Our bicycle baskets have always been one of our best selling items and have been sent all over the world over the years, from San Diego to Singapore.
They’re slightly over-sized compared to most other bike baskets out there, which makes them roomy, generous, extremely convenient and very befitting a stately Dutch bicycle. Their capacious size means you can load up with goodies from the market, books from the library or whatever kit and caboodle you need to lug around town or country. In fact, our baskets make people sigh with a particular kind nostalgic lust… and each one is ever so slightly different yet all have oodles of charm and involve age-old basketry techniques with lovely names like randing and slewing and whales!
We’ve had various basket companies make them for us over the years, each with their own merits, but we are delighted to say that our production has now returned to the UK to our favourite basket weaver. Hand woven using traditional techniques, our baskets are woven by P. H. Coate & Son, a family company founded by willow grower and merchant Robert Coate in 1819, and still run by the Coates family today. (A certain very famous wicker hamper is also made here – the quintessential Fortnum and Mason English hamper so we know we are in good company!). In fact, Jonathan Coates, the great, great, great grandson of Robert makes our baskets himself from his worksop on the Somerset Levels.
The Somerset Levels is the most important wetland area in the U.K. This unique landscape provides the perfect conditions for willow growing. Basket making willow, known as “Withies”, have been grown here for two centuries, and it is now the only area left where it is still cultivated for the production of baskets, furniture, garden items and high quality artists’ charcoal. Here indeed is the heart of the English willow industry, an industry that in many ways has not changed for centuries. Willow grows extremely quickly, in one growing season which lasts from late May to early October a single rod can reach up to 8ft long. New willow beds are planted in the spring using pieces of willow from the crop harvested during the preceding winter. The new willow bed will not be fully productive in the first three years, but once it is well established, with careful management the plants can last up to 30 years. Each mature plant or “stool” gives rise to over 30 rods. The crop is harvested each winter time after the leaves have died and fallen, these old leaves provide nutrients for the following years, eliminating the need for artificial fertilisers. The willow beds provide homes and shelter for many species of birds and animals during the summer months. Willow growing is part of the rich environmental heritage of this area of Somerset. Both the commercial willow crops, or beds and the pollarded willow trees contribute to the character and image of the region.
Machines are now used for cutting the withies and stripping off the bark, but in many ways the industry has hardly changed. You can see how the willow is farmed by Coates here.
As well as weaving a multiude of basket styles, Coates have created an impressive collection of bespoke arefcats over the years, including an ingenious chess board jump for the cross-country equestrian event at Greenwich Park for instance, and World War Two style shell baskets for the War Horse movie. They have also made chairs for Johnny Depp’s Sweeny Todd and masks for a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well as regularly producing coffins! And one of the most important items to be produced here is Coate’s Willow Charcoal, something which is used by artists around the world.
Personally, we love our baskets, designed by the team at BEG with Jonathan’s incredible heritage and experience to guide us – and we’re delighted to say that our new collection have arrived today. Hurrah!
Look out also for new styles arriving this Autumn – including willow panniers!
You can find out ore about the BEG Bicycles basket collection here.