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commonweal project

'Bodged Commonweal'

By a gathering of Forest of Dean Bodgers. At the Rewild Project's green wood workshop at the Dean Heritage Centre, 21 Aug 2016.


FoD Bodgers Mike May, Tom Cousins, Scott Baine, Wren and Nicola Goff present Coleford Mayor Paul Kay with our commonweal to give take to our new twin town, St Hilaire-de-Riez.


  commonweal by FoD BodgersI was looking for something a gathering of bodgers could make in a day for the public good, and came up with the idea of a symbolic 'commonweal'. Although the concept of the 'commonweal' is derived from wealth not wheel, a wheel is a perfect image for it's representation. If we share out the wealth, hold our position and take the strain society can really roll, if someone gets too long in the spoke or slacks off then no one is going anywhere fast. To my surprise I could find no wheels to illustrate the commonweal, which was a popular idea in the English Civil War, American War of Independence, and the Roman Republic. So this is the first of a series of 'commonweals' we aim to make, it seems appropriate for a revival craft to revive an archaic philosophy.

8 of us made a spoke and a slat, each signed the hub, and I wrote round the rim a description of the production event.  Mayor Paul Kay drove it to Coleford's new French town St Hilaire-de-Riez where it is hanging in the town art gallery/information centre.

Follows is the text sent to St Hilaire with the 'commonweal'

The Coleford / St Hilaire-de-Riez Commonweal

Made by a gathering of bodgers, Sept 2016.


The commonweal was a popular idea around the time of the English Civil War in the 1640’s. The idea of the commonweal was that there is such a thing as the common well-being, or public good, and that it is best served if power is vested in the people. The Roman Republic had a similar concept  "Res publica". The commonweal was also popular with the republicans of the American War of Independence in the 1770’s. In 1947 the idea and word commonweal were repurposed in London to arrive at the name/idea of the British Commonwealth.  Although the commonweal is now hidden in the shadows of history and few people know what it means, it seemed a robust and durable idea perfect to revive and put into physical form to inspire our new twin town relationship, an exchange relationship organised by the form of government closest to the people. Let’s roll.

Bodging or green wood work, is also having something of a revival in the Forest of Dean and throughout the UK. ‘Bodgers’ flourished in the time of hand tools, when transporting tree trunks was a drag. Whenever possible logs were fashioned in the woodland, part seasoned, and then the products transported. The last chair making bodgers died out in the 1950’s, but some of the other  bodger’s crafts like charcoal burning, hazel and chestnut fencing never quite went away, and are now back on the rise. Bodged chair making is back, partly because they look fantastic, and also because hanging out in the woods cutting down a tree and turning the trunk into a chair, spatulas or a commonweal with hand tools is huge fun. Somehow to bodge something very unkindly became the verb to do something quickly and badly. In reality it is a wonderful educational craft requiring manual dexterity and observation of the qualities of every piece of wood and how it can be worked for least effort and best effect.    

This wheel representing our twin town commonweal was made at the Dean Heritage Centre, in a new green wood workshop set up by the Rewild Project. Eight bodgers turned out for making the commonweal, each making a spoke so they are all stylistically different, but we like that. It shows our commonweal was made by a collection of individuals where everyone’s efforts are equally crucial. The rim is made of 8 steam bent ash slats, the hub carved sycamore, and the spokes are ash and sycamore shaped by drawknife and pole lathe. We (the gathering of Forest of Dean bodgers) are so pleased with the result and the idea of a revival craft giving form to a revived idea that we aim to make this the first in a series of commonweals to be presented where we feel they are most needed.

For more information

The Association of Pole Lathe Turners https://www.bodgers.org.uk/

The Dean Heritage Centre http://www.deanheritagecentre.com/

The Rewild Project www.therewildproject.com