchers or innkeepers.  Local growers included the Bortofts of South Milford, the Broomheads of Sherburn and the Wrightsons of Church Fenton.

Harvesting the crop began in July or August when the purple coloured blossom on the ‘king’ teasel at the head of the main stalk had fallen. Every effort was made to cut the stalks as they became ready. Many of the cutters were women, however children and other casual workers were brought in during their holidays from other jobs. The ‘queen’ or intermediate growth was cut next and then finally the basal ‘buttons’, which although worth less were also carefully collected. Each teasel was cut with about 9 inches of stalk and made up into bunches of 50 with the last one cut with a longer stalk with which to fasten the rest. Before the end of the day they were collected by men who went along the rows with poles, onto which they pushed the bunches. They were stored under cover to dry in temporary wooden sheds or ‘ellums’ constructed with poles, open sided with the ¬†roofs made of brushwood thatched with straw or canvas. The illustration below shows an ellum with Sherburn church in the background.


When completely dry, the teasles were moved indoors to be made up into traditional ‘stavs’, or to be boxed. In some cases, growers rented empty barns. However some had purpose built storehouses of their own. James Bortoft & sons had their own shed in South Milford for the teasels they grew, purchased and probably also imported.

Making up began with the opening out on the floor of the dried bunches from the ellums. The projecting sepals were then cut off with scissors. The ‘maker up’ was often an elderly man. He first took six larger and four smaller teasles, arranging them in a fan. The stalks were then tied with a piece of green willow, the completed bunch called a ‘glen’. The glens were then pushed onto a hazel rod about 4 feet in length, which had been split almost to one end. The first ones formed a circle and then gradually built up into a cylindrical shape or ‘stav’ containing 30 glens in all. They were then made up into packs of 45 stavs, so that each pack consisted of 13,500 teasles. Later on the teasles were sometimes boxed according to size and with the stalks trimmed to the length specified by the receiving mill.

The principal commercial centre for Yorkshire teasels was Leeds which had become important for manufacturing superfine broadcloths, which required a heavy consumption of teasles. Each year dealers from the Yorkshire growing district, along with others from the West country, waited on orders from the cloth dressers at a number of inns in the town. After the middle of the nineteenth century the supply trade seems to have come increasingly under the control of a small number of merchants who were acting as middlemen between growers and consumers. One of these was South Milford dealer James Bortoft whose firm handled much of the Yorkshire supply trade up to World War 1.

Although rail transport was used to deliver the teasles to some extent, the normal way was by road. Horse drawn wagons would leave early in the morning to deliver to Leeds or the Wakefield area, returning that evening.

Acknowledgement: The Yorkshire Teazle Growing Trade by R A McMillan published in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 1984

Farms in 1911

In the 1911 census there are a total of 56 farms listed on the census returns making up the three Enumerator Districts of Sherburn and South Milford Parishes. This demonstrates the enormous changes over the last 100 years in the way the land is farmed, from labour intensive small holdings to the large, highly mechanised farms of today. In 1911 26% of local employment was in farming.

Name of Farm Farmer Location
Milford Lodge William Morley Common Lane, SM close to Gascoigne Wd Jn.
Melton Leys George Riley Close to Bishop Wood and Rest Park
Hagg Farm Christopher Eshelby Gascoigne Wood
Milford Common Farm Robert Potter Not found
Milford Grange Joseph Cromack On Milford Common beyond Maltings
Steeton Hall Peter Porter Whitecoat Lane, SM
Scatt House Thomas Atkinson Junction of Westfield La and old A1
Peckfield Lodge Charles Goode On Old A1
Pointer House Edward Hills On Old A1 at junction with Sherburn Rd
Not named Thomas Blackburn High Street, SM near Milford House
Bond Bridge Farm Robert Hill High Street, South Milford
Bridge House George Farrow Low Street near Swan, SM
Croft House Robert Hill Not found
Low Mill Walter Ledger Mill Lane, South Milford
Low Street Farm Thomas Bradley Low Street, SM corner of Common Lane
Low Beulah Farm James Hill, Low Street, South Milford
The Poplars Gibson Bartoft, Low Street, South Milford
Westfield Farm John Carr High Street, South Milford
Not named Sarah Bartoft High Street, SM next to Thack (Inglenook now)
Sherburn Mill James Wood Mill Lane, South Milford
Not named Francis Bramley Low Street, West side, Sherburn
Not named William Wainwright Kirkgate, south side, East of Foresters
Not named John Rowley Kirkgate, south side, West of Foresters
Not named Henry Hey Kirkgate, south side,West of Foresters
Manor House Farm William Dennison Church Hill
Highfield House Arthur Dennison Church Hill
Burtree Bank Farm John Steel Church Hill
The Lindens John Bramley, Church Hill
Church Gates Farm Jane Clancy Church Hill
Croft Farm George Hill Kirkgate, North side
Not named Harry Pullan Kirkgate, North side
Cold Hill House Jeannie Wither Cold Hill (Sir John’s Lane)
Nordin Barn Farm George Smith, Off Common Lane, South Milford
Bond Ings Farm Tom Hodgson, Off bypass
Prospect House Henry Farrer, Milford Road, Sherburn
Not named Joseph Sissons, Low Street, East side
Not named Tom Marsall Low Street, East side
Not named Benj Mason Low Street, East side
Not named William Wainwright, Low Street, East side
Not named Ellen Wheldrick Low Street, East side
White Swan Isabel Simpson The Cross
Not named Benjamin Paver High Street (Finkle Hill)
Not named Walter Rainbow High Street (next to Police station)
Common Farm Tom Jones Sherburn Common
Wheatsheaf Inn James Rainbow Moor Lane
Grange Farm Elizabeth Ambler Now Trading Estate
Sherburn Lodge Thomas Hey Fenton Lane
Half Moon Inn Henry Wrigglesworth Bishopdyke Road
Ash Row Farm Edwin Sykes North of Bishopdyke Road
Rest Park Robert Lamb South of Bishopdyke Road
North Sweeming James Marshall Bishopdyke Road
Not named Charles Helm Rest Park
Not named Thomas Riley Rest Park
Not named Charles Longfield Lennerton
Lennerton Lodge Harry Fern, Lennerton
Not named William Knowles Lennerton