Royal commission got Norfolk basket maker weaving

Colin Manthorpe started weaving herring baskets six decades ago in the year that Queen Elizabeth took to the throne.

Since 1952 the Gorleston grandfather has become an expert in his field, crafting baskets for TV magicians, the hampers for the film 101 Dalmatians and even publishing a book on basket making.

And now the 74-year-old has achieved the highest accolade possible in his trade, as he was commissioned to weave a picnic basket for Her Majesty as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Mr Manthorpe says he was honoured to be asked and, although he has 60 years of experience, said he felt the pressure of the task.

'I used to make three per day, 15 per week, but this one took more than two days,' said Mr Manthorpe, of New College Close.

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'I took my time and tried to make it the best I could.

'I've worked really, really hard all my life, but I've had some really interesting work and being asked to do this was an honour.

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'I think it's going to Balmoral – I know the Queen does have a few picnics.'

He was asked by The Worshipful Company of Basketmakers to make the hamper for the Queen and says he was delighted to accept.

'But I couldn't tell anybody about it as it had to go back and forwards to the Privy Council while the Queen decided what she wanted,' he added.

The finished product was made with willow from Somerset, and measured in at 30ins by around 20ins, and 14ins deep.

But Mr Manthorpe did not get to meet the Queen to hand the hamper over – as he was in Denmark meeting some basket making friends.

He is dedicated to his work and respected for it.

But it took his childhood friend Malcolm Parr, 74, to tell the EDP of his work – as he is a modest man who spends his retirement crafting children's toys, bird feeders and baskets which he gives out free to friends and neighbours.

Mr Manthorpe weaves his creations in a holiday chalet in his garden, which he bought from the former Golden Sands holiday park in Hopton.

He began work as an apprentice for Yarmouth Stores after replying to a newspaper advert, and learned his trade with half a dozen other basket traders – some of dozens in the town in the 1950s.

'Years ago there were many basket makers and hundreds of acres of willow grown in Norfolk,' he explained.

'Before the war everything was carried in baskets, but then they started making things out of plastic and wood and everything changed.'

His starting salary was 26 shillings for a 48-hour week, and he added: 'I don't think you would get many youngsters doing that now.'

He was even a member of the basket-makers' trade union – which closed in 1956. After five years at Yarmouth Stores, Mr Manthorpe was called up for national service for two years and found no opportunities in the trade when he returned.

He worked in a television factory for six months until landing a basket making job at Stanley Birds in Yarmouth, where he was employed for 10 years.

As the industry struggled he worked as a security guard at a holiday park, but started his own basket-weaving business when his wife Valerie died of cancer aged just 36 – in 1976.

This gave him more time to look after his four children, and he worked on commissions for Oliver Meek in Swaffham, Hovells in Norwich, and later John Lewis in London.

He retired in 2004, but came out of retirement to make the hamper for the Queen.

'I loved my job,' said Mr Manthorpe. 'You're creating something all the time, and there's hundreds of different baskets you can make.'

He still teaches people basket making for fun, has written a book called Fifty Years on the Plank and done work for English Heritage.

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