Basket Making

Welcome to the Repton Village History Group.

Here you will find a description of the RVHG, including a brief outline of the activities of the group and details of many of the interesting historical facts associated with this ancient community.

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Currently (June 2005) Repton Parish Council is concerned at the poor condition and lack of tidiness of the osier beds along Main Street . The site is owned by the Church Commissioners and the Parish Council is trying to persuade them to manage the site so that it can become visual asset to the village and also a reminder of the past. There are very few examples of these beds remaining.  

Historically, this area is an important part of Repton’s heritage as the osiers were used by the basket making industry for which Repton was well known in the past. It was very much a “cottage” industry but the Repton basket makers produced very large quantities for a wide range of uses. These were shipped quite long distances to their ultimate users. Pigot’s 1831 Trade Directory listed no less than seven manufacturers in Repton. There was still one operating in the 1930’s and later.  

The osiers are an offshoot of the willow family and grow in marshy land which is of little commercial use for other vegetation. The best shoots for basket making are one year old and between eight and fourteen feet in length. If they were required for white baskets as used by butchers and bakers, they would be cut in May while the sap was still rising. It was then possible to skin off the bark without boiling and without sacrificing the white colour. When they are more matured, the osiers have to be boiled for four hours so they can be easily stripped and to make them pliable. The boiling colours them and a rub over with an oiled cloth gives a glossy appearance to the finished basket.  

Seth Pearson, seen pictured with some of his baskets, was probably the last to carry on this trade in Repton. He worked from a tin shed on the corner of High Street and Pinfold Lane where the Vet’s car park is now located. A wooden frame, some simple tools and strong, supple fingers together with plenty of patience were all that was required.  

There was considerable demand for the products.  Items such as malt skips, gardeners’ baskets and travelling hampers were produced. The Burton breweries and  Roberts and Birch, a well known ham and bacon curers in Burton , were good customers. Many years ago large quantities of baskets were made in Repton for the pottery manufacturers in North Staffordshire as well as crates for use by the South Derbyshire potteries. As is often the case today, foreign competition hit the industry hard. Seth Pearson was quoted in 1932 that he could remember the time when there were eight or nine baskets makers operating between the village and Repton Scrubs. It therefore seems worth preserving an area which contributed so much to Repton’s character and prosperity in the past.

A.Kimber. June 2005.