Visit to Isle of Arran Heritage Museum
Last week I spent a day at Isle of Arran Heritage museum to see what I could find out about the use of baskets on Arran, where I live, and also to see what basketry items they had in their collection that might be of inters for our basketry in Scotland project.
They are closed for the season at the moment but I was able to arrange to visit on a Wednesday when they have several volunteers working at the museum and the archives are open for research.
The staff and volunteers at the museum were all very helpful and showed me the basketry items in their collection. As well as several baskets including lovely willow round based egg basket, a cane trug and a oval laundry basket they had other interesting basketry items like a collection of cane carpet beaters and a couple of woven clothes dummies made from center cane. The dummies weren’t even officially part of their exhibits but they had them to use to display clothes on!
Of particular interest in their collection of baskets was a very large parcel basket (140cm x 70cm x 90cm high) with a wooden wheel base. It was used in the sorting office of Brodick Post Office on Arran, to collect packets and parcels and the wheeled out to the van. This was eventually replaced in the 1990’s by metal spring loaded trolleys so that staff didn’t have to bend down to put parcels in them.
An interesting image from Edwardian times, that we found in a book of postcards of Arran, was also connected with the Post Office. It was of a scene in Lamlash that had a postman’s handcart outside the post office. The hand cart incorporated a square basket for the mail. This image could be matched with a passage in another book that contained interviews that schoolchildren had done with older members of the community in the 1980’s. One of these describes how the hand cart was used;
‘The postman went to meet the boat and take the mail back to the post office, which he did by yoking himself to a red creel type barrow. He did this by putting a rope over his shoulders and under his arms, attaching the ropes to the shafts of his barrow. When the post reached the office it was closed for 20mins while the mail was sorted’ (From an interview with Mrs Anderson of Catacol by Judith Lane in 1984)
When volunteers at the museum realised how interested I was in the use of baskets on Arran some of the volunteers started telling me stories about their memories of baskets on Arran. They told me potato baskets made of spale (split wood) were in widespread use across the island until they were replaced by metal baskets which interestingly were made to a similar size and shape as the woven ones. Unfortunately they didn’t have examples of either of these in the museum. We did however find some images of these in use on Arran in their picture archive.
Nor did they have an example of the laundry baskets that I was told were common on the island. As a popular holiday destination Arran had, as it still has, many hotels and guesthouses. Each of these would have a big laundry hamper to put there dirty linen in. Mhari MacMillan told me about how she helped her father who worked for Stonefield Laundry collect these hampers. Every Sunday they would go round the island picking up the baskets full of dirty linen from all the hotels and guesthouses. These would then be taken to the ferry on Monday morning for shipping to Paisley where the laundry was based. The following Friday the laundry hampers would come back with clean linen and be delivered back to the hotels.
I was also told how after a wedding, when they were leaving to go on their honeymoon, it was the tradition for the newlyweds to be taken down the pier to the ferry in one of these laundry hampers!
Julie Gurr, November 2012