Willow weaving skills are decreasing in popularity nowadays, meaning that local, traditional weaved products are hard to source. Many willow products are imported, or workers are hired with already perfected skills. Somerset Willow aim to train apprentices so that they can keep the willow industry growing and encourage young people to learn the skills needed through a five-year scheme. These willow weaving skills are not only passed on through apprenticeships but also through family generations.

This family-run business began in February 1959, when Edward John Hill and his son, Aubrey, were asked to supply 900 pigeon baskets. This began the business EJ Hill & Son. Garden furniture and picnic baskets became the focus of the business, but in 1977 another request was made: hot air balloon baskets. The next change in direction, which remains prominent today, was made in 1998 when the company began to make their very own willow coffins. Nowadays, with an increasing awareness of environmental issues, green burials are popular, and the willow coffins quickly became the company’s best-selling product.

Somerset Willow are the first company to begin making willow coffins. Lucy Vowles, Business Development Manager, says “I think people just tend to go for something different really, rather than traditional wooden coffins. They can personalise it with different coloured handles and things, so that it is unique.”

Anthony Hills, director, tells us of the most unusual request he has received. “Somebody wanted a coffin made for them” he comments “and what they wanted to do was have shelves put in. They wanted to stand it up and use it as a bookshelf. When they died, they wanted to use it as their coffin.”

Many bespoke products, not just coffins, are also a popular choice at Somerset Willow. “There are lots of little basket-makers around the country that make bespoke willow products” Anthony says, “but we really are the largest manufacturer of willow baskets in the country, so we are able to deliver quite an extensive service.”

Log baskets are a common request. They are premium items that include optional handstitched leather trims and hessian liners. Despite being a higher price, Anthony believes the log baskets remain popular due to their well-made and high-quality design. They can take between 2 and 5 hours to make.

Picnic hampers, storage trunks, furniture, animal baskets and more fill the warehouse. Lucy explains “I like the picnic hampers, they are really nice” and I do have to agree – some of them are just stunning. Anthony however, prefers the storage trunks. He comments “I quite like our storage trunks that we do. They are well made and practical and we have one at home.”

Somerset Willow works with many other companies to create the perfect product. They have worked closely with architects to make screens and fences; kitchen companies to create willow draw baskets; and finally, and perhaps the most exciting, was working with the designers on the new Paddington bear movie to create an enlarged version of a hamper.

It is clear to see that this is a passionate and developing family run business, that strives to keep the willow tradition growing. Despite willow coffins being the most popular product, the household products are stunning and incredibly high-quality. If you are thinking of bringing willow into your home, then look no further than Somerset Willow.

Visit www.somersetwillow.co.uk to find out more.