I am going over the border today, to a country where traditional culture and language has been fiercely defended for years. I am slightly wary as to where to start on this as I could easily emigrate and spend all my time just writing about Welsh stuff; blankets, baskets, love spoons, clogs etc. But as I have to start somewhere I shall start with the cyntell basket (I believe ‘ll‘ in Welsh is pronouned ‘th‘ so it would be ‘cynteth‘ – but please correct me if I am wrong).
The cyntell is a multi functional basket used around the farm to ‘carry stuff’; animal feed, potatoes and fruit and they can also be utilised around the home, for laundry and sleeping babies amongst other things. I also wonder if they were ever used, way back when, as a unit of measure like the trug in Sussex.
In fact, like the Sussex trug and the Cumbrian swill, the traditional frame basket was not confined to county or country borders. Known as a cyntell in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, identical baskets were found across other regions and over in Ireland, where they were known as skibs, scuttles and Sally Saucers.
The cyntell is formed around a thick, dried willow or hazel hoop, with split and shaped wooden ribs, which together form the frame which is interwoven with willow. The original farm baskets would have been rustic affairs but a tradition developed to weave more elaborate competition baskets and these are what are more common now.
The survival of the cyntell is said to be down to three men, D.J Davies, Marvin Morgan and Les Llewelyn. In the late 1990′s they were all working at St Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff. Mr Davis was the basket maker, Mr Morgan the miller and Mr Llewelyn whittled love spoons and walking sticks.
Mr Davies had been the resident basket maker at St Fagans since it opened in 1948, demonstrating the weaving of cyntell basket as taught to him by his farmer grandfather (who had been taught by his father, no doubt). Aware that Mr Davies was one of the only craftspeople still making the traditional basket, Mr Llewelyn and Mr Mogan decided to ask Mr Davies to pass on his basketry skills. As Mr Davies had begun to think he would be the last basketmaker in Wales to make the cyntell basket, he was delighted to pass on the skills which had been passed through the generations, via his grandfather.
Having gained the necessary skills to call themselves basket makers, the two younger men set about keeping the traditional Welsh basket making skills alive and kicking. Mr Davies and Mr Llewelyn became founder members of The South Wales Basketmakers and Mr Davies also became President of the South Wales Stickmakers group. I believe Mr Morgan became the resident basket maker at St Fagan’s after Mr Davies retired, but unfortunately, when I searched St Fagan’s website I could find no reference to either cyntells or Mr Morgan.
Luckily for us, many people now seem to appreciate the relevance of craft items associated with particular regions. The South Wales Basket Makers Group holds regular courses to teach others the essential cyntell skills, with Les Llewellyn running many of these. It seems the knowledge passed on from Mr Davies is now safe in the hands of keen basket makers in Wales and beyond. Indeed, it could be said (at a stretch) that cyntell basket making is a growth industry and let’s be honest – there is not many of those about these days!!
Courses and Sales
Links through to makers who produce cyntells and also to cyntell making basket courses for interested people.
www.traditionalwelshbaskets.co.uk - Les Llewellyn
www.framebaskets.co.uk - Ruth Pybus
Ray Lister – Ray supplies a video of D J Davies weaving a cyntell, plus he runs frame basket weaving courses at various locations
Owen Jones – Owen also learnt to weave cyntells from DJ Davies and runs the occasional course to.