Town mouse on the art of basketmaking

Look out for the sword stands,’ my son, who has visited all the Wren City churches, told me, as my wife and I set off for St Margaret Pattens. They’re splendid examples of wrought iron, all curlicues and cupids, although of little practical use in this swordless age. The church, to St Margaret of Antioch, is identified by a similarly obsolete article, pattens being a kind of raised under-shoe for traversing muddy streets. What better place for the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers, to which my brother was becoming prime warden, to hold its services?

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Since 1569, when it was founded, basketmaking has moved to China. Or so I’d supposed. A Basketmakers Company exhibition at the Guildhall until November 29 shows otherwise. Admittedly, the pieces on show aren’t always baskets as they would have been understood in the 16th century, when they were bought by butchers, bricklayers and fishermen who needed a cheap, lightweight receptacle or trap. They display art as well as craft, fantasy as much as function.

Inventive, nimble-fingered individuals-many of whom are Yeoman members of the Company-weave willow fronds into garden sculptures, plant supports, play dens, living tunnels of green… but yes, also baskets for storing or carrying things. Oh, for a return of the shopping basket, Nature’s answer to the hated plastic bag.

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