Giant Figures and Giant Trees
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!
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.
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.
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