Roads in the polders ☼

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Most roads in Holland are being built on stilts. These are especially the provincial roads and the national highways. In older times they used for polderroads mostly a different technique.
In the old polders church towers were the salient points on the horizon where-upon the people (on foot and horseback) determined their direction. Traditional churches were indeed built in such a position that they are oriented to the east.

The “East” was named in “the church language” the Orient. The church buildings were therefore (high in the flat polder) a suitable sign in order to determine the direction. The present meaning of “orienting” is created in this way. Because of the “traffic” that grew between the villages so in the soil of the polders traches (which are called: “gleeje” from sliding / slipping) became visiable. So later that orientation was no longer needed. They simply followed “de uitgeslète glee”. So that path became into use (but it disapeared slowly into the soft soil).

Many villages were to be accessed from the polder through an ancient road that ran towards the village church. Often called: the church road. Those roads were lined by  trimmed willows. In the picture the old church road of Lekkerkerk (now a bicyclepath).

Thus, to dewater the polders ditches were needed and had to be dug out to. Ditches were also usefull to keep the cattle from the roads and access to these ditches was needed for maintenance so they were often dug along the roads. (So cows were thus locked on the pastures). By increasing traffic on the roads the soft soil was also pushed into the ditches. Therefore along the ditches willows were planted between the ditches and the road. Those willows gave by their roots more stability to the surface of the track. So: the roots firmly ancored in the under layer, the roads and the surface of the road pressing against the tree in the upper layer pushed the willow tree in the course of time, more and more skewed above the water. That tilt gave the farmer the sign if a willow replacement was needed! (Those willows grew not old).

A blown pollard willow (view from below). Part of the root package (grew above ground-water and carried once a part of the road) is, with some earth between, overturned and risen.

However, these willows have also te be maintained (pruned). So they caught during (especially) autumn storms less wind, so they not blown down (the roots would destroy the road). The Heemraad Board (polder management) checks twice a year if all the yearly maintenance of roads, trees and ditches is done correctly (schouwdrijven). This is why, many centuries ago, these heemraden (homecounsels) are formed. From the cooperation of those heemraden orginated the overall district water board hoogheem-raadschap (high homeship counsel) that controls all today. (the cohesive polder).

Also, the branches, which are released during the trimming of the willows, were used. The thick ones as steals for pitchforks, shovels, etc. The Medium ones to protect levees (and cribs) against washout, to reinforce polderroads and ditchsides and thin ones to produce baskets, brooms, etc. To their thickness they are called geriefhout, rijshout of tenen.

Because these maintenance works are well fit into the work on the farm (in the time of calving no maintenance as cows, so people, have agree on a schedule), it has proved over the centuries, a good practice for the maintenance of dikes and roads, so planning to cooperate was (and is) a rule-moderate consultation necessary. To “polder” is a very old concept ?

Note 1
When those branches were used to protect the embankment foots they were covered with basalt stones (otherwise they would float away). This “bekaaien” (cobble is a very heavy work) still lives on in the name quay. Roads needed to be not unders stones. Their surface lying on the branches, under the roadwork, pressed the branches after all below ground-water level. The pole worm cannot survive permanently underwater.

The demise of old Holland

In a very black and white picture: wealth of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces was based on the Dutch fleets (fishing, trade and marine). They  were everywhere in the world active. The other six provinces provided good food (agriculture, livestock and fisheries), raw materials (especially wood) and some industrial production. But the big richness was based on the distant fleets. The old province of Holland (and West Frisia) generally yielded about 50% of the state budget.

1730 However, these fleets, brought around, the naval-shipworms in the Netherlands. This meant that not only the wooden ships had to be different (they got a regular replacing wood trim), but also all old dykes (who derived strength from wooden poles) had to be renewed. So the fleets grew much smaller (ie less trade = less income), and the army (manpower was needed for the civil engineering) became weaker. So wealth in all the provinces was lost. In the French time the United Provinces were brought to deep poverty. So after 1814 they had to change very much. But changing the structure of all provincien required a lot of time. 
After many deliberations and much misery, in 1850, a new state with a new constitution was formed. The old provinciën became provinces and these provinces together became the modern united Netherlands.

The vulnerability of the old dutch dykes is clearly visible in the following old drawing.

Note 2:
How to construct buildings on weak soil, see Amsterdam on poles.

Note 3:
Will write a few lines about how much the Netherlands changed between 1730 and 1950.

Modern times: