Basketwork furniture making
The making of furniture using willow basketwork techniques (see also basket making).
|Craft category||Wood; Plant fibre|
|Historic area of significance||Somerset|
|Area currently practised||Somerset|
|Origin in the UK|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||1|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees||3|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required|
Basketwork furniture has been produced in the willow-growing area of the Somerset levels for centuries. The basketwork furniture industry thrived into the 20th century, to the extent that Athelney station in Somerset was extended around 1906 purely to cope with the growth of the industry.
There are a number of basic patterns of chair, such as the ‘Cottage’, ‘Croquet’ and ‘Nursing’ chair, all of which can be adapted in size and proportion to meet individual requirements.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- The market for basketwork furniture is quite small at the moment, but could conceivably be built up with the help of influencers in high-end retail etc. However it would be a mistake to do this before capacity was created through the training of apprentices. On the other hand, if apprentices were trained and the market wasn’t then realised then those trainees could be made redundant. The mitigating factor is that they could fall back on other basket making activities, despite the fact that historically these crafts were always separate.
- Due to the reduction in the industry, tree sticks of the right specification are no longer being produced. PH Coate & Son Ltd pollard and boil their own tree sticks but anyone else getting into the craft would have to source a supplier of this four-year growth material.
- The nails used to construct the furniture are no longer produced in the UK and it is often not cost-effective to import them other than in vast bulk.
- The craft requires a great deal of upper body strength.
- Straightening irons are not available off-the-shelf and would have to be blacksmith-made to specification.
- There is a great deal of financial risk in taking the time away from production to train up an apprentice who may then leave. This is not so much about them setting up in competition, but more to do with the lost investment of time.
Craftspeople currently known
- Jonathan Coate, P H Coate & Son Ltd – was taught by and inherited tools from Albert (Alby) Champion, born around 1900. Coates employ two Polish trainees making both baskets and basketwork furniture.
- Jonah, trainee at PH Coate & Son Ltd – currently being training by Jonathan Coate. Tools were created for Jonah by blacksmith Dave Budd thanks to a grant provided by the HCA.
There are now two new willow basketmaking trainees employed at Coates and they are
both eager to learn how to make willow furniture in time.
Terry Ashford worked for Coates but has now retired. Many of the old basketwork furniture companies centred around Bridgwater and North Petherton in Somerset, such as Slocombes, have long since ceased trading.