Heritage Crafts

Rush matting

Hand weaving and sewing rushes into mats, log baskets, tableware, hats and bags.
Craft category
Basketry, Textile
Historic area of significance
Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire
Area practiced currently
Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire
Origin in the UK
Rush work dates back many centuries in the UK. Remnants have been found in mound dwellings
Current No. of professionals (Main income)
Current total No. of serious amateur makers
Current No. of leisure makers


It is likely that most people who lived near a river with rush growing would have worked it. Historically, there is a significant tradition in Bedfordshire where the rush was harvested all along the river Great Ouse by a team and taken back to Pavenham to be worked. Their matting went into the houses of Parliament and major cathedrals. Their baskets were sold in Harrods and other major shops.

After the First World War the tradition died for a while but was resurrected in the 1940s by a Mrs Morgan on a very small scale. Felicity Irons BEM took over the rush cutting from Tom Arnold in Holywell whose family had been cutting rush since the 1700s. When he died the craft would have disappeared without Felicity taking it on and continuing the tradition.


  • Plaiting – these can can made with different odd numbers to start e.g. 3 end, 5 end etc. 9 end is often used for matting. It is woven wet and when dry it can be hand sewn with a large needle and jute twine.
  • Check weave
  • Pairing weave
  • Chain pairing
  • Rope making
  • Diagonal checkweave


Allied crafts

  • Rush basketry
  • Rush tableware
  • Chair seating

Issues affecting the viability

  • Recruitment issues: it has become increasingly difficult to recruit people as both rush weavers and rush cutters
  • Raw materials: rush is getting increasingly hard to source and in some cases demand is outstripping supply. Rush is sourced from sustainable sources in the UK rivers and also imported from the Netherlands.

Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known


National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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