The Crownpoint Box factory began life as a ‘cope tube’ factory, and was built in about 1875 for R W Neil. In 1896-97, and again in 1914, it was rebuilt and extended for George Pratt, the boxmaker. By 1969 it belonged to the British Basket & Besto Co Ltd, and made fruit baskets, or ‘chip’ baskets, and punnets out of thin wood or lath, using a semi-mechanical system. The factory workers still had to interlace the laths, but staples were used to secure the baskets.
This image shows sections of poplar logs (front right) being peeled, as if by a giant pencil-sharpener, to give a thin wooden sheet. The sheet, on a conveyor, can be seen top left, above the machine. From this sheet the elements of the baskets and punnets were stamped.
To make the baskets, the wooden sheets had to be moistened in order to bend them and make them pliable, and following assembly then had to be dried quickly to avoid mold growing. This photograph shows a girl removing baskets from the machine in which they had been dried. She is using a stapling machine to assemble the basket. This systematization of making a spale or lath basket is one of the few ways basket-making can be translated to machine. The construction was quite possibly inspired by spale baskets used in tattie work. Here, the process has been broken down into a series of stages. The aim was undoubtedly to make throughput more efficient, but it would also have made the task more undemanding, if not dull. The conveyor belt, back left, took the containers to be packed.
At least from the 1890s until 1970 soft fruit and tomatoes were almost always brought to market in ‘chip’ baskets and punnets. This was the last factory to make these products in Scotland, and closed a few days after the top two photographs were taken.
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