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Woodturner Brian to stick at it for Aunt Sally’s sake
Buy this photo » Brian Collins with one of the Aunt Sally sticks he makes in his own workshop. Picture: OX61370 Greg Blatchford
BRIAN Collins has been making the sticks for Oxfordshire’s favourite pub game Aunt Sally since he was 19 years old.
But the man who reckons to have made more than 100,000 sticks has a confession to make.
“I have never thrown at a doll in my life,” he admitted. “It’s true.”
Aunt Sally is peculiar to Oxfordshire but the man who makes the pieces to play it is known far and wide.
The demands for his goods stretches from the United States to the Channel Islands.
The 73-year-old creates the sticks in his workshop in the garden of his home in Horspath.
He said: “I have never thrown a stick at a doll in my life. We’ve never had it set up in the garden and I just haven’t been interested.
“I’m not the kind of person who enjoys that kind of thing or glory from winning games.”
In his spare time Mr Collins, who has been married to Suzzanne for 48 years, has been part of three woodturning groups for 25 years.
Mr Collins started making the sticks in 1959 when he worked as an apprentice for engineering company W Lucy and Co, which was then based in Walton Well Road, Oxford.
His line manager at the company would make the implements. Then one day the line manager asked Mr Collins to help out.
Mr Collins said: “When you are an apprentice you need a bit of extra money to help out so I kept at it. “I would be making them until 11.30 at night when I had work the next day.
“I teamed up with a friend who sold dartboards and he would ring me up late at night asking for more Aunt Sally sticks so I decided to go for it full time.”
A £100 lathe bought in 1972 was the turning point for taking the hobby full-time and demand for his skill began to rise.
He makes around 3,000 sticks a year, with a complete Aunt Sally set costing between £22 and £25, and he takes orders from around the world, through games company Masters Games.
Mr Collins said: “I was worried that when the recession hit and pubs started shutting there would be less demand.
“But people ring me up and order them for all sorts of reasons. People want them for things like weddings, barbecues and parties.
“And I know somebody who has Aunt Sally permanently set up on a beach in Spain.”
His son, Andrew, helps him out, but he has no plans to give up yet.
“I feel obliged to carry on making them. People have supported me for all these years and it gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” he said.
WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT?
- Aunt Sally is played by players throwing batons at a wooden skittle known as a doll and goes back at least as far as the 17th Century
- It is thought to have been introduced by Royalist soldiers during the English Civil War
- The Oxford & District Aunt Sally Association has been in existence for 74 years
- League games are played on Wednesday evenings between May and September
- The league regularly attracts 120 teams divided into 12 sections, with up to 1,400 players registered to take part
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