The Woodworker|June 2020
Just outside Great Leighs, a remote village in Essex, England, halfway between Chelmsford and Braintree, sits the world’s largest and oldest established company supplying English willow cricket bats, J.S. Wright & Sons Limited. Founded in 1894 by Jessie Samuel Wright, it’s the world’s only supplier of top-grade English willow used by top batsmen worldwide.
Surrounded by woods and willow plantations, J.S. Wright & Sons operate a spacious factory-equipped for sawing, drying and storing the wood. The willows, renewably harvested, come from thousands of farmers throughout England and Wales who grow the trees as a side crop.
Essex is the centre of cricket-bat willow farming in the UK, but it grows well throughout the country because the climate and rich, moist soil with a high water table are ideal for growing Salix Alba Caerulea, the preferred variety of willow used in the manufacture of cricket bats. Their cell structure is also better suited to hitting a ball than other woods.
Typically, it takes about 20 years to grow cricket-bat willow before harvesting, and this occurs when the trees reach 56-58in in diameter.
Exceptional quality control
Jeremy Ruggles, Director of J.S. Wright & Sons and a fourth-generation family member, carefully selects only the highest grades of willow. He inspects each willow cleft manually by hand and eye, as shown opposite.
The trees are purchased standing in the field and then felled by specialized tree fellers. They’re transported to the yard by lorry. The willows are then cross-cut into three or four 28in lengths. Next, they are cut lengthwise into clefts, which is a large cricket bat-shaped piece ready to be shaped into a bat.
An average tree yields 3-4 bat lengths from which 38-40 clefts can be cut. The end of the clefts are dipped in wax to prevent splitting and are dried to reduce moisture content (MC) and weight.
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