Late last year Jeremy, from Creswick in Victoria, phoned the office to order one of our Half Turn Devon Billhooks. He told me he was learning the art of hedge laying. I must admit I thought hedge laying was something they did in days gone by, a part of history but not really relevant today. I was imagining old farms in the UK, divided into paddocks by ancient hedge rows instead of fence posts and wire. Speaking with Jeremy sparked my curiosity and I decided I had to learn more about Billhooks and Hedge laying.
For those who don’t know what a billhook is, it’s like a cross between a knife and an axe, great for cutting through thick grass and stems. My research told me that the use of billhooks goes back to the Bronze Age and examples from this period have been found in the sea around Greece. Examples of billhooks from the Iron Age have also been found in pre-Roman settlements in England. Wow! I had no idea the billhook had been around for that long.
The billhook can be used in a wide variety of situations. In the Netherlands they were used in carpenter’s shops, in France and Italy the billhook was used to prune grapevines and in the United Kingdom the billhook is the primary tool of Hedge layers. Hedge laying brings us back to Jeremy and the Half Turn Devon Billhook.
Jeremy told me he was learning the traditional craft of hedge laying, and that the Bulldog Half-Turn Devon Billhook would be the perfect tool for the job. He told me he was laying Hawthorn hedges on his property instead of the usual wire fencing you expect to see on a farm. I must admit I thought that to grow a hedge-row you would just plants the trees or shrubs close together and prune as necessary, but it’s a lot more involved than that.
Common Hawthorn is the most popular tree for hedge laying. The spines and close branches make it virtually stock and human proof. Ouch! I would certainly think twice before climbing over a Hawthorn hedge!
The hedge has to be established before the hedge-laying can begin, an eight foot high hedge will finish up at around four foot after the laying is complete. Cuts are made in the trunks of the plants in Winter, leaving about an inch-thick hinge of bark and wood on one side. The trees are then bent over at an angle and held in place with vertical stakes, extra support is given, using a woven capping of branches, called binders. The end result is a strong, stock-proof fence that requires little maintenance until it’s time to re-lay the hedge in 30-40 years time.
There are quite a few methods of hedge laying and although it seems straight-forward it really is a craft that requires skill and experience. I think its important to keep the traditional crafts alive and it’s great to see that hedge-laying is not just a thing of the past.
Want to know more about hedge laying? Visit Inspiration Green to see more great photos and read up on the ancient art of hedge laying.
Do you have a story to tell about hedge laying? Or perhaps you have found another interesting use for the Billhook. We would love to hear your story. Please share in the comments below.