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Last Cooper

The last apprenticed cooper in the Royal Navy’s Royal William Victualling Yard undergoes a trusso, an ancient rite of passage.

Current affairs 1967 5 mins

From the collection of:

Logo for South West Film and Television Archive

Overview

Clive Gunnell reports on Robert John Knight, the last apprenticed cooper of the Royal Navy’s Royal William Victualling Yard in the Cooperage Plymouth. A cooper makes staved vessels such as casks, barrels, tubs, churns, firkins, puncheons or butts aided by hoopers. The apprentice enters the unfinished barrel at the shout of trusso and exits as a qualified cooper. The Worshipful Company of Coopers exists as a trade association and guild since its 1501 Royal Charter.

The Coopers’ Company is governed by bylaws granted by Act of Parliament approved in 1741 but these are still a form of delegated law enforceable today. The Company had the power to view and gauge all containers used for the storage of consumables. Coopers supplied vessels for victualling stores on board ship such as food, drink including ale, rum and port, cargo and ammunition and historically a cooper was a rating in the Navy under the Purser. Coopering’s decline as a craft in the last century when containers were replaced by aluminium has not marked its end; cask storage is still popular in the brewing and drinks industry and making something of a comeback. Since 2000 women are admitted to the Coopers’ Company.