What is a wimbrel?

Well, a whimbrel is a curlew bird but, at Market Lavington Museum, we have this tool and its record card states it is a wimbrel.

wimbrel snip

A wimbrel at Market Lavington Museum

It is basically a cranked metal hook with two wooden handles. (Larger dictionaries define a wimble as an auger or brace, with a cranked handle for boring.) Our cranked wimbrel was not used for boring, but for twisting straw into rope.

This could have been used for tying sheaves of corn, which had been cut with the ears still attached to their straw stalks. The corn was tied into bundles known as sheaves, which were then stood up in stooks to dry in the field before threshing.

This process has now been replaced in the days of combine harvesters, though we still see sheaves in Wiltshire fields, where long stemmed wheat varieties have been grown to produce thatching straw.

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Stooks at Marden, Wiltshire 2018

Straw rope is also used for thatching. The Weald and Downland Museum in West Sussex has a list of thatching tools, giving many alternative names for our wimbrel tool. It can also be known as a whimble, a whimbrel, a wimble, a womble, a haybond twister or a scud winder.

Our wimbrel is said to date from the late 19th or early 20th century. It was given to the museum in 1986 by a lady who lived on Market Lavington’s High Street, but we do not know if it was used by a farmer or a thatcher.

2 Responses to “What is a wimbrel?”

  1. John Young Says:

    When I lived at Cornbury Farm, West Lavington in 1953 I recall a thatcher who I only knew as ‘Badger’ re-thatching a barn using a tool like this although I din’t know the name of it at the time. However the Late A.W. (Bert) Coxhead of The Homestead Dairy, Littleton Panell used to twist the straw by hand for tying sheaves from his reaper around this time. He later bought an Albion binder which automatically tied the sheaves with twine – when it worked properly! Mr Perry from Market Lavington would then do the threshing with his drum and Field Marshall tractor. Around 1958 Mr Perry went modern with a Massey Harris combine which bagged the grain in 2 cwt hessian sacks.

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