The Basket Maker

This is another article from that 1949 Market Lavington School Magazine which is called Lavington Forum.

It is about Sid Mullings, the last in a long line of basket makers in the village. It was written by Gordon Baker.

Let’s open with sketches of basket maker’s tools.

Basket making tools as sketched by Gordon Baker of Market Lavington

Basket making tools as sketched by Gordon Baker of Market Lavington

And now the article.

Basket Making in Lavington

Mr Mullings is our basket maker and he and his family have been at the craft for over 200 years. Even this however is a very short time in the history of basketry for we know it was practiced in Utah over 9000 years ago. It is even far older than this as, no doubt, the pit dwelling cover or roof made of interlaced branches and twigs evolved the basket and perhaps one lined with clay to stop things falling out got burnt and so was discovered our first pottery.

Mr Mullings started basket making in 1919, just thirty years ago and his father, grandfather and great grandfather all made good baskets in their day as Mr Mullings himself does now.

A number of interesting looking tools are used in this craft some of which I have drawn for you. I suppose the most useful implement is the bodkin which has many uses from opening the weave to insert extra stakes to splitting rods for making the tic at the bottom of a basket. A tool which rather resembles a large file minus the cutting teeth is a closing or beating iron used to bang down the rods and keep the sides of the basket level during making.

Mr Mullings will make you any type of basket you require and in a very short time. To make a medium sized clothes basket takes him only three hours and he makes three in a day.

Although he has two withy beds in the district – one at Russell Mill and the other at Dauntsey’s School grounds, Mr Mullings also buys some withy from Bridgwater. There is a reason for this – the local withys are what he describes as white willow and Mr Mullings uses them in this colour, but buys his brown and buff rods as he prefers not to boil the whites with the bark on for himself. He does, however, stain some of the baskets so they have the appearance of having been made in brown withy. The method of boiling the rods for five hours, before removing the skin was explained to me. The action of boiling passes a stain from the bark or skin into the white rod, making it a golden brown colour, and this colour does not fade. Incidentally, the bark is more easily removed after boiling.

A rod is called a brown rod, not because of its colour but because the bark is left on. The boiled rods are known as ‘buffs’. White rods, which are cut and peeled in April when the sap is rising, also buff rods, need to be soaked for only a few hours before use but brown rods must be soaked for up to a week before use. Although first, second or third year’s growth can be used for basketry, Mr Mullings uses only the first year’s growth as these rods are more pliable and less liable to split than older wood. They appear to make terrific growth in one year – rods of about twelve foot in length being cut, which may mean Mr Mullings uses a soft rod of the variety kelham, which is well known for its vigorous growth.

It is interesting to note that whilst we use the term withy beds in this part of the country in the great osier growing districts round the River Trent in Nottinghamshire the beds are called ‘rod holts’.

Mr Mullings pointed out to me there is a great deal of difference between osier and cane, each having its own special characteristics and being suited to its own type of work and market. Cane work and osier work are two quite different crafts and should not be thought of as one.

Gordon Baker

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One Response to “The Basket Maker”

  1. Cassy Taylor Says:

    What a fascinating article, thanks for that!

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