Western Mail July 19th 1933
Walters — Master Basket Maker
Craft for Leisure and not Profit
By GARETH JONES
are few more difficult tasks than to find a Cardiganshire farmer in the
haymaking season. But the search for the farmer who is the greatest
craftsman in basket-making in Wales, James Walters, was well rewarded.
entered the village of Farmer; which is on the road from Llandilo to
Lampeter, and began the hunt by knocking loudly at a pink-distempered
cottage. There was no reply for a long time and then I heard the
sounds of someone awakening from slumber and the scuffling of slow,
age-worn feet, as an old man came to greet me.
mae James Walters yn byw?” I asked.
with me and I shall show you,” said the ancient. “I am John
Alltgoch and I am spending my last years in this cottage.”
went into his garden, where there were the finest and tallest potato
plants I had seen. Now, tell me,” he said, “how old do you think
I am?” He waited eagerly for my reply, and I ventured to say that
he could not be much over seventy.
wrong,” he said gleefully. “I am 85, and I was farming right up
to the age of 80. But now you can see James Walters’s house on the
left our old Cardiganshire farmer and drove, through the village, turning
to the left when I reached the post-office, over the stream, until I came
to James Walters’s white gate. I went up an avenue, where a
sheepdog came to meet us, but when I knocked at the door there was no
reply. The farm seemed deserted. Peeping into a shed, I saw
baskets hanging up, and this stirred my desire to meet the famous basket
maker. I wandered through the fields, but there was no James
Master Basket Maker
to the centre of the village, I asked if anyone had seen him and then
received the reply: “He is helping a neighbour.” Before long I
was in the neighbour’s field, shaking hands with an elderly man with
side-whiskers, the master basket maker. He took me back to his farm,
for the haymaking was over. In age he seemed to be in the sixties, but he
is over seventy and is proud of the way he keeps his youth.
entered the workshop, where there were canes and willows, baskets and
walking sticks, wooden spoons and a variety of tools.
craft no longer pays as a profession,” he told me. “The, work
must be done in one’s spare time; but it is a great way of filling
one’s leisure hours.” He showed me some of the baskets, which
had fine lines and curves and perfect symmetry. Similar baskets made
by him have been sold to Lord Mostyn, Lady Davies of Llandinam, and Lord
do you get -the willows?” I asked. “I grow some myself and
also get a large number from a willow farm in Somerset. An attempt
has been made to grow eight acres of willows at Llangadock, but it is not
very satisfactory. The willows will not grow. I also use cane,
but cane is expensive. That basket you see there, is made of, split
ash and willow.”
baskets which Mr. Walters make are very strong. You have only to
feel them to realise that they will last for years. But Mr. Walters
is angry to think that people leave the baskets out in the rain, and in
that respect he is as careful of his baskets as any fond parent is of a
child. His baskets are used in laundries, where they sometimes last
for five or six years; they are used as potato baskets, and in country
houses logs are carried in them to the fire.
Walters is fond and proud of his a class, and nothing gives him greater
pleasure than the success of his best pupil, James Jones, a young man who
is well on the way to becoming a master craftsman. The master’s
ambition is that one day his pupil may surpass him in his own work.
at this basket which James Jones made. It is a treat to see his
work. This one is just a little too big and might have a little more
polish and finish, but one day he’ll beat me and I shall a rejoice.”
James Walters takes a long day to make a big basket, which costs 7s. 6d.
It gives him no profit, for the raw material is costly. He has been
asked to demonstrate, at the Royal Welsh Show, Aberystwyth.
is not, however, James Walters’s only craft, for he is skilled at
carving spoons ‘by hand and- he has the essential old tools, the
“cyllell gam.” From boxwood, which is the hardest wood existing,
he carves ordinary spoons, salad spoons, appliances used for wasp killing,
and “butter-scotch hands” for making butter.
showed me spoons which he had made more than 40 years ago and which had
won a number of prizes. One of them was of hazel and the other of
apple wood. There are also many natural grown walking sticks in
James Walters’s workshop. When you enter Mr. James Walters’s
home you see a row of big hams hanging down from the ceiling, and, besides
these remains of the past year, there are interesting relics of the past
needlework picture, excellently done by Annie Walters, shows the first
marriage in the Bible. In the bookcase there are many commentaries
on books of the Bible, such as “Esboniad ar Epistolau Pedr” and
“Esboniad ar Efengyl Marc.”
the wall there hang three brass spoons of curious make, four generations
old, the biggest of which was intended to catch the dripping from the
is splendid that James Walters’s craft will be carried on by his pupil,
James Jones, of whom he is so proud.