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.

2. Children's Carriages

Throughout human history, young offspring have been carried - under the arm, over the shoulder, or in some form of sling. Wheeled child transport was almost unknown until the late 18th C, the only exception in Britain being the ‘hop wagon’ of hop and fruit pickers in SE England. It was used to carry their pots, pans and food supplies to where they worked in the fields, but it is known that mothers would also place their small children in these crude wooden boxes on wooden wheels.

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Purpose built child carriages, which were developed around 1780, were only available to the wealthy, but were also only of use to them. Most working people did not move far from home, where the youngest members of the family would often have older siblings to look after them. The new child carriages still had to be pulled. It was not until sixty years later that a pram was fitted with a handle at the back instead of a pole at the front. It could be pushed, while keeping an eye on the young occupant.

These three examples of children's carriages are part of the excellent collection at Coates Basket Museum, Stoke St Gregory, Somerset. The three-wheeled carriage has spoked wheels and solid rubber tyres. The carriage with a white painted steel frame also has wire wheels, but has two small stabiliser wheels at the rear to stop the carriage tipping over. It has a perforated wooden seat and the shafts are attached with butterfly nuts to enable them to hinge backwards. The third example is a dog cart, with 12” steel wheels.

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In the 1840s several men took up the manufacture of three wheeled carriages. Success caused others to enter the trade, particularly Charles Burton, who in 1853 took out the first patent for prams. Burton had earlier produced prams in New York, but the citizens had not taken to them, maybe because of the number of collisions that took place. After crossing the Atlantic his design fared little better, until he sold three of his contraptions to the royal family. Suddenly, anyone who was anyone wanted one for their child. He opened a showroom in Oxford Street, in a district which became the centre of the trade.

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 Other makers copied some of his ideas, or improved on them, particularly J. R. Frampton. On seeing the Burton pram, he decided to improve the three wheeler and constructed his wheels of metal for the hubs and spokes and gave them half round iron tyres and iron handles.

This early ‘Frampton’ carriage, is from the period before he changed to metal hubs for the wheels. The overall dimensions are: Length 100 cm; Width 55 cm; Height 97 cm. It has three wooden wheels on a steel chassis, with metal rimmed tyres. Two wheels with 17½” diameter and one wheel with 14” diameter. It has a 10” turned wooden handle.