Time-Lapse St Helena: The Flax Sorter

Cyril Legg, 74, from Levelwood, St Helena, on his way home with feed for his animals. Time-Lapse St Helena: Cyril Legg

Cyril Legg, 74, from Levelwood, St Helena, on his way home with feed for his animals.
Time-Lapse St Helena: Cyril Legg

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.”

Cyril Legg, in Levelwood scything grass to feed 15 sheep, 5 goats and 1 cow. Time-Lapse St Helena: Cyril Legg

Cyril Legg, in Levelwood scything grass to feed 15 sheep, 5 goats and 1 cow.
Time-Lapse St Helena: Cyril Legg

Old rusting remains of a flax mill that once operated in Levelwood. Time-Lapse St Helena: Cyril Legg

Old rusting remains of a flax mill that once operated in Levelwood.
Time-Lapse St Helena: Cyril Legg

“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.”

Learning a little flax industry 'time-lapse' story with Cyril Legg while he cuts grass feed. Time-Lapse St Helena: Cyril Legg

Learning a little flax industry ‘time-lapse’ story with Cyril Legg while he cuts grass feed.
Time-Lapse St Helena: Cyril Legg

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.

19 thoughts on “Time-Lapse St Helena: The Flax Sorter

  1. Lovely to read this account of the flax industry and see the photographs. Did the Deason brothers run Woody Ridge?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How lovely to see my Uncle Cyril on here, my Dad, Basil Legg, Cyril’s brother will be so pleased to see this. Great photographs would love copies if possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gone are those days,I always say if the old folks had to see how the Island are going they would not be impressed. I use to go after school to take the donkeys to Broad Bottom Mill and get flax bark for my dads cattle and donkeys. Thanks for sharing and I take my hat off to Mr.Legg!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s amazing how the island has changed in just a few generations – even with you having ‘chores’ after school and using donkeys. Thank you for sharing 🙂

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  4. I am so glad to see this. I always wished someone would do a human interest column in the paper. It is so nice to read about what generations before us did and how they survived with limited resources. None of them ever complained and they were always grateful for what little they had. It should be captured in their words before it is gone forever…

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    • Thanks Helen – it’s an idea we’ve been toying with for a while to capture the actual people of St Helena, young and old. We love hearing people’s stories. 🙂

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  5. Showed the photos to my children and grandchildren. We all love the second photo with the bail of grass over his shoulder. Is there any chance I could buy this photo of you please .in the first one he reminded me so much of my darling dad when I was at home X

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  6. Time Lapse: Great idea! Hope to have one each week.
    I don’t know Cyril of Warren’s Gut, Levelwood, but I remember visiting former postmaster Reginald Legg at Thorn Cottage, Levelwood, in 1997.

    However, I read in old papers that Cyril Legg did very well in the Agricultural Competition 2003-2004 with his cattle and goats.
    And in the 1975 Competition, judged 14th October, Cyril was 3rd (with Arnold Thomas) in the category of Vegs Garden.

    Concerning the Flax industry: this is quite a story for itself. A Danish lady made a film about the island in which Mr Thorpe explained in detail the procedures in flax manufacturing of the days gone by.
    As far as I know Governor Field had ordered the two leading flax processing company’s managers to his office on December 25, 1965, telling them that from now on the basic weekly salary would have to be £5. This, by the way, was just one tenth of the weekly average pay in England.
    This meant the end of the flax industry on St Helena.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Manfred – we’re planning to do this feature once a month. Wow that’s amazing archival information about Cyril – unfortunately Agricultural Competitions no longer exist today. Interesting facts also about the flax industry and it’s unfortunate demise. So glad we got talking to Cyril and found this little bit of St Helena history.

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  7. What a lovely surprise to see my lovely brother featured in your blog now I know why you were going to Levelwood. . Thank you you have made my day I haven’t seen him for 2005 .once again a great read

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are welcome Shirley! Cyril such a lovely man and didn’t mind us barging in to ask for a photo! Got chatting and struck gold with his story. 🙂

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