How much do you know about the world's oldest profession? Did you know that every town in Oxfordshire had at least one exponent of the trade? Technique was often passed down through generations, but by the 1950s the industry was nearly obsolete with the infiltration of plastic substitutes.

I am, of course, referring to basket-making, an ancient industry that dates back thousands of years.

The Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock is currently hosting Oxfordshire Baskets, an exhibition about the county's basketry past. As recently as 50 years ago, baskets played a vital part in everyday life.

From Moses baskets to basket coffins, shopping baskets to tool bags, basketry was everywhere. The demand was high; most towns and some of the larger villages had a basket-maker. Many of them were members of families who had been making baskets for several generations.

One of the most famous basket dynasties was the Lewis family of Milton, Sutton Courtenay and Cholsey, who made baskets for nearly 100 years. Using local willow, they made baskets for cherry-picking and bushel baskets (also known as sieves) for the local orchards, as well as shopping baskets, bicycle baskets, hampers, chairs and any other basketry item made to order.

The dynasty was founded by Charles Lewis, who was a sieve-maker' and lived in Milton and later, Sutton Courtenay. When he died in the late 1850s, his wife Harriet carried on the business and moved to Cholsey. All four of their sons took up basket-making.

One of these sons, Reuben (known as Twiggy') stayed in Cholsey and set up shop at the corner of Ilges Lane and The Forty.

Twiggy's two sons Reuben and Charles carried on the business there until the 1950s.

Many of the older inhabitants of Cholsey can still remember Reuben and Charles Lewis and even have their baskets at home.

The exhibition features much original Lewis basketry on loan from local families, including a beautiful child's chair. Other displays feature basketry associated with farming and fishing, including an eel trap, widely used on the Thames a century ago.

By the middle of the 20th century, everything changed. It was at this time that traditional basket-making in this country declined significantly, in the face of the growing use of plastics. Plastics containers were lighter, cheaper and easier to keep clean. Now they have replaced baskets almost everywhere. But baskets still have their place (albeit small) in the modern world. After all, plastic bags will never evoke the excitement and anticipation of a well-stocked picnic hamper. The beauty and craftsmanship of basketry has guaranteed that the craft will never completely die out.

The Oxfordshire Museum, Fletcher's House, Park Street, Woodstock, OX20 1SN Telephone 01993 811456.

Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm. Open Sundays, 2pm to 5pm, closed on Mondays. Admission free.

Oxfordshire Basketmakers is an organisation for those who are interested in any aspect of basketry and chair seating. The group welcomes makers at all levels of experience, from complete beginners to professionals. It includes some non-makers who have specific interests: in the history of basketry, for example. For more information, email: