Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Engraving of the week .



Lowering Eel bucks058 

'Lowering the Eel Bucks ' - From Life on the Upper Thames (1875).


Eels once formed part of the basic diet of many riverside communities and they were beloved by Londons East Enders along with cockles and whelks.

The eel buck was peculiar to the Thames although eel fishing was practiced on many other English rivers. The wicker basket was made locally from willow harvested from the rivers banks and was then mounted on a wooden framework where it could be raised and lowered into the water.

There are many accounts of its hindrance to navigation and the buck is perpetuated in the names of a couple of islands - Buck Eyot and Handbuck Eyot  one near Shiplake and the other near Marsh Lock.

The Eel Buck passed out of use early in the last century and this could partly be due to an increase in living standards as the eel had always been considered as a food of the poor. Today with the stocks of eels being said to have declined by up to 95% the species is strictly protected. Environmental  factors, overfishing and global warming are said to be some of the reasons for this catastrophic decline although the presence of high levels of industrial chemicals in the fish could also be another potent reason for its scarcity.


Monday, 14 March 2011

Engraving of the week.

POLLING THE WILLOWS - from Life on the Upper Thames by H.R. Robertson. 1875.

Polling the Willows003

A characteristic tree of all riversides the willow is especially evocative of the Thames and Cherwell valleys. They are still pollarded today but in Robertson's time the the branches resulting from polling produced a useful crop and work for those engaged in harvesting it.
The trees used to be polled every seventh year in the middle of winter and the resulting trees were called pollards. The wood had been used from early times and produced such things as baskets, parts for carts and gun stocks, harrows, shoemakers lasts, clogs, forks, hay rakes, rafters, ladders, poles to make hurdles and lattices and for many other uses. It was particularly famed as the best wood for producing charcoal  and as the chosen wood for cricket bats.
In the Victorian era it supplied the timber for water wheels and for the floats of paddle steamers. It was also used in tanning leather.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The First Roses and Castles 1873.

Life on the Upper Thames 5 art journal
Illustration by H R Robinson in the Art Journal 1873.

My Dec 2110 blog ‘On the canal in 1858’  contained the first written description of Narrow Boat decoration. The illustration shown above depicts the first known illustration of this art.
Henry Robert Robinson made his sketching journey on the Upper Thames in the early 1870’s with the express intention of recording the life, lore, customs, crafts and the workers of the river. We are fortunate to day that Robinson was so ambitious in the scope of his enterprise because he has left us with a priceless collection of unique illustrations of riverside life in the mid 19th century.
The results of Robinsons work were published in a series of articles written for the British periodical the Art Journal during 1873. As well as showing obscure and long forgotten crafts the artist also includes detailed written observations which are invaluable for us today.
Life on the Upper Thames131spine

Gilt decorated and embossed front cover and spine of ‘Life on the Upper Thames’  1875.
A couple of years later in 1875 the artist collected his articles together and published them in book form.’ Virtues’ the art publishers produced the book and the result was as you can see a handsome volume which must have been quite an expensive item to buy and was I suppose the Victorian equivalent of a coffee table book. My copy is a presentation copy with the name of the collage on the front cover.
Life on the Upper Thames T Page
Title Page.

The book contains an engraved frontispiece titled ‘The Pride of the Thames’ which is absent in the art journal but which again clearly shows the boat decoration. Life on the Upper Thames
The artist writes in his chapter on the boat people that their trade is declining and that the boats were called besides the familiar ‘canal boat’,’ barge’ and ‘monkey boat’ -  ‘wussers’. I must admit that I hadn’t come across that title before!
There is much more of interest here and I hope to be able to blog about the written descriptions in a future blog.
Meanwhile in the coming weeks I will be blogging more of the 36 full page engravings from the 36 diverse chapters of this rare book 
Pride of the Thames.