Posts Tagged ‘basket making’

Basket making

February 9, 2015

Whilst searching for information about Charles Hitchcock, for yesterday’s blog post, we came upon an extract from the WI book. This now dates from more than 60 years ago and was produced as part of a national Women’s Institute project to record local history. Our museum founder, Peggy Gye was a driving force behind this. Here we have an extract, transcribed, about basket making.

Basket Making

For at least three hundred years the Mullings family have been making baskets. The family business was originally carried on in Devizes, but about ninety years ago Mr. Sid Mullings’ grandfather moved to Market Lavington, their original premises being in High Street, now a grocery shop owned by Mr. H. Hobbs.

The first big order the family had in Market Lavington was for the bodywork of a wicker carriage for Dr. Hitchcock. The carriage had to be made outside of the workshop, as it would never have got through the doorway had it been made inside. Mr. Mullings worked all night making it, his wife helping him by keeping the cane moist and keeping the lamps going.

The family also used to make the large hampers in which meat was packed and sent to Smithfield Market by local butchers. These hampers would hold a ton of meat and come back in perfect condition.

Some years later Mr. Alfred Mullings moved to the house where Mr. Sid Mullings now lives and carried on with the basket making. No elaborate equipment is necessary and the tools used have changed but little over the years. The chief tools used are bodkins, trimmers, a shave, basket-maker’s knife, closing iron and brake.

Nowadays much of the withy is stripped by machine – this method, whilst saving time, splits the withy. In years gone by, all the withy used was grown locally, in the beds near the streams. The high price of the cane makes it very difficult to earn a living at the trade at the present time, and Mr. Mullings now works elsewhere.

Of course, where this extract refers to ‘now’ it actually means more than 60 years ago. You won’t find Harry Hobbs with a shop on High Street although his daughter still lives in the house and Mr Sid Mullings is no longer in the village although descendants with other surnames are still about.


A willow hook

January 24, 2015

Baskets used to be used for many purposes and many a village had its resident basket maker. In Easterton and Market Lavington we had four generations of the Mullings family fulfilling the role and making baskets for a wide range of purposes. Many of the tools used have ended up in our museum and here we look at their willow hook.

Early 20th Century willow hook used by the Mullings family in Market Lavington

Early 20th Century willow hook used by the Mullings family in Market Lavington

This is smaller than a standard sickle or reap hook and we can guess that Sid Mullings or his father or grandfather used it for willows they cut locally in an area below the Manor House.

One of the things that makes this tool particularly attractive to us is the repaired handle which had clearly split.

The hook handle repaired - perhaps by Sid Mullings

The hook handle repaired – perhaps by Sid Mullings

The repair, carried out by a basket maker uses his technique. The handle has been bound with split willow, nailed into place and then held tight with a wedge.

What a lovely item this is and that repair – let’s guess Sid Mullings did it – really adds local value to it.

A Bill from Alf Mullings

July 2, 2014

The Mullings family came from Devizes. William settled in Market Lavington in around 1870 and set up his basket making business which his son, Alf, continued and then Sid, Alf’s son also carried it on until around 1960.

Recent evidence suggests that the Mullings or Mullins tribe of reed and cane workers became more widely spread. Well we know there had been one in Easterton in the 1850s, but others can be found in East London and Suffolk in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

We recently had a chance to copy a bill sent by Alf Mullings. It dates from 1908.

Receipted bill from Mr Mullings, basket maker of Market Lavington dated 1908

Receipted bill from Mr Mullings, basket maker of Market Lavington dated 1908

This is a fascinating document giving an insight into prices and information about a lost local craft.

We can see that Alfred had made and sold two potato baskets for half a crown. In modern money that’s about 6p for a basket. However, a square hamper cost six shillings or 30p in present money.

A hamper was deemed worthy of repair as well for just a shilling or 5p.

These prices sound absurdly cheap and we don’t think Alf Mullings made much money on the deals.

Of course, the bill head is interesting, indicating that Alfred did cane work of all descriptions and giving a mention to baskets, hampers and sieves. A basketware sieve by Mullings would make a fine addition to opur collection. Has anybody got one?

The purchaser in this case (as with a large collection of local bills and letters) was Mr Holloway of West Lavington.

What a great item and our thanks go to Tim for making this and the other bill heads available to us.


The Basket Maker

September 6, 2013

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