Like most rural areas in Britain, Trent Vale's traditional skills heritage is inextricably linked with the sustainable management of the landscape.
Historically, most villages would have craftsmen including blacksmiths, sawyers, wheelwrights and stone masons. Many of these trades are, sadly, now rare. Many skills which have been part of our culture for centuries are now practiced by only a few craftsmen with no new apprentices, some could be gone within years.
However, the 21st century has seen a resurgence in interest in some traditional skills, particularly the greenwood trades and basketmaking. The most significant traditional industry in Trent Vale is willow growing and basketry with the area historically being the country's leading producer.
The Trent floodplain, particularly around Gainsborough, was once the most productive area in the UK for willow growing, surpassing even the Somerset Levels. Willow has been used as a basketry material in the Trent Vale for thousands of years. The archaeological dig at Besthorpe in 2011 revealed a Romano-British willow basket lying at the bottom of an excavated well.
At its heyday in the 1800s, Trent Vale's willow industry employed thousands of people. The area was central in the manufacturing baskets, chairs and prams, and Marshall's of Sutton on Trent were pioneers of a process called 'buffing'. Buffed willow is now what the majority of willow products are made of. The process stains the rod by using the natural dye in the willow bark, enhanced by boiling, then stripped to reveal a golden brown colour.
By the 1940s records show a sharp decline in the number of basket makers registered in the two counties, with the last basketry factory in the region closing by 1964. Today only a handful of individuals practise willow weaving.
The industry has left its mark on the Trent Vale landscape. Willow soaking pits, still visible as depressions in the ground in some Trentside villages such as Sutton on Trent, are a relic of its historic past.
There has been new enthusiasm for willow more recently. Once again it is being grown in the Trent Vale for both biomass fuel and as a weaving material. Trent Vale Landscape Partnership is promoting training in willow weaving and sculpture. Farndon Willow Holt, now owned and restored by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, is one of the few remaining survivors of a working willow holt and has a nationally important collection of willow varieties.
The Old Willow Works at Beckingham is an important willow manufacturing building that has been restored as part of the Trent Vale Landscape Partnership. It has now been fully restored and has become a venue for educational activities and community use.
Trent Vale provides a real opportunity to bring people closer to their past, to understand how past communities interacted with their landscape and used local resources. The Partnership is committed to demonstrating how this relationship continues today, by promoting traditional skills and practices to maintain the landscape and heritage. We hold free training and workshops in a range of skills so see our get involved page for up and coming events.