My Wish List
Despite my having what is probably the largest collection of billhooks in the world, much to my wife's distress, I still actively seek to buy them. There were many small local makers, some of whom marked their tools, but those of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire are actively collected by others. Those from the south west of England are also sought after, but the abundance of those made by Knapman means a trickle still come on the market.
My local makers Isaac Fussell of Nunney, John and later James Fussell of Mells (near Frome in Somerset) are also difficult to find. Other Somerset makers include Steed and Padfield. Recent treasures are a Skurray made in Chippenham and a Buckland made in Netheravon (both from Wiltshire). Buckland were succeeded by Sheppard - I have a Sheppard hoe, but not a billhook.
Down of Mere (Wilts) also made edge tools - I have a small spar hook and found my great grandfather's thatching tools (a ridge knife and an eaves knife) also made by Down some years ago when my cousin's farm was being demolished...
This one, marked WILLIS BRAMLEY HANTS, is in the MERL collection in Reading. I have twice missed buying one of his hooks by mere seconds - the person in front of me beat me to them. I have yet to find a third.... (Update: one sold on ebay in 2012 - it went on a Buy it Now price of £100 to an Australian buyer - too much for me!!!)
Alfred Willis was the blacksmith and farrier in Bramley, a small village north of Basingstoke (Hampshire) - he died in his 80's in the 1970's. When things in the forge were quiet he made excellent billhooks from old farriers' rasps. The rasp teeth can still be seen on the blades.
I guess this NUMBER ONE on my wish list....
The tool on the right is a trapper's tool - a combined billhook' hammer and spade, used when setting rabbit snares. A similar tool is the 'Gamekeeper's Friend' - I have only ever seen these in catalogues, maybe one day one will turn up at a price I can afford.... currently this is NUMBER TWO on my wish list.....
The French made many wonderful variations of the 'serpe-secateur', a combination of billhook and secateurs for pruning vines, fruit tress etc. They are very collectable, and thus very expensive - I suppose I will have to be content with copying images to my archives. A large one of these is NUMBER THREE on my wish list
Another French tool is the 'Pique Guardien' or 'Garde Vigne', used by the guardians (night-watchmen) of the vineyards to deter unwelcome visitors, human as well as animal, from stealing grapes. Later a ceremonial item, carried on a long shaft like a pike or bill, some are distinctly 'billhook' in origin... NUMBER FOUR on my wish list.