Rustic Furniture Making in History

Modern rustic stick furniture makers now compete in the market place with steel and glass. Architectural and Designer magazines extol the virtues of well crafted pieces. On a more practical front, locally produced rustic crafts assist in establishing bio-regional boundaries and at once identifies an area for it’s production of beautiful objects. Stick furniture makers can find ideas and draw inspiration from  Indigenous cultures across the world. Publishers, Cassell and Co. produced technical books specialising in Stick furniture making in 1916. Galleries and Museums hold collections of  valuable rustic furniture. Australia has a rich history of Stick Furniture largely imported ideas from England, Ireland and Germany in the 18th century.

The Underwood.

The recorded traditions associated with the sustainable management of woodlots, in particular the underwood date back several thousand years, unrecorded much further in Indigenous cultures. Recent finds in Somerset, England uncovered 3,900 B.C. Wattle Hurdles (portable gating and fencing) which displayed a clear understanding of pole and species selection woodsmanship.

The Romans, understood the importance of Coppice (underwood trees, a woodland managed for poles and cut close to the ground every few years). However, it wasn’t until Medieval times that woodsmen raised sustainable woodland management to the peak of rustic efficiency. They produced a continuous supply of poles and rods, fencing, tools and weapons, especially the Yew longbow. Records exist of a Fell (an area of coppice cut or sold in a season) in Bradfield Woods, Suffolk which has been continuously harvested for over 800 years. Many large medieval houses kept records of their estates. They describe the size of the woodlots, how often the coppice was cut, the products that were produced, how much was sold and for what price. The first great book on trees was written by John Evelyn in 1664 with much of the discourse encouraging the planting and raising of forest trees. Evelyn recorded with great accuracy the practices of woodsmanship.

From 1000A.D. to the start of the Industrial Revolution woodland management reached an intensity and efficiency never matched before or since. However the lack of organisation within the woodland trades was the catalyst for their demise. A “Survey of the Rural Industries of England and Wales, 1925” highlighted the woodsmen’s stubborn independence of centuries, which assisted in their inability to compete with the new age.  Today, renewed attention for sustainable agriculture has saved many neglected woodlots and new uses for the Underwood are being sought.

References;  Tabor, Raymond.   Traditional Woodland Crafts. Pub; Batsford B.T. 1994.

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