Sunday, 9 March 2014


Part 1 

History and Types of Wheelbarrow

Festival is coming. For many years I have thought about making a barrow to move gear around, to carry goods to the market, to loan to fighters and quite possibly so that I can use one after dinner each night just like this :
This Barrow is a flatbed type with a box built above the bed/handles. It also fits the rustic stereotype of a  wooden wheelbarow : A glutton, a book of hours (PML M.1175, fol. 191r), c. 1525-1530 Bruges, Belgium
  But mainly I want one because Wheelbarrows are cool.  So here is part one of the research process, finding images and background information on the wheelbarrows of medieval Europe.

Wheelbarrows are known from at least the 1st century BC in China (Lewis 1994). however our first solid piece of evidence for the wheelbarrow in Medieval Europe comes from the  building accounts of King Henry III around 1222 A.d and concerns the purchase of eight wheel barrows to be used in the Kings works at Dover (Matthies 1991). Handbarrows which are essentially a stretcher appear to have remained popular for some time, despite an increase in the pictorial and financial evidence for the Use of wheelbarrows in Europe (Matthies 1991). Wheelbarrows in England were around 6 times the price of handbarrows, possibly a disincentive for their use.

This image from around 1250 A.d shows both a "handbarrow" or stretcher and a Wheelbarrow. (Vitae Offarum, Trinity College Library, Dublin MS 177

Wheelbarrows while varying widely in design can be split into 2 main types.
A crippled child on a flat wheelbarrow, the barrow pusher has a strap around his neck to help support the weight the Luttrell Psalter (British Library Add. 42130, fol. 186v), c. 1325-1340 Also Giant duck!!

  •   Flat bed wheelbarrows resembling the original handbarrows in that a flat surface created by the two handles create the basis of the barrow and support the load.
Detail from  the Berner Chronik 15th Century (MS Hist Helv I 16, fol. 35r, Stadtbibliothek, Bern), showing a wagon or box style wheelbarrow with a solid rather than spoked wheel.
  • Wagon/box bodied wheel barrows which have a box built into the barrow as a load holder. Some of these Barrows have solid wheels.

More of a  2 wheeled cart than a wheel barrow..... But check out those boots !!  Salvaging from the ashes, Konzil von Konstanz (ÖNB 3044, fol. 82r), c. 1465-1475

Dutch Market Scene C1550 Pieter Aertsen. Note the strap over the Barrow pushers shoulders.

What next?....

I intend to make a couple of Wheelbarrows, providing I can find someone to take them to festival for me. Hopefully I will have a post detailing my decisions regarding style, material and design and then another showing  construction. Hopefully! 

I will also be consulting this site quite a bit Building a 16th Century wheelbarrow


  •   Matthies A. 1991 "The Medieval Wheelbarrow" Technology and Culture Vol. 32, No. 2, Part 1  pp. 356-364    Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press: Available through JSTOR database which is available to Australian National library card holders online at no cost.

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