ISSUE 40  |  North by Northwest

Medieval and Modern Rush

October 05, 2012 7:00 PM

BY Kendra Wilson

It’s hard work, being the last harvester of bulrush in the UK. Every summer Felicity Irons spends three months in the river wielding a rush knife, which is a three foot blade attached to a six foot pole, like a scythe. She cuts two tons of rush stems a day, which is punted back to her farm and dried against a large hedge.

Felicity Irons’ work with English bulrush is the absolute definition of an ancient industry. A family business, the mats are made slowly and carefully, resulting in beautiful and useful objects which are traditional yet modern. Her clients include The Conran Shop and David Mellor Design but can also be seen covering the Tudor floors of Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire and other National Trust properties.

All images via Rush Matters.

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Above: Traditional rush floor matting is also known as medieval or apple matting. It smells as good as it looks and should be sprayed with an atomizer now and then to rejuvenate the rush and to release the scent. Herbs such as lavender and southernwood are added into the weave as the flooring is being made.

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Above: Felicity Irons spends June, July and August every year harvesting rush. This is taken from the Great Ouse river and the river Nene, in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Northamptonshire.

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Felicity and family get around by punt. The rush stems can be up to ten feet in length.

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Above: The weather conditions at the time of harvest affect the color of the dried rush. Wind will lead to more vibrant greens, whereas sun bleaches it to a warmer hue.

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Above: Openweave table mat with small circular table mat, £22 and £9 + VAT respectively from Rush Matters.

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Above: Napkin rings (£8.50) from David Mellor.

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Above: English bulrush is made into table mats in a wide selection of sizes and shapes, all equally covetable.

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Above: The woven trug is finished with hand-sewn leather handles; £95 from David Mellor. (N.B.: For more, see “Rush Matters in Bedfordshire.“)