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The river environment
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  Themes Homepage > Riverbank
The river environment

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The willow in its various forms was a feature of the Thames riverbank for hundreds of years. Harvesting was achieved using one of two methods. Pollarding was the term for cutting off branches at the top of the trunk, whereas coppicing involved cutting off the the thin young branches at ground level.
Pollarding willows
Pollarding willows
Osier cutting
Osier cutting
The osier willow, Salix viminalis, was important to both the riverside economy and the local wildlife. A whole industry revolved around weaving the pliant stems into baskets, crates, lobster pots and eel-traps. A well established bed could produce up to three tons of rods per acre, which when harvested could be valued at as much as £15 per acre in 1900.
Harvesting took place around March each year. The rods of about nine feet in length were then left to soak for a month before being peeled. Varieties produced withies of different thickness suitable for the making of fine baskets or large strong crates. Osier peeling
Osier peeling
Reed cutting
Reed cutting
The Shakespeare Globe theatre, recently reconstructed in London, is the first public building to be thatched in water reed since the fire of London in 1666. At one time, the Thames river bank would have been lined in reed beds, helping to prevent erosion, and being an invaluable nesting site for bird life.
The transport of brick and slate was extremely difficult until the introduction of the railways. Therefore, the use of local materials was an easy and cheap solution. Reeds provided an excellent thatch for the timber and wattle buildings of the period. Rushes drying
Rushes drying
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  Themes Homepage > Riverbank
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