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Treebilee

In 1973, a young man called Antonio Vicente decided to dedicate himself to preserving forests in his native Brazil. Agricultural land was being bought off by the government for the expansion of cattle grazing and industry, which worsened the impending lack of water springs, leading to them eventually dry up.

Vicente wanted to plant trees in an attempt to bring back the natural forest and save the water springs. He was laughed at, called a fool and told it would be a waste of time. Thank goodness he never listened to the naysayers.

Over 40 years later, it is estimated that Vicente has planted over 50,000 trees on his 31 hectare Serra da Mantiqueira mountain range property.

Now it’s 2021 and the Royal family has taken a page out of Vicente’s book and Great British Woodwool Ltd will be supporting this initiative every step of the way.

The Queen’s Green Canopy (QGC) initiative is encouraging everyone to mark The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022 by planting trees. Wherever you are in the UK, you can plant a tree to celebrate The Queen’s 70 years of service to the nation.

‘The Queen’s Green Canopy will create a network of individual trees, avenues, copses and whole woodlands in honour of The Queen’s service and the legacy she has built. This will create a green legacy of its own, with every tree planted bringing benefits for people, wildlife and climate, now and for the future.’

Great British Woodwool Ltd is equally committed to replanting for the future. In this day and age, eco-friendly products are becoming more and more essential and Great British Woodwool certainly does its bit to fit that bill.

From a standing tree turned in to a woodwool bale, absolutely nothing is added, it is just wood. Our product is 100% natural. All of our woodwool is manufactured using timber from well managed British woodlands which are committed to replanting for the future.

The majority of our timber is sourced within a 30 mile radius of our production facility which minimises our carbon footprint and reduces our impact on the environment. Our woodwool is a high quality, natural product and is capable of retaining its properties for many intended uses. At the end of its life, in the right conditions, it is biodegradable and will breakdown naturally in your compost bin.

Great British Woodwool, as you can tell, is fully committed to preserving our nature for future generations. Much like the aptly named ‘Treebilee’, we recognise the need for planting sustainably and creating a legacy for those to follow in the future.  

As you may know, Prince Charles unveiled his idea for the ‘Treebilee’ as an initiative to celebrate Her Majesty, the Queen’s 70long serving years on the throne; her platinum Jubilee. It has been documented that the Queen has planted up to 1500 trees in her time at the head of the table, so this initiative is not only something she could be considered a master of by now, but also something she and her family feel very strongly about, and rightfully so.

In 2020 deforestation in the Amazon rainforest reached more than 11,100 square kilometres, with an increase of 9.5 percent over the previous year, according to the Brazilian Institute for Space Research. For environmentalists, this means that 626 million trees were felled in just one year.

These sorts of alarming statistics are just the tip of the iceberg. It does not take much internet search time to realise just how devastatingly fast the natural world is changing, and not for the better.

Great British Woodwool is one of just thousands of companies that are trying to make a difference. It is very easy to simply throw around words and phrases like ‘eco-friendly’, ‘sustainability’, ‘heal the Earth’, ‘raise awareness’ and so on. It is another thing to actually and proactively make a change.

Great British Woodwool aims to continue to provide an all-natural alternative to plastic packaging, to reduce its impact on the environment, and uses the opportunity to replant for the future. The aim is to use the ‘eco-friendly’, ‘sustainable’ tags and confidently mean it.

The ‘Treebilee’ initiative is, in our opinion, the best way to celebrate the Queen’s platinum Jubilee. It is the ultimate example of using a position of influence to raise awareness and start something that millions will undoubtedly follow.

Great British Woodwool will be at the front of the queue, waiting for our chance to plant our trees for the Jubilee. You should be too!

If one man in Brazil can commit to planting over 50 000 trees over 40 years without any recognition during that time, then 66 million UK citizens can surely each plant just one tree.

Take a selfie, post it to Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok or on your local village notice board, and feel good about doing your bit for mother nature.

Business start ups

Great British Wood wool Ltd prides itself in supplying quality wood wool to any company that is after it; whether it be hamper companies, packaging for heavier items such as pottery and engineering parts, shellfish packing, malt vinegar production, stuffing teddy bears or taxidermy. You name it, we can supply it.

Great British Wood wool has been taking orders and queries since it all started in 2018, however, there has been a notable increase in online questions, emails, DM’s, phone calls and general comments about the use of our wood wool since the Covid pandemic hit, early in 2020.

Now, there could be a very obvious explanation for this. The world of online ordering and shipping sky-rocketed, and companies were adapting to the ‘new normal’.

But this constant thread of messages and queries were not coming from businesses we knew, but instead from new budding entrepreneurs who decided to delve into the world of start-up companies.

Figures in the UK have shown that there has been a significant rise in start-up businesses. From increases in loan applications to ‘start a company’ google searches; the numbers don’t lie. The statistics are admirable. People have used what was (and still is) a bleak time for all, to see opportunity and rise above the negative downpour of Covid-19, to explore new business ventures, become entrepreneurs and perhaps, finally, take that leap which might have seemed too risky 18 months ago.

Unfortunately, not all start-ups have a fairy-tale story to tell. Some had their hands forced by Covid-19 through job losses, cut backs and furlough. That is the harsh reality that we must not forget, and we applaud all those who took their own setbacks and turned them into a positive.

One such aspiring entrepreneur is Daniella, from Bell and Rose; a letterbox gift company based in Cardiff. She took the lockdown as a chance to spread the joy of gifting to loved ones, and has flourished since taking that first step.

‘I started by sending gifts to my loved ones and I just wanted to put my spin on the gifts, so I decided to create my own gift boxes which led to starting up my small business by selling self-care gift boxes. I have always been so passionate about self-care and wellbeing and being in lockdown definitely gave me the push I needed.’

‘It brings me so much joy that people choose my business to send gifts to their friends and family.’

Another example of the lockdown entrepreneurship success is Claire from Dorset Scents, a homemade, hand poured wax melt company. Claire saw the lockdown as an opportunity to relook at her busy life schedule and pursue her dream:

‘Dorset Scents began during lockdown. After years of working in the corporate world which I loved and then having my son (which I love even more) and my life becoming so incredibly busy I realised I needed to revaluate things and lockdown certainly gave me that time. So, after lots of practice runs, late nights and research – as well as being busy being a mummy – Dorset Scents went from a dream to reality.’

These are the sort of uplifting stories that we love to hear. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these start-up businesses that are now flourishing, some of which might never have been possible if it were not for the lockdown.

In Leamington Spa, Nate and Anna were furloughed when the pubs shut and got bored of twiddling their thumbs at home. They decided that although customers could not enjoy their delicious cocktails at the pub, they could simply send the cocktails to them at home!

This idea led to the creation of The Little Cocktail Bar: a make-it-at-home cocktail box delivery company. They are now delivering their tasty creations nationwide, and are loving this new venture.

‘We’d seriously looked at opening a cocktail bar through 2019, but luckily the plans for that fell through at the beginning of 2020!’- talk about a positive mental attitude!

Whether it be self-care and wellbeing gifting, beautifully hand poured wax melts or a delicious DIY cocktail box (with instructions of course), these aspiring entrepreneurs all have one thing in common: they had a passion, and saw an opportunity.

There is a lot to be said for how people react to adversity. The Covid-19 pandemic has, without a doubt, been incredibly damaging to the economy. We cannot forget about the thousands of people who have lost their jobs, or businesses that has been forced to close down. Luckily, the worst seems to be behind us, and with the successful rollout of the vaccine, we can start to rebuild.

What we can do, keeping that positive mental attitude, is celebrate and support those small businesses that have risen up through the Covid ashes.

Great British Wood wool certainly does its best to do this. We supply all types of small businesses (including some mentioned above!) and love to hear their stories. We will continue to support and praise these amazing people, as should everyone.

So, if you are thinking about starting your own business; if you have been putting it off because you are a bit scared, or don’t want to take the risk, remember that you will always have the full support of Great British Wood wool, as well as the support of your local and wider community!

If you can successfully start a business amidst a global pandemic, then you can certainly do so in the post-Covid world. Go for it!

Heather and Bale

The Great British Woodwool Company is proud to be a part of thriving, home grown British businesses.

The British Georgian poet, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, once wrote: “God bring me to Northumberland, the land of my delight”.

He had a deep love for the North East that resonates with so many in the world we live in today; a sense of pride and longing for the place that he calls home. The same could be said for sisters Carolyn and Susan, and their close friend Laura, founders of Heather and Bale.

After 20 years working in IT, Carolyn decided that it was time for something new; something that would showcase her love for Northumberland and all that it had to offer, something that would allow for more creative freedom.  

Luckily, her mother had already delved into the creative world of gift hampers as part of her wedding venue styling company, Made Simply Perfect.

The opportunity was there, and so with an official rebranding and a clear mission – “…to provide our customers with beautifully designed, visually impressive luxury gifts” – Heather and Bale was created.

This luxury gift hamper company is certainly doing its bit to showcase the very best of Northumberland’s artisan producers by creating hampers that are of the highest quality aesthetically, and that accurately represent the creativity and passion of the North East.

From cheese and wine hampers, to sweet or savoury hampers; jams, oils, chocolates, teas, biscuits, gins, rums, beers, hampers for him, for her, for mum or dad, Heather and Bale can provide a luxury gift hamper for any occasion.

From the official corporate gift hamper, to the loving personal feel of a hamper for someone special, no occasion is off limits. And while it may seem to be difficult to add that touch of originality or individual personality to every type of hamper, this amazing team of three seem to achieve this with mighty ease.

Now, anyone can gather together a handful of products, stuff them in an open box and call it a hamper…in fact, some do. What people often fail to realise is that consumers buy with their eyes. If it looks good, there’s a chance it will be good. Presentation plays such a key role in the world of gift hampers, and Heather and Bale not only understand this but have set the standard for others to follow.

“Visual presentation is so important to us.  The priority of course is sourcing the highest quality products, but we know that we are creating a “wow” moment when our hampers are opened and experienced for the first time by the lucky recipient.  We work hard on this part of the service because we recognise that our business is more than just putting random products together…Recognising that our Luxury Hampers are intended gifts and so the experience for our customers matters as much as the gift itself.”

This is where Great British Wood wool steps in.

There was no doubt that Heather and Bale’s product was already beautifully presented and at a standard of quality that rivals even the top, multi-million pound hamper companies. Great British Wood wool simply wanted to be part of their journey and add an extra touch of quality to an already flourishing business, not to mention the sustainable and eco-friendly image that comes with using Great British wood wool. 

Whilst the main priority of any business is to grow and become financially rewarding, it is also increasingly important (in this day and age) to look beyond profits, towards the impact on the environment. This is something that Heather and Bale are proactively trying to achieve.

Once they had established themselves, settled in their position in the market and started acquiring success, it was important to them to look at becoming a more eco-conscious company.

It is imperative in any business to be educated in matters of current climate, and take the correct steps towards learning about and implementing strategies to reduce the impact on our environment. Heather and Bale are certainly taking those steps.

Alongside the fact that starting a new company in today’s economy is already a tough enough task, add a wide-spread pandemic into the mix and you have yourself a real mountain to climb…in most cases. Whilst production and day-to-day functioning has been hindered due to Covid-19 safety regulations, one can’t help but look to the positives of owning an online hamper business. Due to the continued lockdown of high street stores and boutiques, the online shopping business has had customers flocking to their websites and filling their online baskets.

What makes Heather and Bale so unique in this instance is their continued support of their local artisan producers, to support their own local business, which support the local consumers and indeed, consumers all over the UK.

They are very happy (even proud) of the fact that they have been given the opportunity to directly and continuously support their fellow local small-business owners in Northumberland, who supply all the delicious food and drink in their luxury hampers. There is a genuine sense of community within these circles of businesses. Long may it last.

In Wilfrid Wilson Gibson’s aforementioned poem, he goes on to write “Heatherland and Bentland, and valley rich with corn, God bring me to Northumberland, the land where I was born.”

The name of the poem: “Heatherland and Bentland” is a true testament to the love of Northumberland, and in turn, it is also incredibly fitting that it should be the inspiration for the name, Heather and Bale.

Covid: The impact on recycling

With the high street shut and online retail scaling new heights, households find themselves the recipient of ever more packaging material. Great British Wood wool looks at the recycling challenge this presents.

As last year’s coronavirus pandemic took hold around the globe, it did at least seem as if there might be one major upside to events: the planet was being given a chance to get its breath back.

Transportation networks ground to a halt, and in satellite images we watched the skies literally clearing. Scientists testified to plunging levels of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. Marine biologists measured instant improvements in the health of the oceans.

One year on, though, and the picture is more complex. After a dramatically steep fall in transport-related carbon emissions in April, when global lockdowns were at their most comprehensive, there was some bounce back; and the swift industrial recovery of nations such as China meant that, in the end, total emissions from industry were not down on 2019.

And then there is the problem of plastics.

It is becoming clear that recycling – and particularly, as always, the recycling of plastics – has suffered under Covid-19. For, while lockdowns may have kept traffic off the roads, they have at the same time fuelled traffic online. And that has meant a surge in online purchases and deliveries – with all the forms of packaging those entail.

Examples of how the trend is threatening to overwhelm local recycling facilities have recently been reported in the news.

For example, according to the BBC, Cardiff council was after Christmas faced with 400 tonnes of extra recycling – a direct consequence, they observed, of ‘the early lockdown and a big shift towards online shopping’.

But the circumstances of the pandemic meant that it was the worst possible time to address the challenge. For while the council would have needed an extra 150 pairs of hands to collect the recycling, it had in fact far fewer to spare than usual – thanks to the prior claims of similarly high volumes of general and food waste, and, of course, the unavailability of workers due to sickness or self-isolation.

During the original spring lockdown, the same council – along with councils in St Helens and Inverclyde – resorted to sending bags of household recycling to the incinerator. This decision, in the case of Cardiff at least, was influenced by concerns over safety and an assessment of the dangers of sorting recycling by hand.

Though that was a temporary measure, sorting waste has in fact become generally problematic during the pandemic, not least because of the presence in the mix of used face coverings and other PPE. It’s not just that those materials do indeed pose a safety risk to workers; it’s that they are not, in any case, ordinarily recyclable. Manchester’s Materials Recovery Facility, for one, reported a spike last year in rejected recycling loads thanks to this very source of contamination.

Face coverings – the disposable surgical mask variety – contain non-recyclable plastic. And though the World Health Organisation is clear that washable fabric masks are no less effective, the continuing popularity of the throwaway kind illustrates how the pandemic – and a consequent public prioritising of what is taken to be most hygienic – has already put the single-use plastic problem firmly back on the table.

It’s a development that extends to the whole of the packaging industry.

Starbucks, for example, ‘out of an abundance of caution’ (their Europe spokesman, Robert Lynch, told the BBC back in March), paused the use of customers’ personal cups in the UK in favour of their own disposable cups (which usually end up in landfill, thanks to how difficult it is to separate the paper from its plastic lining).

Across North America, planned bans on single-use plastic shopping bags have been postponed. In Scotland, the Circular Economy Bill – legislation dedicated, in the words of that government’s Environment Secretary, to ‘a fundamental re-think about how we use and reuse materials’ – was in April put on indefinite hold.

It’s in part the generally paralysing effect of the pandemic. But it’s also an obvious reflection of what a recent McKinsey report called ‘a new appreciation by consumers and industries of the hygiene advantages plastic packaging can offer that seems to be outweighing concerns about recyclability and plastic-waste leakage into the environment’.

Perfecting the storm, as it were, is the now ultra-low price of oil. That collapsed market has rendered the cost of production for virgin plastic lower than ever – presenting to manufacturers a freshly competitive alternative to recycled materials at a time of renewed consumer demand.

The hope for the recycling industry must be that all these points of negative impact will prove transient.

And it’s a fair hope. As things stand, oil prices are expected to recover through 2021, possibly returning to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year. And the UK government, though it indeed delayed its own anti-plastic bag legislation in March, did in the end implement it at the beginning of October.

It’s a question of firm commitments and deep trends riding out the disruptions of the pandemic. And in a number of quarters those trends and commitments do seem to be holding firm.

In April, for example, when the European Plastics Converters trade association called on the European Commission to lift its ban on some single-use plastics (on the grounds that ‘hygiene and consumer health will be the number one priority’), the Commission refuted the argument.

And similar resolve is visible at the highest levels of business. It’s reassuring to note that not one of the packaged goods companies currently signed up to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy project – committed thereby to ‘a circular economy for plastic in which it never becomes waste’ – has changed their plans because of the pandemic.

As it did us all, Covid-19 caught the recycling industry off guard; and it has, to some extent, unquestionably derailed operations.

But there is no evidence yet that it has shaken a larger, shared determination to eliminate unnecessary plastics, and their manufacture, from the world of packaging.

Christmas before the Victorians

Someone once said that Christmas was invented by Charles Dickens. What they meant, of course, is that so much of the look and feel of Christmas as we celebrate it today – from the tree to the turkey, from the presents to the parlour games – owes more to the author of A Christmas Carol (1847), and to Victorian customs generally, than to anything that went before.

But how true is that? What did the festive season look like before the Victorians set their indelible stamp on it? How did they celebrate Christmas in an earlier age?

In some ways, very differently indeed. For a start, before the nineteenth century, Christmas was more of a season than a two-or-three-day event. It lasted at least twelve days, from Christmas Day to Twelfth Night (5th January); though could equally, in some parts of the country, go on for the entire calendar month that began on St Nicholas’s Day (6th December).

Marked out mainly by a visit to church, Christmas Day itself would have been a relatively quiet interlude in what, by the Georgian and Regency eras, had become a period of sustained party-going and open houses. Presents were exchanged throughout the season – beginning on St Nicholas’s Day and culminating on Twelfth Night.

That was for the wealthy, of course. But, even for the less well-off, Christmas still meant an extended holiday (farm workers, for example, not returning to the land until ‘Plough Monday’ in the second week of January). And there was a strong tradition, among landowners and employers, of seasonal largesse: gifts and ‘boxes’ of money would be distributed on Boxing Day and, less commonly, banquets laid on for the parish poor.

In great and humble houses alike, decorations (before the Victorians introduced coloured glass and tinsel) were simple boughs and wreaths of greenery brought in from the outdoors: holly, ivy and mistletoe, obviously, but also rosemary, laurel and bay. These were an ancient tradition – symbolising life continuing through the depths of winter – that had continued unbroken since pagan times.

No Christmas trees, though: at least not for most people. That Christmas trees were entirely unknown in Britain before the Victorian period is in fact a bit of a myth. One had, in fact, been a fixture of the royal festivities since George III’s glamorous queen consort Charlotte had put a decorated yew on display at Windsor in 1800. It was not, though, until a fir instated by Prince Albert was featured in The Illustrated London News of 1848 that the Christmas tree caught the popular imagination.

Actually, there wasn’t much about Christmas in the eighteenth century that didn’t hark back to a much older age. The leisurely pace of the season, the great parties in great halls, the observance of charitable acts, were all continuations of customs that dated back to medieval times at least.

Many of the minor traditions are almost completely lost to us now. People still went wassailing up until the nineteenth century (at which point it began to feel uncomfortably heathen, and Christian carolling took its place). On Twelfth Night, high-spirited bands of wassailers would carouse through a parish from house to house, generous with song and festive wishes but firmly expectant of cider and pudding in equally generous return.

Mummers’ plays were a similar sort of phenomenon. These were folk dramas performed by travelling players – again, typically in order to drum up rewards of food or coin – who, costumed as animals and figures from fable, would act out legendary stories. Some such narratives even featured a Father Christmas character – though at this date he had no fixed appearance (the now iconic image of a white-bearded, red-robed jolly gentleman became standardised only in book and magazine illustrations from the 1840s onwards).

And in the great houses, helping to pass the time through the protracted partying, hundreds of now-half-forgotten games would be played. Some of these used playing cards or dice; others were of the blind-man’s-buff or grandmother’s-footsteps type. There seems to be have been an early version of Charades. And Snap-dragon, a favourite on Christmas Eve, involved trying to pick up raisins that had been set afloat in a bowl of flaming brandy.

Christmas dinner was as special an occasion before the nineteenth century as it was later, though the centrepiece would have been more likely a goose than a turkey, usually accompanied by other roast meats, mostly game, and fish fried or boiled. Plum pudding and mince pies were traditional fare too, though mince pies did actually contain minced meat until the Victorians reinvented them as entirely sweet.

But, again, Twelfth Night was as high a holiday as Christmas itself and was commemorated with its own special cake: a glittering, boozy fruitcake frosted with elaborate white sugar decorations. This, as Twelfth Night lost its importance over time, was somehow brought forward in the calendar to become what we today would recognise as the Christmas cake.

As the decades went on, and by the end of the eighteenth century, the old, drawn-out way of celebrating Christmas came to suit fewer and fewer people. Great country families, certainly, were no longer so ready to embrace the season’s considerable demands on their hospitality and charity.

More to the point, perhaps, ordinary people were increasingly living in towns and cities, where the old customs of the country couldn’t easily follow. And the demands of industrial labour were all-powerful. The 1833 Factory Act allowed just two full days off a year: Good Friday and Christmas Day. From that point on, Christmas was always going to be all about a more intimate, more intense and much more family-centred 25th December.

In that respect at least the Victorian Christmas set the modern template. Before that, the festive season signalled a much older, slower, more rural and essentially more feudal way of life; one that today is all but gone for good.

A history of the hamper

Hampers have long been a symbol of the special occasion. Whether star of the summer picnic or bringer-in of Christmas cheer, they stand in our minds for the finest fare and a sure touch of luxury.

Hampers also hint at the tastes of yesteryear. Pressed-meat pies, fruit preserves, spiced biscuits and candied fruit: their contents are typically old-fashioned delicacies, the kind of things our ancestors would have recognised and relished.

Hampers are certainly a tradition to be celebrated. But how far back does that tradition go? And where does it come from?

They say that hampers were brought over to the British Isles from Europe at the time of the Norman Conquest.

Early Norman hampers, however (or hanapers, as they were then called), had nothing to do with food. Though baskets, these were storage cases for valuables: drinking goblets, originally, but also gold coin and legal documents. There was in fact a so-called Clerk of the Hanaper who handled the paperwork and fees that passed through the English Chancery from the thirteenth century right the way up to 1832.

Baskets for food, of course, existed quite separately and had been around long before the Normans. Drum-shaped examples – woven from stripped willow, with oak handles and leather fastening-straps have been found on Iron Age excavation sites in the south of England.

But the Norman hanaper, no doubt due to its association with items of high worth, was destined to become a food basket of a particular type: one of distinctly superior quality.

The word started morphing into its modern equivalent from around the end of the fourteenth century; and that gradual change was mirrored by a slow shift in function – towards an exclusive association with food and drink.

Legendary diarist Samuel Pepys was around as the transition was happening – indeed captured something of it in an anecdote from 1666.

He tells the story of how in September of that year he found he was missing some books – books that he had made the mistake of stowing in a hamper that had then vanished. It was some time before the reason for the disappearance emerged. A colleague of Pepys at the Admiralty, where both men worked, had seen the hamper, assumed it to contain bottles of wine, and had it sent down to the cellar. Only later did the cellar records show one hamper too many. The matter was looked into and the books – to Pepys’s ‘great joy’ – were reunited with their owner.

As hampers slowly started being used just for food and drink, rather than for money and documents (and books), two subsidiary developments occurred.

First of all they came to be connected with gift-giving, especially at Christmas time, and not least as a way for wealthy employers to express their appreciation to servants and staff. This wasn’t just a British custom; to this day, some Spanish companies are contractually obliged to bestow the festive cesta once a year on their workforce.

Then, from the nineteenth century onwards, as travelling first by stagecoach, later by railway, and finally by motorcar become more popular, the picnic hamper became – again for the affluent – a means of being able to eat well, away from home, without recourse to dining establishments.

These travelling hampers could be extremely lavish affairs. Dickens has a scene in The Pickwick Papers (1836) in which the eponymous hero is met by a friend on the open road and treated to lunch from ‘a hamper of spacious dimensions’ the contents of which encompass everything from roast chicken to pigeon pie, and from potted veal and ham to lobsters – to say nothing of the bottle of wine per person.

The best picnic hampers carried not just food but the accoutrements of a full dining table. Edwardian examples, such as those supplied by the upmarket ‘portable furniture’ makers Drew and Sons, came kitted out not just with silver cutlery and china plates but with cocktail shakers, leather-wrapped thermoses, nesting tumblers and clear glass salt and pepper shakers.

Perhaps the ultimate hamper of modern times was made – by the esteemed London firm Asprey in the 1980s – for billionaire American businessman John Kluge (1914-2010). Intended to accompany the man’s hunting expeditions on his extensive Virginia estate, this horse-drawn wicker hamper was literally a wagon on wheels and carried, besides all the usual silver, china and crystal, battery-powered hot and cold boxes, a water pump and folding mahogany table and chairs.

Of all the wonderful hampers in history, though, our favourite has to be the one that arrived one morning in 1839 at Windsor Castle, addressed to the Queen.

According to a report in The Times, this ‘small hamper’, while it was lying in the coach-office, was heard to emit ‘a curious squeaking noise … resembling the stifled cries of a child.’ When it was opened, two guinea-pigs were discovered crouching underneath some hay accompanied by this note:

A Preasant of 2 Guinea Pigs to her Magesty from A little Boy 5 years old, that come in one day from Playing in the Street. Says Mother, I love the Queen because she is A Good queen. I wish to know ware she live, I would send her my two Pigs. The child would not Rest till he had sent the Queen the only Treasure he posses. He shed a tear over is Pigs, and told them they was Going ware they would have more plenty than he Could Have for them. He is Quite Happy at Parting with them. I am Afraid your Royal Highness will be displeased at a Poor woman taking the Liberty to send them to your Majesty. Your Majesty’s Most Humble Servant,

Oct. 9, 1839. Elizabeth Elridge

Heart-breakingly (and inexplicably) the gift was turned away by the Master of the Household; whereupon the animals were taken in by a local gentleman who Christened them Victoria and Albert and gave them a ‘spacious hutch’ in which to live out their days.

A gift of ‘treasure’ indeed.