John Clement “Jack” Meeks
On page 82 of 'The Guarlford Story', in the section about the basket makers of Clevelode, is a reference to Jack Meeks.
Here his younger son, Malcolm, describes how Jack came to live and work in Guarlford.(Photo left: Jack Meeks sitting in garden, courtesy of Malcolm Meeks)
Jack was born in Perry Barr, Birmingham, in 1906. In World War One his father, Christopher, who had served in the Worcestershire Regiment in India and later in the Boer War, was concerned that German zeppelins might bomb that area, and he moved the family further west to north-west Worcestershire. Jack’s great-grandfather Richard Meeks had been born in Suckley in 1808, only a 'walk away' from Guarlford.
Jack was one of a family of 10 children born to Christopher and Annie, and since after WW1 one could leave school at 12 as long as one worked in agriculture, his first job was looking after the chickens at a farm where he lodged.
At the age of 19 he became an apprentice basket-maker to the Mason family at Rochford, near Tenbury Wells and served a seven year apprenticeship, becoming a journeyman basket-maker in about 1932.
Jack related how he had at this time gone on osier-cutting expeditions to Church Stretton in Shropshire and had made a wide variety of basketry, including the bodies of motorcycle sidecars during his apprenticeship.
On completion of his apprenticeship Jack worked as a journeyman basket-maker, gaining experience as he went. This included at Kidderminster, making large hampers for transporting carpets, and at Pershore, making baskets and hampers for the fruit trade. In the picture Jack is making a pigeon basket.
Eventually Jack came to work for the Hydes near the River Severn at Clevelode, initially lodging along the Hanley Swan Road near the Rhydd. In 1935 he married Edna Yeomans from Stanford upon Teme, who had been a lady’s maid to Lady Winnington, formerly Jane Spencer-Churchill.
Soon afterwards Jack and Edna moved to the council house at 1 Whiteacres, Upton Road, Clevelode, where they raised their two sons, Michael and Malcolm. Jack left basket-making at some point, and the couple worked together at Worcester Royal Porcelain Company for a number of years. Edna left the company in 1943 to give birth to Michael, and Jack related how he worked during the day, then served in the Home Guard and fire-watched at the porcelain factory at night. Their home in Clevelode became a refuge for family members evacuated from Hertfordshire, and a place where family members in the forces could take a break.
At some point Jack was directed to making large skips for the War Department, since it was discovered that basketry was the only material at the time that would not break up on impact when dropped by parachute. He later found that these skips had been used for dropping medical supplies and ammunition for the D-Day landings. See appendix below
As a result of the 'Dig for Victory' campaign, the rear garden at 1 Whiteacres was used extensively for growing vegetables. The family had 13 fruit trees, kept chickens and Jack cared for seven hives of bees. Malcolm and his brother Michael sold honey at half a crown a jar at the roadside in the 1950s. Their neighbour, Mr Attwood the roadman, kept a pig. Edna grew flowers in the front garden, and her flower displays caused some motorists to stop to admire them.
Jack making a pigeon basket
Jack had a long association with the Worcester Royal Porcelain Company, and he continued making baskets in what spare time he had. Many of his work-colleagues came to him to make fishing baskets that they could sit on, also fly fishing creels.
Malcolm can remember, as a boy, delivering bushel baskets for the hop trade to a shop at the cross-roads in Ledbury and nests of dog baskets to Chipping Camden.
Jack was requested by the AA to make pannier baskets for an early vehicle they owned, and he was delivered what was left of one of the originals as a pattern. Jack was very versatile and not afraid to embrace new technology, using imported cane where necessary, since it was stronger and lasted better than osier, although it was harder to work.
Jack died in 1982.
Examples of baskets made by Jack
Wicker panniers were used to protect supplies dropped in support of the D-Day landings.
An article and pictures about the various containers used can be found on COLOUR SERGEANT TOMBSTONE'S HISTORY PAGES
There is a description of how these large wicker panniers (skips) were used in the landings, being of two halves, with the top fitting over the bottom portion. The top half had four rope handles at the corners. The two halves were lashed together with webbing straps, not latches or rings, so that the pannier could be expanded to suit the load, maximum of 500 pounds, greater than other containers.
Evidently, two panniers were bundled together with one stacked on top of the other, in what was known as the “daisy chain” method, attached with lightweight ties. Each pannier had its own parachute, but with different lengths of static line, making them open at different times, breaking the ties and separating the two panniers. This saved a lot of time in delivering supplies.
“A variant of the Dakota was designed specifically for dropping pannier loads; a series of rollers was added to the floor to make it easier to move the panniers to the door for the drop.” With a combined weight of up to 1000 pounds per pair of panniers, the rollers were necessary for the “daisy chain” method.