Introduction

The Norfolk Basket Company is a partnership between myself and my wife and former apprentice Ruth Charlton.  I have been making willow baskets professionally since 1985 and have run willow basket making courses since 1989.  My interest in the craft was initially sparked by coming across an old basketmaker at Fakenham market in Norfolk.  I was intrigued by the vast variety of baskets, all with different names and uses.  I was looking for a way out of my job working on North Sea oil rigs and within a couple of months,  helped with a grant from the Rural Development Commission I found myself  apprenticed to Terry Bensley in Great Yarmouth.  Terry, now retired was a Master Basketmaker and taught me a full range of traditional English willow basketry from small fruit pickers to willow furniture. Ruth became my apprentice in 1997 and we have worked together ever since.

We have continually sought to expand and refine our quality willow baskets. Our range currently includes picnic hampers, shopping baskets, log baskets, mushroom foragers, toy baskets, vegetable gatherers, linen trunks, bread baskets, fruit baskets, herring crans, flower baskets, Irish potato skibs, peg and egg baskets, apple cobs, blackberry pickers, bike baskets, letter trays, shopping trolleys, kitchen baskets, butcher and baker trade baskets, ali baba baskets, eel traps, fishing creels, willow and hazel backpacks, Perigourdins, willow cribs, tension trays,  wet and dry washing baskets, Provencal cheese trays, pottager’s trugs and many more.

Together we cultivate around twenty varieties of willow on our willow bed at our home in South West France. We cut our willows in January and use these alongside varieties from Somerset and the Touraine in the Loire Valley to make a full range of traditional and contemporary work.

Having moved to France at the end of 2013, we now sell our baskets either direct from our workshop or from our shop page on the web site. We continue to attend shows and exhibitions in France and can often be found at the renowned Fete de la Vannerie in Provence, the largest Basket Festival in France and the Foire aux Paniers at Issigeac in the Dordogne. Here we exchange techniques with basket makers from all over Europe and many of our designs are influenced by the European baskets we see at the Festivals.

Check out our Events page for our dates 2017.

Some past and present customers include David Mellor Design, Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate, Divertimenti, Few and Far Between in London, Bianco Nero Gallery in Yorkshire, The Linen Press, Interior Designers Colefax & Fowler, Thorp Design, New From Old and Indigo Design Associates.

My teaching experience started with Adult Education classes in Norfolk back in 1989, these proved very successful, so much so that I decided to arrange my own weekend courses and in 1998 offered ten courses which were very well attended. Many students re-booking for further courses, some students returning many times and several now working as professional makers.

I have also taught many times for the Basket Makers Association on their week-long summer/spring schools in York, Hampshire and Buckinghamshire.  Students from these courses have since attended my weekend courses.

In 2003 one of my weekend courses was attended by a Canadian basketmaker, who subsequently invited us to teach Salt Spring Island, B.C. Canada.  There was an enthusiastic group of basketmakers in that part of the country and they commissioned us to return again in 2004 and 2005 to teach on Salt Spring Island, Gabriola Island and Mount Vernon, Washington,U.S.A

This year I have a full range of courses planned from Chez Neymard but will also be teaching along with many other European makers in Bouxurulles, Vosges.

 

About Adrian Charlton

Adrian Charlton - willow basket maker

I have been making baskets since 1985. My interest was sparked by seeing a basket maker at a market in North Norfolk. I was searching for a change of direction and looking for a profession, which I hoped would give me more freedom and, after five years on the oil rigs, one which I also hoped would have less of an impact on the environment.

I sought and was awarded a grant by the Rural Development Commission to study traditional basketmaking skills under Master Basket Maker Terry Bensley. As Terry’s apprentice I was taught a full range of East Anglian fishing, agricultural, domestic and Trade’s basket ware. I sold my early baskets at local fairs and to retailers and by 1989 was attending some 35-40 shows a year, from small County Fairs to the largest Agricultural Shows in the country.

In 1997 I attended my first Fete de la Vannerie in Vallabregues France. From here I developed an interest in French and Spanish styles, exchanging ideas with basket makers from all over Europe and utilising these techniques to add to our range.

Also in 1987 I planted my first willow bed. This side of the business has grown and we cultivated around thirty varieties of willows on three beds in Norfolk. Our first project on our arrival in France was to clear some land for a new willow bed which we hope will start producing willows over the next few years. The growing of our own willow enables us to see the whole process of basket making through from start to finish. We grow varieties which are not easily available to buy, colours ranging from yellows, browns, reds to purples.

My teaching experience started around 1989. I ran a few adult education classes and while I enjoyed the process of teaching I was frustrated with the two hour time limit of the classes. In 1997 I organised ten weekend courses in Norfolk teaching traditional English Willow Baskets and continue to run a full programme of courses every year. Both Ruth and I are active members of The Basket Maker’s Association and in 1999 they approached me to run an advanced willow course at their Summer School in Woodrow, Bucks and I have since taught at the Spring/Summer schools in Sparsholt and York.

My weekend courses attract people from all over the country and further afield, one student coming from Canada, a contact which led to four month long teaching trips to Canada and the USA.
I now teach one-to-one vocational courses in our workshop and several people from these one-to-one courses have gone on to make basket making their profession. The majority of the baskets we still produce today are traditional functional baskets however over the last few years I have developed an interest in contemporary asymmetrical design and now make many baskets with this more “artistic twist”

My search in those early days for a more authentic, autonomous lifestyle has been aptly realised in the profession of basketmaking – which I still cherish.

About Ruth Charlton

Adrian taught me in a similar fashion to his own apprenticeship and I learnt to make a full range of English Basketry, going on like him, to learn various other techniques on our yearly pilgrimage to the Basketry Festival in Vallabregues.I have been making baskets since 1997. Having a basket maker as a partner I decided it would be a good idea to make one or two of my own to see what all the fuss was about. Luckily (or not – depending how you look at it) I found I not only had an aptitude for the craft but I also enjoyed it.

We make many of the same baskets but we each have our preferences and mine is for production work. I also enjoy the cultivation side of the business and find willow cutting on a crisp winter’s day a great pleasure. Hard work but satisfying to think that these bundles of unruly rods will become functional and hopefully treasured possessions, lasting many years.

My teaching experience is more limited than Adrian’s. Sometimes I can be found helping at the start of a class. I have taught and demonstrated live willow work in several primary schools and also taught beginners willow on several one day classes in Norfolk. Together with Adrian I taught on Salt Spring Island BC Canada.

I continue to enjoy the profession sharing a workshop and a bed works for us… most of the time.

History

1985 Receive a grant from Rural Development Commission to study traditional basket making skills under Norfolk Master Basketmaker Terry Bensley.
As an apprentice I was taught a full range of East Anglian fishing, agricultural, domestic and trades basket ware.
1989 Start attending exhibitions and shows countrywide trading as Traditional Willow Basketry. Taught adult education classes for Broadland Education Authority in willow basket making.
1994 Win best craft exhibitor at Royal Kent Show
1995 Win best craft exhibitor at Royal Kent Show
1997 Exhibit at renowned Basketry Festival, Fete de la Vannerie, Vallabregues, South of France. Attend annually to present day.
1997 Study French basketmaking techniques with highly accomplished French/English trained Basketmaker Sally Goymer
1997 Organise ten weekend courses in Norfolk teaching traditional willow baskets (mainly East Anglian). Continue to present day with full calendar of teaching weekends throughout the year.
1999 Win best new exhibitor and best demo at Royal Berkshire Show
1999 Teach advanced willow class at Basketmakers Association Summer School in Woodrow Buckinghamshire
2000 Win best exhibitor Royal Berkshire Show
2000 Formed Partnership with Ruth Charlton trading as the Norfolk Basket Company
2001 Study with Master Basketmaker Norbert Faure at Villaines les Roches (studying Perigourdin)
2003 Teach two 2-day courses in willow basketmaking on Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada
2003 Teach at “Branching Out” Festival, Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada
2003 Teach one week willow Backpack course Salt Spring Island. Teach beginners and intermediate courses in willow in Mount Vernon, Washington State U.S.A
2005 Teach Perigourdin course in Salt Spring Island. Teach Willow course in Mount Vernon, Washington State.
2007 Teach Perigourdin Course at York basketmakers Association Spring School.
2008 Start teaching vocational training on one to one basis from my workshop.
2010 Teach ‘Trouble Shooting Course’ at Basketmakers Association Spring School, York
2012 Runner-up Marsh Christian Trust Awards for Heritage Craft Trainer of the Year
2013 Teach Willow Backpack Advance Course for Basketmakers Association at York Spring School

Continue to present day exhibiting and demonstrating at mostly local Shows. Further study of basket making techniques and materials and willow culture during travels in Turkey, The Netherlands, Belgium, France. Cultivation of many varieties of willows. Experimentation with different varieties and drying, soaking times etc.
2014 Moved to France

Set up workshop and willow bed in the Dordogne teaching four day residential courses to both English and French basket makers.
2016 & 2017 Teach English basket making techniques at 6th Rencontres autour du Saule at Bouxurulles, Vosges France