Devon stave basket making
The making of Devon stave baskets, an assembled basket made of wooden splints fixed to a wooden base.
|Historic area of significance||Devon|
|Area currently practised|
|Origin in the UK|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||0|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees||1|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required|
The Devon stave basket is an assembled basket made of wooden splints attached to a wooden base. The base was traditionally made of elm, but following the arrival of Dutch elm disease has been made from other woods. The basket is held together by nails and ash bands, and the two end staves form the handles. This type of basket was traditionally used in the fields, to take feed to cattle and to collect potatoes and apples after harvesting. Devon stave baskets were made on a jig to five standard sizes, the larger of which were known as ‘maunds’. There are nine sizes in total. Jack made 1-5 and the size 9. 7, 8 and 9 are the maunds, with carved end stave handles. 1-6 have bent ash top handles. Sizes 4-9 all have an additional central band.
Jack Rowsell was one of the last people to make Devon stave baskets, having learnt the craft from his father. He died in 1997. Rowsell made the baskets in his spare time (rather than as a primary profession) for over 40 years and made about 25-50 a year which he sold.
The Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading holds detailed information on how to make the baskets, and has a set of slides showing the construction process. Much of this information is available to the public via the online catalogue (MERL 96/118).
Coppice management, timber selection, green woodworking skills, draftsmanship for producing jigs and templates.
The larger centrally banded baskets (4-6) and the baskets known as maunds (7-9) require different and additional skills, processes and tooling not necessary in the often made size 2. The size range and associated differences are a key characteristic of the stave basket, providing insights into the heritage of agricultural Devon as well as potential new markets and opportunities for practitioners to build on their skills.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- Raw materials: Ash dieback is a threat to the craft. It is likely that this resource will significantly reduce. Stave baskets require young ash which is particularly susceptible to the disease. Coupled with the decline of ash coppice in general, this is the largest threat. Whilst other species work tolerably well for the smaller sizes, ash is required for the longer banded maunds.
- Basketmakers’ Association
Craftspeople currently known
Mark Snellgrove – knows how to make the baskets, but doesn’t make on a regular basis, and has original jigs.
- Steve Tomlin – won the 2018 HCA/Marsh Endangered Crafts Award to revive the craft of Devon stave basket making, and has trained with Mark.
- John Williamson – producing stave baskets in a range of sizes in their home county of Devon since 2019.
- Dominic Parrette – is teaching Devon stave basket making at the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire in 2020.
- Hilary Burns – knows how to make the baskets, but doesn’t make on a regular basis, and occasionally runs courses.
- The Museum of English Rural Life, MERL 96/118