There's bodgers about in them woods and they're having a right good time
Saturday 30 September 1995
Bodgers used to roam the forests making chair legs from freshly felled trees. Now a group of people are trying to revive their ancient skills. That is why if you'd been to Clissett Wood near Ledbury in Herefordshire, you would have come across a woodwork class with a difference.
There is no electricity to power a lathe; instead, the students use their feet to operate a pole lathe in which the springiness of a sapling pulls a piece of string wound around whatever they are turning - chair legs, candlesticks or vases.
The classes are run by Mike Abbott and Gudrun Leitz who bought the 10-acre wood last year. Mike, 43, has taught green woodwork for a decade. Gudrun, 42, trained as a furniture-maker, but became tired of the noise in modern workshops and turned to green woodwork.
Between them they offer a variety of classes.The cheapest is Gudrun's two-day introductory course which costs pounds 60. At the other end of the range is Mike's nine-day course which takes in all the green woodwork skills and costs pounds 245.
Students can stay in local hotels, but most of them choose to bring tents which they set up in the wood, paying pounds l.50 a night. This is how the old bodgers lived - among the trees that provided their living.
Dominating the campsite is the workshop: a huge sheet of plastic placed over a framework of trees. On the bare earth beneath, eight workbenches are laid out with a pole lathe each. This is where the students spend their working day.
People choose the courses for all sorts of reasons. Denise Lorden, 23, works for an avionics company. Her boyfriend, Bill Pinnell, 24, is a software engineer. Many, like them, work in hi-tech occupations and find the slow, simple lifestyle of the bodger refreshingly unwinding. Bill said: "I've made a wooden egg. I intend to place it next to my computer to remind me of the differing technologies."
Rosie Rowe, 29, an information officer, went with her husband, James, an engineer. James made a three-legged stool, Rosie a dibber and a baby's rattle. She said: "It's fantastic - such a change from a busy office. It's wonderful camping in the wood. Not many people go to sleep with the sounds of hooting tawny owls."
Julian Pullen, 37, a software engineer, joined the course with his friend, an electronics designer, Ruben Aszkenasy, also 37. Julian made a three- legged stool and Ruben found a hazel branch in the woods which he turned into a candlestick.
The oldest student on the course was Eileen Moore, a 54-year-old widow. Eileen says she is absolutely mad about all things wooden. She carved a candlestick out of a very tough piece of yew. She held it proudly, and said: "Look at the depth of colouring, I shall always treasure it."
The bodging doesn't stop when the students go home. In between courses Mike Abbott makes chairs, and Gudrun Leitz turns out oak ballusters for the gallery of the Globe Theatre, now being restored in London.
If you want to book a place next year's courses, starting in April, contact Mike Abbott at Ragged Stone Cottage, Holly Bush, Ledbury, Herefordshire HR8 1ET (01531 635300).
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