Gorran Haven Withy Crafters

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Gorran Haven withy crafters

Gorran Haven Withy pot making video

This fabulous film describes the history of crabbing and withy crab pot-making in Gorran Haven, and the role of the Gorran Haven Withy Crafters in preserving traditional pot-making skills.

The Gorran Haven Withy Crafters was established in 2021 to maintain the skills and knowledge of withy crab pot-making in the community. Withy is another word for a willow tree; it also refers to the flexible willow sticks that are used for making baskets and crab pots. 

Preserving our HERITAGE

Gorran Haven has a very strong pot-making heritage. In 1894, there were 43 registered fishing boats, many of which would have fished for crab and lobster. Each boat worked between 50 and 100 pots. Since a withy pot can generally only be used for a single fishing season, it is thought that Gorran Haven fishermen used to make as many as 3,000 withy pots each year. 

Detail of pot-making

Withies were grown in boggy patches along what is now Trelispen Park, Trelispen Park Drive and Perhaver Park, also at Carvinick and Trewollock and elsewhere. Local fishermen made crab pots during the winter months – after the willow leaves had fallen in the autumn and before the sap began rising in the spring. Today, there are just a few fishermen in the community who still know how to make withy crab pots and still grow the local willow varieties. 

Our plans for Withy Crafters

Teach a new generation

The Gorran Haven Withy Crafters (GHWC) aim primarily to maintain the skills and knowledge of withy crab pot-making in the community. We would also like to educate people (community members, school children, visitors, etc) about the history of crabbing and withy pot-making in Gorran Haven; and about crabs, lobsters and sustainable fisheries.

Withy Crafting

Create a sustainable source of withies

We are planning to grow our own withies on the community land at Carvinick, and we will work with the Three Bays Wildlife Group to research how best to grow and manage withies for environmental and wildlife benefits. 

It will take 2 or 3 years until our withies are mature enough to be used for pot-making and other types of basketry. In the meantime, we are using locally-available willow as well as commercially-grown willow from the Somerset Levels. We are also experimenting with rejuvenating an old withy orchard that still exists in the local area.  

Learn more about the heritage of Gorran Haven Withy Crab Pot Making

Here is a link to a beautifully-made short video about John Vercoe, “A True Cornishman”.  John Vercoe still lives in Gorran Haven and still makes pots for his personal use, using withies that he grows himself. See the video on YouTube here.

The late Rob Holland (aka “Pooch”), GHWC’s Master Trainer, was featured in an article in the Cornwall Wildlife Trust Magazine.  Rob Holland moved to Gorran Haven as a child and learned to make pots from Lewis Billing. See the article here.

Lewis Billing (1909-2006) was among the last of Gorran Haven’s traditional fishermen and used to make withy pots in his loft in the Big Cellars. The contents of his loft – including his pot-making stand – are now exhibited at the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth. See a picture of the exhibit here.

A seasonal Skill

Withies can be cut after the leaves of the willow trees have fallen and before the sap rises in the spring – this is roughly between November and March, so this is when we will be able to make crab and lobster pots.

How You can Learn Withy Crab Pot-Making

With support from the Endangered Crafts Fund of the Heritage Crafts Association, the Gorran Haven Withy Crafters has started teaching traditional pot-making skills. During January and February 2023 there will be hands-on pot-making training sessions in The Barns at Lamledra. 

A recent withy pot-making class

Crab pot-making is a real skill and takes a lot of practice to be able to do it well. It also requires very strong hands!

If you’re interested to find out more, please email GHwithycrafters@gmail.com for details. 

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