The Spotlight this month is on J. Johnson & Son, Bangor-on-Dee
Every Day Life, Everyday Life, Admirable People -
J. Johnson & Son, Bangor-on-Dee
J. Johnson & Son must be one of the oldest family-run businesses in Wrexham. Spanning six generations, the Johnson family have been weaving baskets on-site in their shop on Station Road, Bangor-on-Dee for a staggering 140 years. The business is now run by brother and sister Julie and Robert Johnson and the same traditional weaving methods used by their ancestors still apply today and have changed very little.
Here, Julie Johnson shares the story of her fascinating family history and business.
Tell me a little bit about what you do?
We are a family-run business producing a vast array of wicker basketwork products. All are hand-made on-site in our shop using traditional methods which have changed very little in hundreds of years.
How did it all begin?
James Johnson (my great, great, great, grandfather) and his brother Charlie earned a living coracle fishing, catching salmon in the river at Bangor-on-Dee. 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. 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, so the two brothers had to rely more on basket making for a source of income. One of James' sons (also named James) was seriously wounded in the 1914-1918 war. Part of his rehabilitation 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. He moved back to Bangor-on-Dee to work with his father and they decided to plant their own willow bed rather than rely on the haphazard growths alongside the river. The traditional methods of basket making have been passed down the Johnson family from generation to generation for 140 years.
Can you tell me about any memorable projects you’ve worked on?
We’ve had so many interesting projects over the years; the Duke of Westminster ordered two huge log baskets which you could stand up in! We regularly make items for Chirk Castle, Erddig Hall, Theatre Clwyd, and Chester Zoo to name a but a few. We’ve even fixed the inside of a bearskin hat for one of The Queen's Guard's. Our customer’s come from far and wide and have a multitude of different requests.
What do you find most satisfying about what you do?
Basket weaving is one of very few genuinely ‘green’ manufacturing processes remaining today. All our products are made entirely from sustainable materials. On top of making our own products we also run workshops here at the shop teaching people how to basket weave. These courses are great fun, the students learn a new skill and go home at the end of the day with a little basket they made themselves to treasure. It’s very rewarding sharing our knowledge and tradition.
A two hour workshop costs £20 for adults (including tea and biscuits!) and £15 for children aged between 5-18 years.
And the most challenging...
I guess it is surviving and keeping the tradition going. Luckily my children and nephew’s are happy to get involved with the business. To learn the trade takes around four years and all members of our family have been taught the old tradition. We still grow all our own willow nearby, and the harvesting is done in April. We only have a six week window to harvest when the sap is in the willow, and once picked it has to be stored in large baths of water until it is ready to be used. Each piece has to peeled by hand so it’s quite laborious!
And finally, how can people contact you?
Please pop into our shop to see our weavers at work -
J. Johnson & Son, Station Road, Bangor on Dee, Wrexham LL13 0AB. Tel: 01978 780417.
For more information we also have a website: www.jjohnsonandson.co.uk