There are many different baskets traditionally used in the South West of England and details are provided about some of these baskets and the construction techniques.   

Baskets, especially those that have a specific function, agriculture or fishing, have been developed over time to perform a task and this affects the form (shape), the construction and the choice of material with which to weave them.

For baskets made to:

·      hold substantial weights the bottoms were very robustly constructed and rattan was sometimes used for added strength.

·      lift heavy goods then they needed strong handles, these might also be woven in rattan. Wide strong borders were also a feature.

·       be lent on then the handle was very sturdy and large for the size of the basket

·      take a lot of wear, these might have wooden slats or runners attached to the base

 Baskets for farming

In a Cornish dropper or Devon Black basket that were used for planting potatoes the handles were particularly strong.

Devon Black Basket 69/196. Museum of English Rural Life, Reading.
Copyright. Used for harvesting potatoes. Willow with rattan handle.

Brocolli maunds were strong but made as light as possible with a few bands of ‘fitching’ holding the uprights apart, because they had to hold a heavy and bulky crop. If the baskets were taken to London and then returned to the farm they came from then they had initials or names stencilled on to them for identification.

An old Cornish brocolli crate. Baskets like this were carried on the back in the fields and used for harvesting the cauliflower crop.

Some baskets, for example the north Devon ‘market maund’, were designed with feet that raised them above the floor and the damp.

Large and small ‘market maunds’. These baskets had a lid that became a shelf to display the produce that the farmers’ wives brought to the markets.

Baskets to transport goods

Baskets made for transporting goods were often made to be able to be stacked. For example baskets used to transport fruit and vegetables from Cornwall to London. These were usually round baskets with sturdy borders and either side handles or hand holds. Some had lids, in others the goods were covered with straw that was tied down to protect the contents.

Baskets for the fishing industry

In the fishing industry, the bottoms of baskets were often woven so that there were gaps for the water to drain out whilst at the same time the construction would be very sturdy.

Full size herring cran held in the Museum of English Rural Life, showing fitching in both the sides and the base. The handles are rattan and the border is very strong and wide.

Colin Manthorpe making the ‘underfoot’ base of a small size herring cran at the 2003 Basketry and Beyond Basket Fair and Water Gala. Full size quarter crans were much larger and were an official government measure.

Fitching the sides. Colin was one of the few makers whose skills allowed him to make the crans which had to be made to very accurate measurements.

Starting the border

Turning down the last few uprights to complete the border

In Cornwall and Devon lobster pots were made in the winter months often by the fishermen themselves (using willow they would have grown and freshly cut) , but fishing baskets were also made in workshops employing men year round.


Walter Mears repairing one of his lobster pots. Dave French family photo. Copyright

Commercial Basketmaking

Baskets made in the workshops were woven to very exacting time/price ratios and speed in making as well as optimum use of materials was important. This affected the method of making and the weaves that were used. For example slewing, a weave that could be done quickly, was usual when weaving the sides of the basket, the tips of the rods cut when finishing the border of the previous basket would be used in the slewed siding of the next so that there was little waste.

When completing the border the last rods are threaded away following the pattern but when baskets were being made piece-work they were often crammed off for speed; kinked and rapped down into the appropriate place.

Jack West, writing about how he went into the family business at the age of 14 in 1934 when his father died, says;

This was in north Devon where there was a pocket of manufacturers: three firms in Barnstaple, one in Braunton and one in Bideford.  Trade between them was very competitive, and very badly paid.  A first class tradesman was paid 1/- [5p] an hour,  £2.10s [£2:50p] for a 50 hour week, but the majority of workers were on piece-work rates, averaging about 10½d  per hour [about 4½p].  The few hourly-paid workers were the best tradesmen and capable of doing most jobs, whereas the others were doing mostly shopping baskets and were the first to be laid off when trade was very bad – which was quite often’.

Examples of traditional South West baskets can be found for sale in antique shops and displayed in museums. You might want to look at a basket, ‘to read it’ and consider its story.  

What is the function, look at how this dictates the form?

Are there any special features that give a clue to its use?

What is the material –this gives a clue to its origin?

Look at the base and the border – how it has been started and finished, it is in these areas that differences are most likely to show?.

A ‘craust’ basket by Lin Lovekin, recreated from the original in Helston Museum, Cornwall. Craust or crib was the lunch that the farmworkers carried into the fields in baskets like this.

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