Making Baskets for Saddlers

While researching items in Sherborne Museum for a forthcoming exhibition on basketmaking I came across a photograph, donated by a member of the Deacon family, who made baskets here in Sherborne and in the nearby village of Nether Compton over four generations.

1997.97.16 - Making baskets for Saddlers - 2388 1902 or laterThe photograph says on the back ‘Our Workshop and the baskets we are making for Saddlers’. If you look closely at this photo, I am sure you will find this as exciting as I do because you can see that the photographer has clearly set up all the basketmakers to face towards the camera and they are all at various stages in the process of making some large lidded and portable hampers. I have puzzled long and hard over this image and have speculated not just on who and what the hampers may have been for but on the location of the workshop and the men themselves. I know there are likely to be members of the Deacon family pictured here and I am working hard to see if I can find out just who is who but first I can finally reveal who ‘Saddlers’ were and it came about, once again, through my colleagues at the Family History Centre in Sherborne.

Because ‘Saddlers’ had been given a capital S on the back of the postcard our first thoughts were that they may have been a local business – perhaps a laundry. The Deacons supplied local businesses with a variety of baskets over the years and it seemed to me that Saddlers might just have been one of them. The baskets appeared to be made in white willow and Pat Deacon, who had supplied me with much information over time, told me that white willow was always kept for baby baskets, bread baskets and laundry baskets so perhaps Saddlers was a laundry? Looking through local trade directories revealed nothing that would cast any light on our search at all so I decided to make contact with Pat again and she said she remembered talk of baskets being made by the family for a large country house, somewhere in the area, where they were filled with bandages to be sent to the front during WW1 and she thought she might have a photograph – how very exciting. Pat has a new IPad and so she had a go at using it to send me a photograph and within minutes it arrived and here it is – a little fuzzy but you can see ‘Saddlers’ written on the front of some of the baskets.

WW1 Country House nr Sherborne

I knew just the person to throw some light on this and so I forwarded the photo to Col Iain Swinnerton, the expert on military history at the Family History Centre, who immediately came back with ‘Saddlers is not a company – it means they are for army saddlers who incorporate fittings to fit the baskets on to mules or horses. These are medical panniers for the RAMC to carry medical supplies forward to field hospitals and advanced dressing stations – the latter were just behind the front line.’ So there we have it – one of the mysteries solved most succinctly by Iain. WW1 basketThe baskets in the photo have been covered by some protective material and I found another image via the Internet that more closely illustrates this.

I have so enjoyed the team work that went into revealing this story and I look forward to perhaps finding out where the local house, in which the baskets were prepared for the front, might have been located, and the identification of the Deacon men involved, plus the location of the workshop…..one answer just leads to more questions …..but if course that is what it is all about we never really get to the bottom of anything but one thing is for sure – it is hugely rewarding trying!

Barbara Elsmore

21 February 2015

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One Response to Making Baskets for Saddlers

  1. barrybrock says:

    Thank you, Barbara – what a great little story!

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