Fred Mizen

Fred Mizen from Great Bardfield Essex was an extraordinary Corn Dolly maker. He made these giant exhibits of the Lion and Unicorn for the Festival of Britain in London in 1951.  They were seven feet tall and took about six months to build.

This recently discovered picture shows examples of Fred's work .It includes Bird tables, Anchor, Windmills, and Shepherds crooks.

Fred also made these giant figures of the Malting Maid and Barley Queen.  They were commissioned by Lord Gretton and were used at the front of his display at Agricultural shows.  My father ( Bill Mizon ) was also involved with these exhibitions making straw trees and large Corn Dolly signs. He also repaired the Malting Maid and Barley Queen for Lord Gretton in later years.

The Barley Queen.

Fred is pictured with the Malting Maid & Barley Queen.

For further information about Fred Mizen visit
  Pieces of Fred Mizens work can be seen at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) at Reading University, and  there are also pieces at the Cottage Museum , Great Bardfield and at Braintree Museum,  both in Essex.
A visit to The Guild of Straw Craftsmen's website is also recommended


Giant Figures and Giant Trees

Thatching has been in the Mizon family for many, many years. My father, Bill, learnt to thatch with a really good Master Thatcher called Mr. Gillson, and my brother Paul and I learnt from our father. Although Bill's father Ernest was not a Thatcher, he did help Bill thatching, and generations before him were Thatchers.
In the days when my dad was working, you would get paid weekly by the farmer whose cottages you were working on - and this money had to be passed straight on to the Master Thatcher. My mum, Heather, tells of a great grandfather (or was it a great great grandfather?) who was thatching at a tenant's cottage and asked the lady for a drink of water, as he didn't feel very well. The lady refused, as she thought he had been drinking the night before (which he had not) and he dropped down dead at the bottom of the ladder!
Bill repaired the Malting Maid and the Barley Queen in the late sixties. They arrived in a green van (the same van collected them later) and caused quite a stir, with all the neighbours looking to see what they were. Bill took the afternoon off, so he was there when they arrived. They had been carted around a lot, and were a bit tatty. Lord Gretton had asked Bill to repair them, and came to the house in Audley Way, Horseheath, to discuss the said task. My mum has clear memories of this: "I remember his visit quite well" she said "We knew Lord Gretton was coming, so I hurried around and dusted and polished the front room. Well, it's not every day you have a Lord come to visit you. Anyway, when he arrived, Bill took him straight through the front room into the kitchen - and that was in a bit of a muddle, as I hadn't got round to tidying up in there. I remember Lord Gretton had a cup of tea with us, as he didn't want any milk. Bill took him down the garden to show him something, but I'm not sure what they were looking at, maybe something in the shed where Bill did a lot of his work."
The Malting Maid and the Barley Queen were put into the spare downstairs room (called the den) and were there for about six months. Bill repaired them on and off in his spare time, but he was very busy thatching during the day, and in the evenings he liked a pint of beer at his local. Paul remembers they were made up of iron hoops, the straw was tied to the hoops with thin twine, and the heads came off. We are not sure what Bill charged for the repair, but a cheque was received, amount unknown. Bill was known for his generosity, so we think the amount wouldn't have been great. He was always making bird tables etc. and then giving them away to people. As far as we know, Bill only repaired the figures the once.
The straw trees arrived a year or so later. The picture shows them where we stored them at a farm four miles from Horseheath. We still have a letter from Lord Gretton, he enclosed a copy of
The Brewing Trade Review of August 1966 which has a colour picture of "The Barley Mow" (the brewing and malting industry's exhibit which travelled around the county shows). You can see the figures of the Malting Maid and the Barley Queen standing at the entrance to the marquee, flanked by the huge straw "trees". There is also a good photograph of the spiral plaited sign "Barley" that Bill made to signpost the entrance.
Bill was asked to do Thatching demonstrations at a number of County Shows; he probably got involved through Reg Lambeth of the Rural Industries Bureau. At the Peterborough Show around 1966, Bill demonstrated Thatching while Paul made Corn Dollies (and sold quite a large number of them). We are still making straw birds and Corn Dollies at Horseheath today.

Brian Mizon

Straw Trees