Devon stave baskets and maunds
Size nine maund top bond/rim L64cm W46.5cm
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The Devon stave basket is an agricultural basket made in a range of sizes corresponding to different weights of usually apples, potatoes and animal feeds. The smaller sizes have a bent ash handle whereas the larger sizes, known as Maunds, have handles carved from the end staves. The basket is made up from a number of staves cut from a durable softwood such as Douglas fir. These are attached to a base, top bond and handle framework using nails which are then "clenched" over. Sometimes, in areas where the soil is heavy, the baskets would be made in the open stave style; gaps were left between staves to allow mud to fall through.
The baskets are used today for collecting eggs, vegetables, flowers etc. Their tough construction also means they work perfectly for carrying tools and logs. A well made stave basket should last generations.
The baskets rely on pre-industrial green woodworking techniques such as cleaving, shaving and bending. The bonds and handle are green ash bent around formers; not steam bent or soaked as many believe; each size requiring two formers. The green ash is first cleft down its length using a froe, then shaped further with a drawknife to create the bond. The ash is then carefully eased around the formers where it is then left for two weeks to set before removing to assemble. This process is unique to the craft and in my view should be preserved as a key characteristic of this craft.
The baskets are incredibly strong and are similar to barrels or boxes in construction. The larger maunds could almost be considered pieces of furniture. Despite the tough construction of the stave basket, there is a fragility to their survival. The production of stave baskets declined rapidly after the two world wars. Cheaper alternatives made from plastic or metal came along with more efficient mechanical harvesting techniques which meant not only less need for the baskets but led also to fewer people who knew how to make them. Current issues such as tree disease, particularly ash die back and Dutch elm disease restrict the numbers of baskets that can be made. I make around fifty of mixed sizes each year, each basket is numbered and recorded before it leaves the workshop.
It felt important to me that the full range of baskets should be back in production and that it happened here in Devon. Heritage crafts with strong connections to place deserve to be saved and safeguarded for future generations. Many of these crafts are associated with low impact forms of land management such as coppicing which increase biodiversity within our native woodlands. I am a firm believer that to make is good for the soul, and that hand crafted items add hugely to the human experience, helping us to reconnect with older, more natural ways of living.
I have reproduced all nine sets of formers previously belonging to Jack Rowsell of Tiverton. Before Jack, the formers belonged to the Shattocks, a farming family from North Devon. The formers, believed to date from the 1850's are now in the hands of Mark Snellgrove in North Cornwall.
The baskets offer a glimpse back to a time when most people would have had an instinctive knowledge of the type of woods which could be found locally and the individual properties of each. The baskets are ideally made from three separate species, Ash, Elm and Douglas fir. Ash cleaves and bends well, is tough and shockproof. Elm is rot proof and its wavy grain means it does not split when nailed. Douglas fir is lightweight and naturally rot resistant and long wearing.
There is an excitement about the hunt for the right ash: Ideally it will be coppice grown, in a wet area, free standing and blown in the wind, meaning it will be supple and perform well. This different way of experiencing the landscape fosters care and connection, putting us face to face with the resource and ultimately it's sustainable management. For me it deepens my connection to this place I call home.
There are nine sizes in total. Sizes 1-3 have top handles and are the smaller sizes. Sizes 4-6 also have top handles but as these sizes are larger they also have a mid bond for added strength. Sizes 7-9 are the Maunds. These baskets are larger again and have carved end staves which form the handles to replace the top handles of the smaller sizes.
I make all baskets to order. Please contact me for pricing/sizes and be prepared to wait up to four weeks for your basket.
My usual season for making runs from September through to May and is closely related to the tree felling season which provides me with sufficient green ash. However please contact me anytime as I may have one or two in stock.
All baskets are made by me in my workshop above the woods in the Teign Valley, Devon.
I am a member of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen and the Heritage Crafts Association.
You will find more basket pictures and in depth photos and videos of the process over on my Instagram page.