Making a Living
Farming & Withies
The communities of Stoke and its surrounding hamlets are still firmly based on the land and what it provides. The centuries have seen vast changes, from hunter/gatherers, saxon clearings, medieival and later drainage schemes, enclosure, through to the effects of globalisation on our modern agriculture. One significant factor has been the lack of a resident Lord of the Manor, and the individuality that was able to flourish under Bath & Wells.
The enclosure and drainage of Curry Moor and West Sedgemoor allowed the rapid development of the basket willow growing industry through the 19th century, which impinged on nearly every family in Stoke, especially before the development of withy harvesting, buffing and stripping methods.
The occupation of willow basket making is still important in Stoke, even though the industry has been through many ups and downs since the 2nd World War, when plastics and cheap imports threatened its existence. Basketry is probably the oldest craft in the world, predating pottery, and baskets have been an everyday life essential for storing and transporting goods, as well as for fish related industries. Coates English Willow, the last Stoke basketmaking company, is host to a basket museum of items collected by the Coate family over many years. The collection provides an insight into the many uses of willow baskets over the centuries.
The lack of a resident landlord also meant that individuals were able to flourish in their particular trades, rather than being employed directly by en estate. Hedgers, wallers, carters and even agricultural labourers were much freer than in some areas to decide what work they did and for whom. Rather than 'working for Farmer X' it would be phrased as 'going on with'. If the conditions or pay were not satisfactory, a worker could 'go on' with someone else.
Hauling Hay from West Sedgemoor
Willow Coffin made by Frank Champion in 1916
Squire the Baker's Delivery Van