Canes

Our History

Line drawing of  James Johnson in his coracle

Bangor-on-Dee or to give it its Welsh name Bangor-is-y-coed is a small well balanced village (two churches and two pubs) situated as it implies, alongside the River Dee between Llangollen and Chester. The Dee is renowned for its salmon fishing and it is from this activity that the present business has its beginning. About one hundred and twenty years ago James Johnson and his brother Charlie earned a living coracle fishing, catching or trying to catch salmon. When the catch was poor they would cut a bundle of willows growing alongside the river, take them home and make baskets which they would sell to make money to feed and clothe their families.

Life was hard for the two brothers because James had six children and Charlie had twelve. Coracle fishing was a very efficient way of catching fish and the authorities were concerned about reducing stocks in the river. Permits to fish became increasingly difficult to obtain and the two brothers had to rely more on basket making as a source of income.

Line drawing of Cyril Johnson by Les Newland

One of James' sons also named James joined the army when he was eighteen and was seriously wounded in the 1914-1918 war. At Beckitts Park Hospital in Leeds a bone was removed from his leg to repair his damaged left arm.

Part of the treatment to strengthen his arm was basket making. He became interested in the craft and on leaving hospital served a two year apprenticeship with a firm of basket makers in Leeds. Whilst in hospital he met a local girl, Mabel Marion Arnold whom he married and brought back to Bangor-on-Dee. After working with his father he decided to plant a willow bed rather than rely on the haphazard growths alongside the river.

Cyril Johnson learning about basket weaving from his father James in 1941
Cyril Johnson with his father James in 1941

James and Mabel had a son they named Cyril. Cyril left school at fifteen to work with his father and had more than forty years experience in the craft.

Cyril married Jane and had five children - three daughters and two sons - who have all received training in basket making. Two daughters and a son now work full time in the business. It is a strong family business where everyone gets involved and has sufficient knowledge and skills to continue the tradition.

Cyril Johnson working on a log basket
Cyril Johnson weaving a large log basket (around 36"x27") in 1995

As the business has grown, much of the willow weaving expertise has been devoted to making items to customers' special requirements, the smaller and less specialised items being purchased from other sources.

Basketmaking - Cyril Johnson
Cyril Johnson working on a basket in the1960s

Unfortunately Cyril passed away very suddenly in June 1997, so the business is now run by Jane together with her three children. Of the seven grandchildren growing up in the family tradition of basket making, at least two are showing a keen interest in the business, so there is no reason why it shouldn't continue to thrive for the next five generations!

The business has undergone further development and retails quality Conservatory Cane Furniture for which we have gained a reputation for providing quality and service.

 

The shop and workshop has been extended several times over the years to allow us to display the wide range of baskets and furniture we have on offer. The following painting shows how the shop used to look around 1975. The children in the foreground are assumed to be three of Cyril and Jane's Children.

Picture of shop circa 1975


Basketmaking - Robert Johnson
The family tradition continues to this day. This picture shows Robert Johnson at work in 2005

Basket making demonstrations are available throughout the year free of charge.

Please contact us for any further information you may require.

 

 

 

More about our basket making ...


Bridging the Years

Bridging the Years CD Picture with a painting of Bangor on Dee Church

Bridging the Years was a project run in 2006.

Pupils at Ysgol Sant Dunawd, Bangor on Dee were encouraged through the project to learn about local history. The pupils interviewed local residents and recorded their memories to produce an invaluable record of life in Bangor on Dee in the 1960s and 1970s.

The project was successful in helping to preserve and celebrate the local heritage whilst developing important links between the children and the older people from the Bangor on Dee area.

This was a Rural Community Action project funded and facilitated by the Welsh Assembly Government and Wrexham County Borough Council and delivered by Northern Marches Cymru.

We have a display board about the project in our showroom and CDs with the childrens' interviews are available.

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Part of our display of basketware

Part of our display of basketware

A basketwork bicycle

One of our more unusual works!

A basketwork motorcycle

... and another!