From the archive: Basket and corn dolly making

Basket and corn dolly making. Pictured: Basket maring at Great Yarmouth. Date: Jun 1950. Picture: ED

Basket and corn dolly making. Pictured: Basket maring at Great Yarmouth. Date: Jun 1950. Picture: EDP Library. - Credit: Archant

Making decorative and useful items out of our easily available raw material of straw has been a rewarding pastime and remunerative occupation for many East Anglians since time immemorial. Illustrating this are a few pictures from the EDP archives.

1 A group watches a demonstration of cane chair making on the Stanley Bird of Yarmouth stand at the Home Lovers' Exhibition at St Andrew's and Blackfriars Halls, Norwich in February 1953.

2 Some 400 tool panniers are being made in the basket section of the Remploy factory at Mile Cross, Norwich. The zinc metal containers which fitted inside the completed basketware and the canvas covers were both made at other Remploy factories and the finished articles completed at Norwich. These were destined for pack-bearing mule trains overseas.

3 Mr Fred Nettleship was pictured in May 1955 while working on a 'sow' (shop on wheels), one of the wide variety of articles made at the wholesale basket and cane furniture shop of Stanley Bird Basketware Ltd of Friars Lane, Yarmouth. The firm was almost a hundred years old, having been started by Mr Bird's grandfather and exported its fine basketware across the world, as well as to markets in the UK.

4 My next picture is also of basket making at Yarmouth, but for this photo I have no further details, though it appears to date from the 1950s.


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5 Basketmaker Mr Harry King plies his craft on the Stanley Bird of Yarmouth stand in the Rural Industries section at the Royal Norfolk Show in June 1968. Harry and his fellow craftsmen were the only people who still made the elm and willow herring swills which he is working on in the picture.

6 Swaffham basketmaker Mr Oliver Meek was 77 years old when he was pictured making babies' cribs and cradles in his shop on Station Street in December 1972. Basketmaking had been in the family since the early part of the nineteenth century, when his grandfather had a business in Gayton. Mr Meek followed his father into the trade at the age of 12 and made potato baskets during both world wars as his contribution to the war effort.

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7 Corn dollies exhibited in the school as part of a flower festival in Weston Longville in August 1973 were made by Mrs Judy Saull and Mrs P Brown.

8 Mrs Elizabeth Smith of Briston first made corn dollies when she lived in Essex and by 1974, when our picture was taken, had a repertoire of about 80 different designs. Mrs Smith had just collaborated with artist and glass etcher Mr Bryan Lansdell of Aldborough on a short history of the corn dolly. Once a dying art, corn dolly making was enjoying a revival in the 1970s.

9 Another prominent corn dolly maker in the 1970s was Mrs Judy Saull, seen here in 1974 with a small selection of the many designs she made. Each region had its own designs, housing the spirit of the corn during the winter until it was broken over the newly sown field to promote fertility. To the right of the Cambridge umbrella design is the Barton Turf model with its two cages for the corn spirit.

10 Mr Arthur Downes, a 60-year-old coach painter from Wymondham taught corn dolly making at Centre 71 in the Close, Norwich in the mid-1970s. He is seen here in March 1976 with his most adventurous model to date – a Norfolk farm cart which was made to scale. 'The only thing it does not do is tip up', he said.

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