The humble willow basket to be remembered at First World War event

Frost covered willow

Celebrate the importance of the humble willow basket during the First World War, with the Everyday Day Lives in War Centre and Rothamsted Research, on Saturday 12th November 2016.

The University of Hertfordshire’s Everyday Day Lives in War Centre and Rothamsted Research are holding a free event to celebrate the importance of the humble willow basket during the First World War on Saturday 12th November 2016.

The special event will also tell the story of the National Willow Collection, one of the world’s largest collections of willow which was created in 1922 following the impact of the conflict on basket production. It is part of the Centre's Basketry ‘Then and Now’ project looking at the history and importance of basketry and willow growing during the First World War and its aftermath.

On the frontline, baskets were used to carry shells, for carrier pigeons, and stretchers for the wounded. This is where the term ‘basket case’ originates. In everyday life baskets were the plastic bags of today, and essential for fishing and fruit picking. The historical research for the event is being done by a team of professional basketmakers, including Hilary Burns, who has been leading the organisation of the event.

The day will include talks by professional basketmakers about their research into regional willow and basket making industries during the era. Speakers include Hilary Burns, Maggie Cooper, Mary Butcher, and Mary Crabb. Mr William Macalpine and Dr Ian Shield, research scientists and willow breeders at Rothamsted Research, will lead a tour of the National Willow Collection.

Professor Owen Davies, Professor of Social History at the University of Hertfordshire, said: ‘The basketry and willow industries were hugely important during the First World War, both for the military and in everyday life on the home front. Yet few people today know this story. This event aims to showcase the life and craft of basketry in the era, and the importance of the National Willow Collection, which was founded because of the War. We hope visitors will also reflect upon issues of sustainability in our lives today.’

Mr William Macalpine said: ‘We are looking forward to leading a visit to explore the UK National Willow Collection as part of the event. The willow collection has its origins in the aftermath of The First World War and contains many accessions that will be of interest to basket makers.’

Dr Ian Shield added: ‘In addition to covering the historical importance, we wish to explain to guests of the event how this unique germplasm collection is being used today in breeding efforts to produce a perennial biomass crop providing a source of renewable biomass for the heat, power and chemical industries.’

More information about the event can be found here:


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The humble willow basket to be remembered at First World War event

Celebrate the importance of the humble willow basket during the First World War, with the Everyday Day Lives in War Centre and Rothamsted Research, on Saturday 12th November 2016.

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