Chances are, if you give someone a broom, they are going to want to sweep with it! What better way to rid floors of dust, crumbs and debris? The broom you use at home is most probably flat at the bottom and made with a pine or plastic handle and synthetic fibers. You may not even have a broom and may use only an electric sweeper or vacuum.
The humble broom was originally fashioned to sweep ashes and embers from the hearth as well as floors within the home, just like we use it today. These were simple tools made by bundling twigs, reeds, corn husks or other natural fibers around a central pole of wood. They were called “besom" brooms, from the Old English word referring to the broom plant, or bush.
Until the 19th century, brooms were fashioned at home from whatever materials were available. Professional broom-making did not appear in England until the Anglo-Saxon era (c. 500-1066), however, creation of brooms and twig brushes at home continued even then. “Besom squires” were the artisans who created these twig brooms, most commonly fashioned from birch twigs tied to a chestnut pole with rope, twine or withies-strong, flexible willow stems. Handles were also made from hazel branches and bristles from straw or herbs.
Historically, besom brooms have been linked with pagan fertility celebrations. Farmers would dance astride poles or brooms during the full moon to encourage the growth of their crops. In Tudor superstition and today, we often associate the full twig or straw broom with the antics and rites of witches.
During the Tudor period, ground level floors were most commonly made from dirt, stone or bricks. The wealthy, however, could afford wooden flooring. Brooms were needed to sweep dirt from these hard surfaces. Floor rushes needed to be swept out of the home regularly and rush mats swept off . Twig brooms were fragile and needed to be replaced frequently, but could be done quickly and inexpensively.
Many artisans still create hand-made brooms. When you visit us at Agecroft Hall, see if you can find the besom broom sitting in our reproduction Tudor kitchen!