These willow sculptures were made by rutland Willows, a small business located in the small market town of Oakham about 40 miles from Olney. The ladies have been given a permanent home near the starting line on the Pancake Day Race on the Market Place in downtown Olney. Using willow for basket making, fencing, etc. has long been a rural craft in the United Kingdom. The use the natural resources of reed from the local rivers is also used locally for thatching on the roof of buildings.
By TONY LAMMING
• Olney Pancake Day Committee
The figures of ladies racing in the Pancake Day Race were commissioned by the Olney Town Counsel from Rutland Willows and have been sited on the Market Place adjacent to the starting line for the Pancake Race.
They are permanent features and are the latest in a number of willow sculptures to be installed in the town.
They have been made by Rutland Willows, a small business located in the small market town of Oakham about 40 miles from Olney.
The company was established in 2000 by John Shone and he started making simple plant supports and hurdles (willow panels) for fencing as well as some animals as garden ornaments. He also was asked to run courses on how to make these animals as well as giving talks on the willow industry.
Using willow for basket making, fencing, etc. has long been a rural craft in the UK. The use the natural resources of reed from the local rivers is also used locally for thatching on the roof of buildings.
Dry stone walling is also a craft still practiced in many areas of the UK, both for the building of domestic walls and by farmers to divide their fields and contain livestock. Local dry stone walls can be hundreds of years old.
The final rural craft demonstrated by Rutland Willows is the art of hedge laying. Here the stems of living shrubs and bushes are split and bent to the horizontal, and as they grow, they develop into a robust, living barrier.
The English countryside is famous for its hedge rows.
In 2006, John Shone’s daughter Louise, joined him and started with the dry stone walling and hedgelaying elements.
In 2011, Louise’s husband, Martin Keeley, joined the team officially as he retired after 27 years in the Royal Air Force.
Since 2004, Martin had been helping on the courses and shows and events that John attended, but then he took on more of the willow work and learnt how to dry stone wall and hedge laying as the opportunities arose.
In 2013, John “retired” from Rutland Willows and handed over the reins to Louise and Martin. John still keeps his hand in all elements of Rutland WIllows but more as a “consultant” than a worker.