Tales of the wickermen

PUBLISHED: 17:28 19 October 2006 | UPDATED: 11:03 06 May 2010

Walter Wagstaff working in the yard with Fred Cooper

Walter Wagstaff working in the yard with Fred Cooper

Some willow weavers and basket makers of Biggleswade Basket making is an ancient country craft. The baskets were made using osier (coppiced willow), which was once grown extensively in the district with a ready trade from market gardeners and domestic ho

James Wells outside 73 Hitchin Street

Some willow weavers and basket makers of Biggleswade

Basket making is an ancient country craft.

The baskets were made using osier (coppiced willow), which was once grown extensively in the district with a ready trade from market gardeners and domestic households.

There were a number of basket makers working in Biggleswade - Richard Riecraft, William Pain, Joseph Fage and Moses Taylor were mentioned in parish registers between 1742 and 1784, the first two listed as wickerman.

John Farmer was making baskets in 1830 in Hitchin Street and Market Place, with various members of his family engaged in the trade.

His youngest son Francis Farmer continued from 1869 to 1911, with his main premises in Market Square having a rear entrance in Bonds Lane. His osier beds were at Bells Brook.

James George Armantage Wells, "Wicker Dick", followed his father James senior who died in 1840.

James moved from Mill Lane to 73 Hitchin Street in 1870. His youngest son, Frederick Wells, continued to 1952 when the premises burned down in a spectacular fire.

Their osier beds were at Old Warden.

George Wagstaff (my great grandfather) was born at Gamlingay. He came to Biggleswade in 1861 to work for Francis Farmer of Bonds Lane.

He was still making baskets when he died at his son's house in 1912 aged 78.

By 1901 his son Frederick Wagstaff was running the business at 88 Shortmead Street.

He was president of the Basket Makers Union and died aged 60 following a seizure.

Walter Wagstaff was already working with his father and continued the business.

He was very active in local government and local organisations, but died tragically in 1955 aged 58. They owned osier beds at Clifton.

George Cooper was in Shortmead Street from 1851, moving to Palace Street by 1881. His widow Mary Cooper carried on until about 1910.

John Millard was at Cowfairlands in 1881 moving to 56 Stratton Street, with his son living next door. The family was trading in Sun Street up to 1906.

Alfred Woods made baskets at The Fox in Hitchin Street from 1897 to 1937 following his father, Charles.

The very last one was Horace Pressland who had worked for Francis Farmer and Walter Wagstaff. He retired in 1957 from his premises at Station Road.

Up my street

COOKS WAY

Cooks Way is off Drove Road. Charles Cook was a prominent councillor, coach operator and businessman.


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