Time-Lapse St Helena: The Flax Sorter
Cyril Legg, 74, Farmer, Levelwood | Sharon Henry
Time-Lapse is our new blog feature, a series of short time segments framing life and culture on St Helena, told through the words of people living on the island.
“I used to work in the flax mill sorting flax at Woody Ridge until I damaged my hand. It got chopped across the knuckles with a sickle, accidentally. After all these years I still can’t bend my fist.
“We used to put the flax bundles down in a hole and because flax came in different lengths we had to sort it. So this day when I took it out the cast, Lionie George chopped down with the sickle, he didn’t realise I was going to pull on the doors. That’s how it happened.”
“After that, I used to drive cattle to take the green bark out (flax waste) on to the field for animal feed.
“Just round the corner here used to be a flax mill, only the big wheel is left there now.
“I was just a boy when that mill was going, it was powered by anthracite. That big wheel that you can see sticking out of the ground used to be one of the pulleys to drive the engine that stripped the flax. Just over there was the office. Most all Levelwood people used to work in the flax mill.
“All around here was covered in flax; actually I helped to clear it out for pasture land in the later years, after the flax (industry) was finished.
“Then I went to Ascension to work for seven months, came back home and went work for PWD (Public Works Department.) Then I did 10 years of my own farming. Then I worked for A&F (Agriculture & Farming) until they cut labour that time so I went to work 3-Day.
“Nowadays I have animals and do bits in the garden. That’s why I’m scything grass, it’s feed for my cow, five goats and 15 sheep. I’ve always liked working with animals, been doing this since I was a boy.”
Between 1907 and 1966 flax production and processing was one of St Helena’s most successful industries. Flax fibre was exported to England and South Africa and used for rope and twine. The use of synthetic fibres reduced the demand for flax and the last island mill closed in 1966.