Some crafts need a bit of a push and the craft of swill making is one of them. So I shall be highlighting some of the crafts I have encountered which are teetering on the edge of extinction, almost consigned to history, but not quite. The craft skills which have been passed from generation to generation for centuries, now being practiced by just a handful of people.
I shall start with the Cumbrian Oak Swill. You will recall from a previous post about cumbrian swills, these baskets were once used in many different walks of life; mining, shipping and farming to name but a few and there was a thriving basket making industry to supply the baskets. Today this thriving industry has contracted down to one full time swill maker, Owen Jones. He is the Cumbrian swill maker. It is quite astonishing to think a whole cottage industry has dwindled down to one individual in a generation.
I am not sure what Owen Jones thinks of his role as custodial of the swill making craft, it must be a bit weird to know everyone is documenting you as an endangered species. There are even videos of Owen Jones making a swill archived at the Museum of Rural Life at the University of Reading, just in case he decides to jack it all in and retrain as a banker.
But I am happy to say that right now Owen Jones retraining as a banker seems unlikely. I have just ordered my first oak swill from Owen and he didn’t mention any plans to stop. In fact he now has an apprentice, so hopefully the craft of swill making is safe for the moment.
If you would like to purchase an oak swill from Owen Jones then his website is -
Here you can order an oak swill in a variety of sizes, find out which craft fairs Owen will be demonstrating at and also book yourself on to a Swill Making course. Now that’s something I fancy, three days in the Lake District learning how to make a swill. I have got a plan to make a really big one and use it as a chair – yes, obviously I would need to put some legs on it!
Stop press: Swill making is spreading. A welsh maker, Ruth Pybus, learnt her skills from Owen Jones and now offers swill baskets alongside the traditional Cyntell, a welsh willow frame basket. You can find her baskets here -
NB – Are you a maker of swill baskets? Let me know so I can add you to my list.