Coracle Shed

Eustace Rogers usually made the traditional type coracles of ash slats and pitched and tarred calico.  One day as he was working in his garden constructing a coracle,  a visitor arrived at his gate. The man introduced himself to Eusty and asked whether he had ever made a coracle from animal skins  like the ones the Ancient Britons had used. He told Eusty about  one he had seen in a Scottish museum. Eusty  was interested and told the visitor he would “have a go”. He obtained some bullock hide from a local abattoir and dried and cured it over several days. No one had told him about how to go about the procedure, but coracle making, from whatever material, was  in his blood.

 

 

 

He stretched the hide over a framework of willow wands and secured everything together with horsehair rope. The  silky fur of the bullock was the ‘inside’ of the coracle, and Eusty  left the tail hanging on it. The outside, which was to be in contact with the water, was completely waterproof and did not need to be tarred and pitched as it would with calico. Eusty always said, “Everything comes from nature. This is how primitive man made his boat. He made it this way, because it is the best way. The shape of the hide makes the shape of the boat.”

 

From Gentlemen of the River by Phyllis Blakemore

 

Making a coracle

Eustace Rogers interviewed in 1975 at his house in Ironbridge by Graham Woodruff of Telford Community Arts.

 

EUSTACE ROGERS ON CORACLE  MAKING

Well, from scratch, I wouldn’t like to make a coracle in less than a fortnight.  But most of that time is took up by it standing there (he points to coracle in shed). When it’s being made – what we term as its skeleton form - it is made on this table.  But the actual time I’m spending on it might be in the region of twenty or thirty hours

Now, I have a hell of a game to get everything.  A hell of a game. A hell of a game to get timber. We went forty mile a fortnight ago to get timber and the tar. We used to go to Griffiths timber yard.  They’d saw it out while you waited there, back home again, you’d got your timber. Go and get your calico.  You’d take your can to the gasworks, a gallon o’ tar or two gallon, as easy as that.

I don’t know how I’m going to survive for tar, because we’ve got no gas works now. . . . So I have to use bitumen.  But I find by using bitumen, I should be out of business soon because I should be bloody dead.  The fumes from it, it plays hell with your . . . . and I’m led to believe that it would eventually . . . . You see, you’re over the boiling pot.  It’s alright using bitumen cold but this has got to be boiling to impregnate the cloth, see.  You treat it on the outside and the sun drives it through.  It’s got to be boiling hot, the weather’s got to be hot and the stuff that you are applying has got to be hot.

What I do if I’ve got plenty of orders, I mean business, I will have them at various stages.  I’m not standing about waiting for that paint to dry or anything.  I’ll get on to the next one and have them at various stages, see. And they didn’t mind years ago what shape they were or how rough they were. As long as they would float, that’s all they wanted. They didn’t want anything elaborate.  They just wanted it to float.

Now, the purpose of the coracle is dying out.  See, when I was going to school, you’d see maybe six or eight men with them.  But if you saw a man with a coracle on his back, you knew he didn’t regard it as a pleasure thing, you knew he’d got something somewhere that was going to get him something to eat or get a copper or two . . . it was a means of survival for him.

When I take it out now, it’s only just a bit of pleasure and to keep my hand in, sort of thing.

 

From the Telford Community Arts Archive