The Fascinating History Of Basketmaking In Oxfordshire

By Caroline Lewis | 22 November 2007
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photo of a bucket shaped basket

A cherry picking basket. Courtesy Vale and Downland Museum

While the plastic carrier bag has reigned in the last few decades as the ubiquitous receptacle, there was a time when the king of everyday hand luggage was the humble basket.

Basketmaking is one of our oldest industries, and baskets were once used by farmers to take their lunch to the fields, workmen to keep their tools, fruitpickers to hold their produce.

Oxfordshire’s Vale and Downland Museum is taking a look at the history of basketmaking in the county and former North Berkshire in an exhibition running until January 11 2008. There’s plenty of material as there was once a basketmaker in every small town, who would have made new baskets and repaired old ones.

photo of a basket crate

A lunch basket - obviously used by Wiggins. Courtesy Vale and Downland Museum

“Baskets used to be everywhere,” says David Nutt of basket making group, the Oxfordshire Basketmakers. “You’d start life in a Moses basket, and, when you finally gave up the ghost, you’d have been buried in a basket coffin.”

“The tragedy is that baskets were generally cheap functional objects and, when they wore out, were usually discarded.”

photo of a part woven basket

You'd have to be careful not to lose things through the bottom of this basket. Courtesy Vale and Downland Museum

The display features baskets from various museum collections and archive photographs, as well as contemporary baskets made by current practitioners. Some of these were made in response to certain of the baskets of yore; some are functional and made in traditional ways; others are not functional but created to question the nature of what a basket is.

To find out more about basketry, have a look at the Oxfordshire Basketmakers' Oxforshire Basketry Map, downloadable from their website, The map shows museums which have displays on different basketry techniques.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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