The Treasure Basket

I can remember when I was about eight or nine and everything was bigger than it is today, I used to look up at the top shelf in my grandmother’s wardrobe and wonder about ‘the treasure basket’.

I was sure the basket was full of treasure and imagined inside there would be a round biscuit tin, with a picture of a ship on the top of it, full of gold coins. This must be the reason I wasn’t allowed to see inside, as obviously I wasn’t to be trusted and might take a gold coin for myself. I hoped when I was older I might eventually own the basket and therefore the gold coins and that would mean I would be rich and would be able to do whatever I wanted!

Years went by and I forgot about the treasure basket. My gran moved house a couple of times, but I don’t remember seeing the basket on those occasions. When I was twenty my grandmother died, but I don’t remember the basket surfacing then either.

However, not long afterwards I came home from work one day to find Mum rummaging in the loft in a rather distracted manner. She had got down a pile of old books and a couple of pictures, but was looking for something else.

I asked her what she was doing and she explained that she had been contacted by a lady from the local Quaker Meeting House as they were setting up an exhibition at the local library about the Society of Friends. The books and the pictures were Mum’s contributions, but she was missing one final item. It was a wicker basket containing a Quaker bonnet which had belonged to her great grandmother.

I asked her if she meant the treasure basket, but she replied, “What treasure basket?”. So now it was my turn to go up the loft ladder. A few minutes later I had the treasure basket in my hands for the very first time and discovered it only weighed about a pound, so that was the end of my gold coin theory!

Mum and I opened the basket together. Inside was a beautifully made black silk poke bonnet, obviously designed for a very small person as it was too tiny for me to attempt to try it on. Mum told me what little she knew about the bonnet’s owner and later I found out a bit more by researching her family:-

Mary Smith was born in 1827 in Witney, Oxfordshire, into the sixth generation of a Quaker family. In the 1850s the Society of Friends relaxed their rules regarding the marriage of Quakers to people of other denominations and in 1858 Mary married George Henry Buck who was a member of the Church of England. [You can read more about Mary and George in  The Ghost of Mary Buck]

Mary was perhaps a rather eccentric character; she was the last worshipper at the Quaker Meeting house in Adderbury, Oxfordshire where she and Henry Buck settled, and attended the Meeting alone there for around twenty years until her death in 1914. She was also interested in building construction and when, in her 60s, she purchased a local property which needed structural repair and improvement, she shocked the locals by making regular personal inspections of the works, both climbing ladders and walking around the scaffolding in her Victorian Quaker full length black dresses and, of course, a treasured poke bonnet!

Merry Monty Montgomery

© Merry Monty Montgomery 2009