An archeological dig in Perth High Street from 1975 to 1977 uncovered remnants of several small round coiled baskets. They were dated late 13th Century and made with a core of straw or willow and split or skeined willow for sowing. Alisdair Davidson researched this basket as part of his Arts Council funded project into Scottish Traditional Baskets in the late 1990’s and made a replica of it.
Below are some snippets of a conversation I had with him about this research and the making of a replica.
In the dig the baskets were found under woven panels
A: They used to use the fences for actual laying it on the ground rather than anywhere else because of the mud.
J: Oh did they?
A: Aye, Just the wattle fences to walk on.
Making the replica and materials used
J: that’s willow is it?
A: yeah split willow…took a long time.
J: yeah that would be quite hard to work.
A: it was all hand split.
J: And that’s what the original was made from?
A: aye…well they reckon that also they could be made…it made it much easier just using rushes.
J: is that the original size of it?
A: Thats exact…that’s one I made just to try rush and these are both the same age and as you can see they are still holding together.
According to a paper written by basketmaker Dorothy Wright at the time of the excavation some of these baskets had a core of straw. I asked Alisdair about the materials he used
J: In your replica you didn’t use straw?
A: No, in this one I just used a split bit of willow and coiled, and then I actually taped one wee bit of it and then started just to make it easier. You could peg it. I think the old way would have been just to coil it and split a bit of willow and peg the actual join and start opposite it and go round and then you just stick in a…
J: It would have been easier to hold it in place if it was straw, wouldn’t it?
A: Possibly but it would also rot quicker
J: Yeah that’s true
A: I mean that’s been washed lots of times. It gets used in the kitchen
J: But the original was straw
A: Yeah…in some of them. Others I’ve seen there wasn’t, there was actual willow.
J: Oh right, what from the same place?
Remnants found and possible use of baskets
J: Ah so they had more than one (basket) at the same place?
J: that’s interesting.
A: I think they were things they would have….what they reckoned was that they were things that were hung up to dry the herbs but..
J: Its a bit small for that isn’t it?
A: Yeah, yeah I know but people that work in museums some of them are a bit more academic than practical. But somebody had drawn it when it first came out the ground. The bigger one they had and that was the drawing I showed you earlier. That one. That was the original state of it. It disappeared
J: Right…that’s a shame. So all that is left is that little bit?
A: No they have got lots of bits like that. But that was the big bit.(that went missing) I know the measurements of it but…..aye its that size. (showing his replica- just less than span of my hand)
by Julie Gurr