Another one-time Bridgwater industry was basket-making using the local willows, or withies. The industry was active throughout the nineteenth and well into the twentieth centuries. There were many small basket-making cottages, based in private homes. First World War l created a demand for wicker baskets which were suited to bumpy landings when dropping supplies by parachute into enemy occupied territory. The resilience and flexibility of the willow made these baskets ideal. Laundry baskets, bicycle baskets, picnic hampers, fishing baskets, lobster pots, garden and household furniture, were all made in the town.
Popular varieties of willow for the withy industry were Black Mole and Champion. Simply taking a cutting of a stem and pushing into the clay soil was enough to propagate the plant. These were grown across the low-lying parts of Sedgemoor. The willow growers worked in continually damp conditions, but for the basket makers, their work was at least in the dry. It was nonetheless back-aching, sitting on the floor, back against the wall, with the basket woven between the legs. Apart from the cottage industries, there were a number of manufacturing centres around the town: Squibs in Mount Street, Kraft Production in Cornboro Place, Betalls in West Street and Slocombe’s in New Road.
Text Copyright © 2008 Roger Evans