A BRIEF HISTORY OF BASKET MAKING

A series of pages about the history of basket making, with special reference to the willow baskets made in Somerset, and in particular the Stoke St Gregory area.

3. Sports & Pastimes

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Returning From The Hill 1868

Coates Basket Museum has an interesting collection of baskets and artefacts relating to sports and pastimes. Apart from anglers' baskets, or fishing creels, golf, swordplay, and hunting are all represented. This painting, by Richard Andsell, shows the gilly walking slowly homeward with the day's bag across the back of the pack animal.

Below is an original pair of Scottish grouse panniers joined with leather straps for fitting on the back of a pony. The lids are covered with a waterproof cloth. Late Victorian or early 20th century wicker panniers would have been strapped on either side of a pony and used for carrying grouse or other game down from the hills and moors. They may also have carried the gilly’s lunch. White willow (aged to a darker colour) has been used to make the basket.

Pony Panniers

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The term ‘panniers’ has come to mean packs either side of an animal or machine, but it derives from a late 13th century word meaning a ‘basket for provisions’, from Old French panier, in turn from Latin panarium, bread basket. In modern Greek the word ‘paneri’ is still used for a basket that is used to carry provisions, regardless of shape or size.

Single Stick

The original form of the singlestick was the waster, which appeared in the 16th century and was merely a wooden sword used in practice for the backsword, and of the same general shape. By the first quarter of the 17th century wasters had become simple clubs known as cudgels with the addition of a sword guard. When the basket hilt came into general use about twenty five years later, a wicker one was added to the singlestick, replacing the heavy metal hilt of the backsword. This form of fighting developed into a British rural sport. Young farm workers would gather at country fairs and take part in bouts using an ash stick held in a wicker guard. The winner was the first man to deliver a blow that drew an inch of blood. Singlestick fighting was also taken up by the armed services as a preparation for swordplay. In his book Broad-Sword and Single-Stick, 1890, C Phillipps-Wolley wrote, “There is just enough sting in the ash-plant’s kiss, when it catches you on the softer parts of your thigh, your funny bone or your wrist, to keep you wide awake and remind you of the good old rule of grin-and-bear-it.”

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Padded Single Stick Helmet

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The singlestick itself is a slender, round wooden rod, traditionally of ash, with a basket hilt. Singlesticks are typically around 34 inches (86 cm) in length, and 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter[failed verification], and thicker at one end than the other, used as a weapon of attack and defence, the thicker end being thrust through a cup-shaped hilt of basket-work to protect the hand. Singlestick was an event at the 1904 Summer Olympics, but the sport was already in decline. Within today's martial arts community, a growing interest in traditional Western martial arts has revived interest in this particular form of weapon training.

Golf Pin

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Willow golf pins were first used in 1851 at the Royal Troon Golf Course, Scotland, to mark the position of the holes. A set was made at Coates English Willow in June 2001 for the International Championships played at Prestwick Golf Club to celebrate their 150th Anniversary.

The style of pins was later made famous at Merion Golf Club, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. One of the first newspaper accounts describing the basket standards is found in the July 2, 1915 edition of Philadelphia’s Evening Public Ledger.

“The new hole pins at Merion have been the subject of much favorable comment, not alone among the men stars who played there last, but by the women who played in the Griscom Cup matches three weeks ago, as well. Instead of the usual flags, which, when a head wind is blowing are invisible, wooden pins, with alternate stripes of black and white, and large, wicker, pear shaped tops, are used. On the out holes the tops are red, on the in holes yellow, and they can be seen for a mile. William Flynn, the Merion greenskeeper, is the originator.”