Pollarding is a pruning system in which the upper branches of a tree are removed, promoting a dense head of foliage and branches. It has been common in Europe since medieval times and is practised today in urban areas worldwide, primarily to maintain trees at a predetermined height. The bole of the tree, constantly cut back over a period of years, will eventually form a lump, or ‘burr’, which when sawn for veneer, gives a lovely grained, swirling figure.
The effect is similar to that of burr walnut with its distinctive speckled grain. Burrs, or ‘burls’, are growths which appear on the side of tree trunks, resulting from a tree undergoing some form of stress. They may be caused by an injury, virus or fungus.
During the 19th century great strides were made in the mechanisation of cabinet making. Marc Isambard Brunel [Isambard Kingdom’s father] built the first steam driven saw mill, and invented a circular saw that could be used to cut veneers thinly and evenly for the first time. He also developed the first hydraulic veneer press. The figured wood cut from burrs and pollards is notoriously difficult to cut and lay: the wild grain which makes it so attractive results in a very delicate, brittle veneer. The new machines enabled the Victorian craftsmen to make the most of these beautiful timbers.
The quality of this pollard oak bookcase, dating from about 1850, is exceptional. The proportions are lovely, and the intricately grained veneers are beautifully selected and matched. It is oak lined throughout, and with its original patina, faded to a ‘honey’ colour.