The Mystery of the Woven Cane Coastguard Helmets

Coast guard hat seen at Arran Museum

A few years ago I was asked to make a replica of a cane coastguards helmet that the Isle of Arran Heritage Museum had on display. They wanted a replica that they could use on school visits and that the children could try on. This helmet was apparently used by the coastguard service to protect their heads if they had to rescue people from cliffs. Although not experienced in cane work, I made the replica after researching and sourcing the type of cane that was used.

Since then the Woven Communities project has enabled people in different parts of Scotland to share what they have found out about basketry in their regions and I found out that Dawn Susan had found a very similar helmet at a museum in Lewis labelled a ‘cliff rescue helmet’.┬áThis raised questions like; Who made these helmets? Were they made individually for each coastguard unit? Or was their somewhere central that made all the helmets for coastguards around the country?, if so was this in Scotland or somewhere else in Britain? Recently, I went back to the museum on Arran to see if I could find out more.

Cliff rescue helmet, Museum Nan Eileann, Dawn Susan

Well, I didn’t come away from the museum with any answers to these questions but I did find out a bit more about the helmet I made a replica of. First of all, this helmet was never used on Arran. It along with a collection of coastguard artifacts, including a wagon, was on loan from the Clyde Coastguard Station in Greenock. But this particular helmet wasn’t used anywhere else in the Clyde coastguard area either. They actually got the wagon (a horse drawn cart) along with other equipment, including the helmet, from Southern Ireland when they went on a visit there. This was long after the coastguards had stopped using these wagons but the Clyde coastguards took it, with the other equipment, to use as display at fairs and events in Scotland. All I know for sure is that the wagons and other equipment were standard issue to all coastguard stations at one time. The wagons themselves all came from Bristol (Bristol Wagon and Carriage Works) and were painted different colours for different countries in Britain (dark blue for Scotland).

Were the woven helmets part of the standard issue equipment? Were these made in Bristol as well, or got from somewhere more local? I still don’t know the answer to these questions.

The helmet Dawn found in Lewis looks like it has been made slightly differently to the one used in Ireland, indicating that they were probably made by different people. Were they made at completely different places? Or were they made at a different times by different people at the same place?

If anyone out there has more information about these helmets or can help us in finding out the answers to any of these questions please get in touch.

The original helmet that was in Arran has now gone back to the coastguard service on the mainland and the helmet on Lewis is now on display in the new galleries at Museum Nan Eileen, where it can be seen by all!

Julie Gurr, December 2012

Coastguard hat and Julie’s replica

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