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Withy pot barnacles

Storylines and I will no doubt come across many exciting archive photographs throughout our time on our Withy Lore project and this is certainly one of them! Below you will see a picture of Penberth taken before the modern plastic and metal pots became more favoured. When Kathi Jones, from Penberth shared this with me, at first glance the scattering of withy pots appeared like barnacles.

Penberth, withy pots, Cornwall heritage, fishing
Photograph of Penberth Cove - From Kathi Jones' (daughter of a withy pot maker) private collection

This image was fascinating to me and with its personal connection to my children's history on their fathers side, it became the first page in a story I wrote and illustrated with jewellery and prints for my Jewelwithy project 'Withy pots and Salix piskies' which will also form part of the RCM exhibition next year:

'Withy pots were commonplace across the South West coast, which from afar appeared like barnacles nestled on a rock.' - Anna Pope - caption taken from Withy pots and salix piskies.

Sarah and I want to explore further possibilities to include this archive photograph in the Withy Lore project and we have developed a plan to create an art installation 'Withy pot barnacles', inspired by this, through intergenerational workshops.

Withy pots generally only last a season and need to be replaced every year.

For hundreds of years they have been made during the winter months, when the willow/plant materials are ready to be harvested and woven. This coincided with the seas becoming too treacherous to fish and naturally created opportunities to pass on skills and knowledge to the next generation.

Caption from my 'Withy pots and Salix Piskies' story
'This period is short lived as it only lasts until spring and creates a small opportunity to pass on wisdom......

This cycle was interrupted by the introduction of modern plastic/metal pots in around the 1960's and 1970's and we see very little of withy pots today. There is hope though! We are noticing a resurgence of interest in the traditional withy pot craft, which may be largely down to a greater awareness of sustainability.

The 'withy pot barnacle' installation

The installation will be made by a combination of withy pot makers, young people and families. Each 'barnacle' will be created from the top half of a withy pot and will form part of a growing installation, which will be photographed on a beach before being displayed at

Royal Cornwall Museum 'Withy Lore' exhibition in 2025.

With help from some of the withy pot community we have devised the first part of our plan.

We have organised two workshop dates so far, one designed solely for withy pot makers and the second for withy pot makers and younger generations, creating an opportunities to connect and pass on some of their skills.

Here's how the first workshop went!

Following our recent funding success we were excited to begin the project with this workshop.

With a beautiful Scillonian withy pot in tow, kindly donated to us by withy pot maker Jof Hicks; Sarah and I arrived in Truro, Cornwall, early on a Saturday morning, to prepare the workshop room Royal Cornwall Museum had kindly let us use.

Prior to this day, withy pot makers had expressed an interest in gathering a group together and we were excited by the prospect of having some from different parts of the South West come together.

We did not have to wait long for people to arrive!

By 10am conversations between withy pot makers from Gorran Haven, Mevigissey, Penryn, Porthleven and the Scilly Isles were already underway! A large 'withy pot barnacle' represented a withy pot maker called Dave French, from Budleigh Salterton, Devon who could not be there. Brought in by Jof as a gift.

As the collection of pots brought in grew, so too did the conversations of styles and withy pots. It was such a special thing to be heard!

From left to right - Pete, Tom, Kate, Adrian, Jof and Aaron

10.30am came around quickly and our first activity for the day was to begin. Everyone gathered around a table and at the centre were Storylines wonderful little crab cards with questions we had writen for each person to answer on the back.

One by one, stories of withy pots began to unfold. Kate from Gorran Haven Withy Crafters, also took part. She organises withy pot making workshops in Gorran Haven, Cornwall and discussed where they source their willow and their plans to use more locally grown willow. Withy pot maker, Barry Mundy from Mullion Cove arrived a little later, but wasn't shy to get involved!

We then moved on to naming different parts of a withy pot, which varies around the South West. Discussions around the origin of names / terms developed, including links to the Cornish language.

Time was whizzing by and before we knew it, lunch time was here! It wasn't long before we were to start the withy pot barnacle making!

Aaron Grigg from Mevagissey, Pete Thomas from Gorran Haven and Tom Chambers from Porthleven, all worked together in one room, whilst withy pot conversations around them continued. Each of them worked with a variety of willow, creating a beautiful array of colours. Some were locally grown in Penryn by Aaron and Adrian Grigg and some kindly donated to us by local basket maker, Geraldine Jones, cut by Tom Chambers in Penwith.

The willow was pushed into and formed around small pot stands which were all contructed slightly differently. Many of the tools used were also hand-made and unique.

When there was a natural break, we took the group to see the room we will be exhibiting in next year. It was really great to hear their thoughts and ideas !

It wasn't long before we were back in the room making! and visitors to the museum were peering in, intrigued to see what we were getting up to!

Due to space for the installation, Aaron, Tom and Pete were set the task to work to a smaller scale than usual and also finish the bases off differently to a traditional withy pot. This brought about discussions and sharing ideas between makers, resulting in some truly fabulous 'withy pot barnacles' that each have their own character/style.

Thank you to all of those involved ! We are really very grateful for your support and couldn't have asked for a better way to begin our project.

Thank you also to our funders who have made this project possible:

Invitation to make a barnacle

We want to include as many pots and styles as possible in this installation, so are now inviting pot makers to contribute ‘barnacles’. We won’t need these until early 2025, so expect most of them to be made next winter. We’ve already been bowled over by people’s generosity and willingness to contribute and are excited to see the installation grow. If you’re able to contribute then please do get in touch.

Next workshop

We are really looking forward to the next workshop day! this time with withy pot makers and young participants eager to learn a bit about the craft!

Thanks for reading! I will be posting again very soon :) !


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