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Stock ledger provides a brush with history

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Stock ledgers dating back to the earliest days of the Stone Store’s operations are presenting a tantalising mystery - which might have been solved with a little historical research.

Of all the stock items that went through the Stone Store’s books in the 1830s, a couple of items stand out simply in terms of the sheer volume of numbers ordered - brushes and brooms.

"At the time the items were ordered there were certainly a number of houses on the various missions stations and the stock was no doubt put to good use," says the Manager of the Kerikeri Mission Station, Liz Bigwood.

"What I couldn’t work out for a long time though was why missionary James Kemp, who was responsible for ordering stock at the time, brought in so many brushes and brooms - more than would ever have been used."

A little historical sleuthing by Liz may have revealed an explanation.

"James Kemp came from Wymondham in Norfolk - a low lying county full of marshes and fens. This vast area was the natural habitat of marsh grasses and reeds - traditionally used for thatching and making brushes of all kinds," says Liz.

Wymondham was the centre of the English brush-making trade - and that’s where the plot thickens.

"Brush-making was the poorest paid of the English trades," says Liz.

"Whole families would sit around a vat of boiling tar, dipping bunches of dried reeds into it and then ramming them into turned blocks of wood. The brush makers of Wymondham were very poor, food was often scarce, and many spent time in the Workhouse."

As the Church Missionary Society storekeeper, James Kemp was responsible for ordering in the trade goods, most of which were staples like tea and flour; or essential tools like chisels and axes, or desirable and useful items like fish hooks and scissors.

"Not to mention brushes and brooms. Hundreds of them," says Liz.

"By ordering these in such impractically high volumes you have to wonder whether James Kemp was actually helping the impoverished working poor of Wymondham in his own unique way." 

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