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.

5. Delivery Cycle Baskets

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The delivery cycle was immortalised in the BBC comedy series, ‘Open All Hours’, the bike being ridden by David Jason as the hapless Granville. As trade and industry developed in Victorian times, however, it is difficult to overstate the importance of willow baskets in transporting goods from A to B, whether it was from a grocer’s shop to a house nearby, moving parts within a factory, or delivering products to destinations around the world. On a local level the ‘delivery bike’, now being promoted around the world as a ‘cargo bike’, was an essential part of the delivery system.

As cycling became generally more popular, butchers, grocers, and other shopkeepers began to see the advantage of being able to deliver small quantities of goods to a wider area. In 1913, a ‘Tradesman Humber’ delivery bike would have set you back £7 7s 0d. That’s about £850 in today’s money. It had two 26 inch wheels and a simple heavy frame for a basket above the front wheel, made to the customer’s specification.

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One major development in the early 20th century was the introduction of a smaller (about 20 inches) front wheel. This allowed a larger basket to be fitted, but also gave a much lower centre of gravity for the rider to cope with. They were still heavy machines, though, and there are many stories of young boys struggling to keep them upright.

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Now in the Coates Basket Museum, this BSA delivery bicycle was discovered upside down in Jack Hobbs’ outfitters shop in Minehead. The word ‘Minehead’ on the advertising board has been painted out. This almost certainly was during World War 2, as part of the effort to confuse potential spies and invasion forces. It has a cotton lining fixed to its four rod border, and an elasticated fabric cover.

A further development was the use of tricycles, with a large number being made for the post office.  This 1919 Triumph Number 2 GPO Carrier Tricycle has a replica basket, and is one of two in Coates Basket Museum. The original would have had a canvas cover. It has hub brakes, sprung seat and a 3" 2-tone dome bell on the handlebar. The curved lidded basket is fixed to leaf springs on the metal frame. Like most commercial tricycles of the time, the 26 x 1¾ inch wheels are fitted with solid rubber Avon ‘Cushion’ tyres.

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The other example of the delivery tricycle advertises 'Aladdin' Paraffin, and was the property of the 'Ideal Stores' in Letchworth. This model has pneumatic tyres, but has the same style steering bar and rear brake.