Larch is generally believed to have been imported first into Scotland, by the Duke of Athol in the 1730s 66,70. By 1754, Joyce's nursery in Gateshead was able to offer larch plants by the hundred in a variety of sizes, but it took time to build up stock to the hundreds of thousands required for larch plantations 71. In the late 1770s the Duke of Athol still complained of the shortage of young trees 66. By 1800, however, larch was available in huge quantities, at much lower prices. Table 3 shows the prices of larch, Scots pine and oak from some local nurseries between 1745 and 1816. Though directly comparable information is not available for every year, it is clear that by 1816 the price of larch had fallen close to that of Scots pine, the other conifer widely planted in the area, and had become cheaper than oak. In County Durham the Backhouses were able to plant 300,000 on 131 acres of moorland near Wolsingham in the 1809-1810 season, 271,000 there in 1812 and 363,000 on 197 acres of land at St. John's Chapel in 1813, winning gold medals from the Society of Arts for their efforts 72. The figures for tree planting on a single Greenwich Hospital estate, Whittonstall & Newlands, from 1806 to 1827 illustrate dramatically the scale of forestry activity at this time 36. 460,000 larches and 248,000 oak were planted, as well as 186,000 other broadleaf trees and, surprisingly, only 46,500 Scots pine. At Dilston, the emphasis was more on oak, of which 290,000 were planted. Even there, however, new plantations contained 231,000 larch and 58,000 Scots pines. Together, these amounted to about a quarter of all larch and half of all the oak planted on their northern estates in Northumberland, Cumberland and Durham.

The remarkable performance of larch in the early mixed plantations, and reports of Scottish larch plantations such as those of the Duke of Athol, led inevitably to the establishment of conifer plantations in Northumberland. Bailey and Culley could already write in 1805, Amongst the great variety of trees we have observed in these plantations, the larch rises pre-eminent above the rest, and in almost every situation far outstrips the various species of firs and pines ... 19. Besides this rapid growth and the high quality of its timber, larch had two other properties that fortuitously met the local requirements of the period. Firstly, its hardiness, and secondly the fact that its bark could supplement oak bark for tanning. Brown 37 saw the value of larch bark in the economics of conifer plantations :
Larch trees cut down and sold for pit wood, after being peeled lose about one-third of their weight; hence, where the wood-merchant has railway-carriage to pay, a considerable saving is effected in the freightage of the timber. The price obtained for the bark will generally pay all expenses of felling the trees and of stripping and curing the bark....
This was written some time after 1851, but his conclusion is borne out by much earlier local accounts for both oak bark and larch bark. In 1791, felling, stripping and chopping the bark in the Silvertop woods cost about 3 per ton, while sale of the bark fetched 5-10-0 per ton 13. In 1824, costs were higher, but at 8 per ton they were still covered by the 9 per ton made for the bark. The money made from sale of the wood was then regarded as clear profit.

The second advantage of larch, emphasised by all writers on the subject, was that it was sufficiently hardy to grow well in exposed parts of the newly enclosed and marginally cultivable upland commons. However, European larch, the only species available until the 1860s, does have disadvantages, as William Billington discovered at Chopwell 6969. It demands a lot of light, so that it must be planted at a fairly wide spacing (5-6 ft) and must be thinned regularly. Most importantly, it will not flourish on poorly drained sites. However, Bailey and Culley wrote in 1805, in relation to wastes: Draining would be highly useful to many parts of these districts; there are also many excellent situations for planting; and of all other purposes to which such lands are convertible, this species of improvement seems to us the most promising to make the greatest returns. The Backhouses, pioneer larch planters in the north of Countv Durham, did plant on peat moorland above Wolsingham with considerable success, by efficient draining and by deeply cultivating the site, either by ploughing or by digging individual planting holes after paring off and burning the ling 72.

At Whittonstall & Newlands the Greenwich Hospital created a new 25 acre larch and Scots pine plantation at Grey Mare Hill, on the most exposed part of the common, though it was not wholly successful and was partly replanted in 1814 45. Although this was followed by another small conifer plantation in 1809 and then considerable planting (about 100 acres) of pure larch along the fringe of the ancient woods on the Lynn Burn and Mere Burn in 1810, most of these plantations and a continuing programme thereafter, were not on the recently enclosed common but on agricultural land in much more fertile situations. It is possible that they found the soil of Whittonstall and Newlands commons too poor and wet for larch.

Robert Ormston set the pace in planting the old commons on his newly inherited estate at Healey. His plans were ambitious enough to warrant a note from William Todd to his employer, George Silvertop, in Paris, in 1819: The Nurserymen have all advanced the prices of their trees this year much above what they were the last in consequence of brisk demand. Mr Ormston has planted and intends planting this season several Hundreds of thousands. I understand he purposes planting almost the whole of Broomley Fell allotments 73. The land in question amounted to 620 acres of Broomley Common allotted to Robert Ormston of Healey Hall on enclosure in 1816 57. Unlike Greenwich Hospital, who distributed their enclosure allotments of Newlands & Whittonstall Commons between the estate farms in 1811, Ormston retained the whole of Broomley Fell allotment in hand 74. Between 1819 and 1821 he planted between one and two million larches and a smaller number of Scots pines there, at a total cost of about 2000 38, 75. In about 1826 he created the 48 acre Bail Hill plantation on rough, poorly drained land that had earlier been part of one of the estate farms, Healey Whins 75, 76, 77. The majority of the land on this farm had been enclosed before 1809 from Healey South Common and was later to be afforested by Ormston between 1846 and 1853 to create Hilltop and Kellas plantations 38, 78.

Robert Ormston clearly agreed with Bailey and Culley's opinion of planting marginal land, but theirs was not the universal view in the locality. In the 1770s Mr. Hopper at Black Hedley made a name in agricultural circles by his cultivation of newly enclosed land on Bulbeck Common which in the state of common were not worth more than 1 s(hilling) per acre and is (now) worth 10s or 12s 19. The expenses of enclosure were high. Between 1812 and 1820 Greenwich Hospital spent nearly 8000 on the division of Whittonstall and Newlands commons, mostly before 1816, and extra capital investment in planting may have seemed unattractive in the short term 64. The Visitation of 1817 recorded that considerable improvements of the newly enclosed land were already under way and in the allotment awarded to Whittonstall High Field farm over 80 acres were already in cultivation 45. Moreover, Newlands West Farm was created entirely out of 410 acres of the newly divided common. This gave the Hospital the opportunity to raise farm rents and obtain some immediate return on their investment. It did not make any large plantations on the enclosed commons at Whittonstall & Newlands until 1850 (Newlands Grange plantation) 77. Similarly, Middleton turned his 1771 allotment of Bulbeck common near Minsteracres into a farm (New House Farm) and planted no conifer woods there until about 1860 38.

It therefore appears that no clear-cut economic advantage was perceived locally, early in the nineteenth century, to planting newly enclosed waste land with trees. In any particular location a decision had to take into account the agricultural improvement possible, the types of trees that could be grown, and future demands for any products of the land. Whittonstall and Newlands were near to the rapidly growing settlements of the lower Derwent Valley, which were providing a ready market for their agricultural products 39. The Greenwich Hospital throughout its Northern estates was already ploughing back all its woodland income into new planting (see Figure 4) and where agricultural income was possible, plantations were not, perhaps, a priority.

It is difficult to assess the comparative economics of forestry and agriculture for the new enclosures. The Hospital's Newlands West Farm, created from the newly enclosed common in 1816, was let on a 21 year lease from 1830 for 227 p.a. (12s 6d per acre), whereas the old-enclosed South Farm and Haugh Farm fetched, from similar leases, 1-6s-8d and 1-10s per acre - more than double the rents of the new farm 64. According to William Billington the run-down farmland on which part of Chopwell Wood was planted in 1813-15 was previously let at less than 10s per acre and produced a better income from wood thinnings by 1825 45. Robert Ormston calculated that between 1819 and 1876 the 620 acres of Broomley Fell larch plantation yielded a profit of about 46,000, taking into account the initial cost of planting and subsequent maintenance, but making no allowance for inflation, at an average of 1-6s-8d per acre per year 38. Imprecise though these comparisons are, the figures suggest that income per acre from well run plantations was of the same order as that from farms on poor land in the same area.

During the depressed period of agriculture in the 30 years following the Napoleonic Wars landlords might therefore have found plantations on marginal land increasingly attractive 79. However, even in the middle of the century Robert Ormston could still resist the encouragement of his sisters to buy two farms next to Healey. As Miss Ormston wrote, ... he does not like to buy land, as it is more troublesome to manage than railway shares. Brown & Nisbett 80 claimed that investment in railways between 1830 and 1845 significantly diverted the expenditure of landed proprietors from tree planting. Nevertheless, Ormston went on planting at Healey, creating at least another 530 acres of plantations in the next 8 years 38.

The overall pattern of planting

Figure 5 shows the spread of plantations at 20 year intervals over the whole area of study. Two particular features stand out, both of which have already been mentioned. The first is that the earliest plantations were made predominantly on the fringes of existing ancient woodland and along burns where the ground would be expected to be reasonably fertile. As already discussed, these early plantations contained broadleaved trees, either planted in imitation of old native woodland or mixed with conifers. It is not surprising to find that the places chosen were fertile and unsuitable for cultivation because of their situation in steep-sided valleys. The Greenwich Hospital estates were pioneers in this respect. The second noticeable feature is the absence of plantations made before 1805 on Bulbeck Common, although this had been enclosed since 1771. Even the lower-lying part of the common, in the east, was probably not fertile enough to support good hardwood plantations. Before 1825, however, conifer plantations were beginning to appear even here, where in a period of high agricultural prices the opportunities for cultivation might have been thought sufficient to discourage planting. Table 4 gives an estimate of the acreage of plantations, and their average sizes, over the entire period of study. In each of the time intervals, one plantation very much larger than the others was created. In order to provide a more representative measure of plantation size, the 'average area' has been calculated omitting the largest plantation. As can be seen, apart from a few larger ones made between 1825 and 1845, the individual plantations on most of the private estates were small, no more than 20 acres in extent in most cases, and they have not been extended since they were first planted.

Conifer species

By 1830 new plantations seem to have been predominantly coniferous and older broadleaved and mixed plantations were generally replanted with conifers after felling. The ancient oak woods in the steep denes where the shade was too great for good larch and Scots pine growth survived. In the plantations, larch and Scots pine were favoured, though the better performance of Norway spruce in poorly drained ground was increasingly being recognised. Sitka spruce was not introduced until 1831 and when Nisbet edited the 6th edition of Brown's 'The Forester' in 1894 he commented that it was still under-appreciated as a forest tree 44, 69. There was, however, a perceptible retreat from total reliance on larch towards the middle of the century. Other species could offer less seasonal employment. Mary Ormston wrote in her diary in August, 1840 : ... went with Robert to see his woodman & followers cutting down Scots Firs. As these trees are not barked, they may be felled at any time of the year and the plantations want thinning, so as the men are not employed at present on any more important work, it is very well to take down the leaning trees ... The substitution with other species may also have been partly due to the fall in the value of home-produced bark. Prices for oak bark were falling by 1820 (Figure 3), possibly due to increasing supplies of cheaper larch bark, much of it from the same proprietors' plantations. By the 1850s very large amounts of cheaper oak bark were being imported from Germany and the Low Countries, and later oak galls from the Mediterranean and even the bark of exotic trees from India and Brazil 37. These undercut the home product. While local oak bark apparently remained worth selling into the 1880s - sales from Healey are recorded in 1877,1879 and 1882 - the poorer quality larch bark probably could no longer compete 38.

Scots pine was the natural alternative to larch for many years. The old Caledonian pine forests had supplied seed for many plantations in Scotland and these in turn probably provided seeds and plants for Northumberland 82. Sir Arthur Middleton thought that this and similar later imports from Norway were the sources of the rare examples of Linnea borealis (twinflower) and Corallorhiza innate (coral root orchid) found in plantations in S. Northumberland 82. Scots pine is the only conifer other than larch recorded in the summary of planting on Greenwich Hospital estates in 1827 64.

Spruce (Norway spruce) made up only about 2% of the conifer trees advertised for sale from plantations from Whittonstall in 1839 and did not appear again up to 1850 36. In 1849, there were only 2 spruce trees among the 804 conifers sold from Newlands. Of 131,000 young trees required for filling vacancies in old plantations on the Duke of Northumberland's local estates in 1849, 56% were larch, 30% Scots pine, 11% oak and only 3% spruce 84. The unpopularity of spruce was not due to its price or availability. William Falla's nursery in Gateshead was able to provide two year old spruce by the thousand, at the same price as larch, in 1816 (Table 3). It is more likely that spruce planting was not properly understood, or that the trees available at the time were susceptible to disease. In 1805 it was said that spruce plantations in the north of the county had died at 20-30 years of age, when planted in a variety of different soils and situations, though the explanation was not known 19. The species seems, therefore, to have been reserved for wet, peaty ground. In 1820 William Billington planted spruce, with a few silver firs, in some deep, rich bogs at Chopwell and Robert Ormston had some fine spruce in Broomley Fell West plantation in 1845 45, 85. In the 1850s John Grey planted spruce in several of the Greenwich Hospital plantations on Whittonstall common where they may have been more suited to the damp conditions than larch 39.

Many of the local landowners were collectors of rare trees. No doubt the specimens on their estate encouraged experiments with more extensive planting. At Minsteracres, George Silvertop had some of the first Giant Silver Firs (Abies grandis) imported into Britain in 1832. These were renowned features of the 'shrubbery' south of the Hall in the late nineteenth century and by 1911they had reached about 100 feet in height 75, 86. Minsteracres' magnificent avenue of Wellingtonias (Sequoia gigantea), which can still be seen towering above the surrounding plantations, was another of his experiments, planted, probably, when the drive was realigned in the 1850s to replace an earlier avenue ot Scots pines badly damaged by the hurricane of January, 1839 47, 87, 88. Robert Ormston also planted exotic conifers on either side of the carriage drive through Broomley Fell plantation and experimented with a small stand of Corsican Pine, planted in 1861 in High Kellas plantation. The latter performed well and was studied by the Lecturer in Forestry, J.F. Annand, at Armstrong College at the turn of the century 75.


Copyright 2005 Ian Hancock. All rights reserved.
Revised: 25 Feb 2005

References and Notes


1. Department of Geography, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Map of the Vegetation of Northumberland (1976)
2. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the area was predominantly in the hands of six landowners. Five were Northumberland men of very different backgrounds: the Duke of Northumberland, Sir William Blackett, George Silvertop of Minsteracres, Sir William Middleton of Belsay, and Robert Ormston of Newcastle. The sixth was the Greenwich Hospital which had acquired the confiscated estates of James Radcliffe, the third Earl of Derwentwater, in 1735, twenty years after his execution for his part in the rebellion of 1715.The Middletons were old landed gentry, Robert Ormston was the grandson of a Quaker Scottish banking family, George Silvertop and William Blackett were from families that had made their fortunes from coal and lead mining, and the Duke of Northumberland, the lord of one of the greatest estates in the country.
3. Nature Conservancy Council, Inventory of Ancient Woodland (Provisional) -Northumberland (I987)
4. J.W. Spencer & K.J. Kirby, An inventory of ancient woodland for England and Wales, Biological Conservation, 62 (1992), 77-93
5. Mason Maps : Manor of Prudhoe and Headley; A Part of Prudhoe containing Headley, 1629. Copies provided by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, by courtesy of his grace the Duke of Northumberland.
6. ZAN Bell 2/4
7. NCH Volume 12, 178-181
8. quoted in NCH Volume 12, 179
9. ibid., 179
10. ibid., 180
12. ZMI S/68 folder 1
13. ZCO IV/46
14. Rackham (1987)
15. Rackham (1990)
16. James (1981) Appendix I
17. In 1805, Bailey and Culley wrote, The demand by the collieries and lead mines for small wood, has ...induced the proprietors of woods on the Derwent, Tyne &c. to cut them at an early age-from 25 to 30 years growth is the general term for oak, elm. and ash ... Under this management ... an acre in thirty years will produce, on average, 60 clear of expenses: there have been instances ot an acre of wood, 32 years old, selling for 100... (see note 19).

References and Notes


18. ZMI S/38
19. Bailey & Culley (1805) Chapter X
20. ZMI B12/II/2,3
21. Economic History Review series 2, 26 (1973), 593-613
22. ZMI S/38
23. ZCO IV/34
24. ZCO IX
'Props are used in the Collieries ... They are from 3 to 71/2 feet long, and from 2 to 5 inches Diam. & most generally made of Birch & alder, Weed out or Cut from amongst Timber Trees.'
25. ZCO IV/4
26. CJ. Hunt The Lead Miners of the Northern Pennines in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. (Manchester University Press, 1970)
27. Props were an important product of Silvertop's Crooked Oak woods (sometimes called Common Crook). These consisted of two pieces of woodland called the Sneap and Low Pasture, in a bend of the Derwent, which amounted to 84 acres. Between 1790 and 1792 they yielded about 18,000 props, mainly 4 inches in diameter and ranging from 3 to 9 feet long, as well as thicker 'strong props' . They were sold according to length (in feet) and thickness (in inches): 3/4 props ('yard props') were sold at 1d each, 5/4 props at 1 1/4d., 6/4s at 2 1/4d, 7/4s at 2 3/4d, 8/4s at 3 1/2d and 9/4s at 4 1/4d each. ‘Strong props’ fetched 9 1/2d. Silvertop sold props to several local collieries - 'Tanfield Moor, Unthank, Wall House - as well as supplying his own mining interests, particularly the Stella Grand Lease and Coalburn collieries. The local lead mining companies also purchased considerable amounts of birchwood, though this is not specifically described as props. Easterby Hall's Derwent Mining Company was a regular customer from 1809 when they were developing lead mine shafts at Beldon and Shildon , and sales to Crooked Oak Lead Mine Company (the Silvertongue mine?) are recorded for 1827.
28. ZMI B15/XI
29. ZCO IX
30. ZHE 34/19
31. M.J.T. Lewis, Early Wooden Railways (Keegan & Paul, 1970)
32. T.W. Beastall, A North County Estate (Phillimore, 1975 Chapter 8

References and Notes


33. Brown, 2nd Ed (1851) p382 Brown rather simplistically argued the case for mature timber against coppicing oak on the basis of prices and yields of the respective products, without taking into account the the value of regular income from bark and coppice wood. In editing the 6th edition Brown’s book Nesbitt omitted these arguments and James (54) has collected substantial evidence that in real accounting terms coppice management was more profitable.
34. Billington (1825), Chapter 3
35. ZCO IX Agent's letter book, 30 May 1808 William Todd wrote of operations on the Silvertop estate :‘As soon as the Sap would go [i.e. run] I got the Damaged Oak Branches in the Park Cut and peeled which have yielded well in Bark. We are now very busy thining [sic] the Oaks at Crooked Oak, which I suppose may take us a fortnight to finish & which from the goodness of the Sap, I flatter myself will turn out more productive in Bark than I expected...'
36. Newcastle Central Library L362.5 / G816G. Local Greenwich Hospital estates advertised 38 tons of oak bark from Whittonstall, Dilston and Dipton in 1844, and 14 tons in 1847.
37. Brown (1894) Vol.2, Chapter XI . The second edition, of 1851, while describing the use of larch bark, does not make this comment on costs.
38. Ormston Notebooks, 1876-1882. The Healey estate was still selling several tons a year to R.&H. Harrison at Stepney Tanneries in Newcastle in the 1870s
39. NRO M362 Microfilm of PRO ADM 79/60-62
40. NRO 3629/4
41. ZMI B41/7
42. ZCO IX various letters
43. ZMI S/38
44. James (1981)
45. NRO M361 Microfilm of PRO ADM 79/57-59
46. James (1981), Chapter 8
47. Rev. J. Lenders, Minsteracres: the Silvertop Family, the Minsteracres Estate, the Mission and Church, with numerous illustrations (Orphans Press, 1932)
48. D. Dougan, The History of North East Shipbuilding, Allen & Unwin, 1968 p31
49. ZCO IX 25 February 1812
50. ZMI S/38
51. Rackham. (1987), 92
52. Ormston notebooks.
53. Ormston Diaries, 16 May 1846

References and Notes


54. QRA 23/1
55. QRA 9
56. QRA 41
57. QRA 8/1-5
58. NCH Volume IV
59. NRO 467/42
60. S. MacDonald, Development of agriculture and the diffusion of agricultural innovation in Northumberland 1750-1850 , Ph.D. thesis, Newcastle University, 1974
61. J.H. Harvey, Forest trees and their prices before 1850, Quarterly Journal of Forestry 67 (1973), 20-37
62. Anderson (1967) Volume I, chapter XI
63. Ormston Diaries, 1839-1850, passim
64. Newcastle Central Library SL362.5 / G816
65. ZGI XVII /1a-c
66. Anderson (1967) Volume 1 passim
67. ZCO IX 25 February 1812
68. W.W.Tomlinson,Chopwell Woods. AA2 19 255-267 In February, 1634/5, the wood was surveyed with the aim of identifying oak timber in Crown woods suitable for the construction of a great naval vessel, the Sovereign of the Seas, at the Woolwich shipyard. It was reported that it contained 11,083 trees, and orders were given for 2500. However, after a personal inspection Phineas Pett , the navy’s master shipbuilder, found that "Chopwell Wood comes far short of his expectations and [the carpenters] must therefore wholly depend on Brancepeth, where they shall find excellent provision of long timber, and will require 1400 choice trees." Chopwell eventually provided few trees, Brancepeth West Park and Pedgebank meeting the deficit .C. S. P. D. Chas I (1634/5), 514; (1635), 73,113.
69. B.G. Hibberd (ed.) Forestry Practice (11th edition, H.M.S.0., 1991)
70. A. Mitchell, A Field Guide to the Trees of Britain and Northern Europe, (Collins, 1974)
71. J.H. Harvey, Early gardening catalogues, Garden History 4, 2 (1974)
72. W. Somerville, Old records of planting, Quarterly Journal of Forestry 5 (1911), 204-212
73. ZCO IX 27January 1819
74. NRO 691/1/14/15
75. Report of Annual Meeting of Northern Branch of Royal English Foresty Society,1911. Quarterly Journal of Forestry 5 (1911), 355-357

References and Notes


76. ZHE 98/7
77. NRO 691/145/15
78. ZHE 98/9
79. E.L. Jones, The Development of English Agriculture, 1815-1873, Macmillan, 1968
80. Brown(1894)
81. Ormston Diaries, 24 August 1840
82. Anderson (1967 Volume 1, 604
83. ZMI S/38
84. ZHE 34/19
85. Ormston Diaries, 30 August 1845
86. Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, 16 January 1897
87. DT 424
88. Ormston Diaries, 30 July 1841
89. NRO 672/60 M12
90. ZAL 91/40
91. ZMI S/38
92. G.F. Peterken, Woodland Conservation and Management . Chapman & Hall, 1981
93. J.C. Cox & A.C. Forbes, Forestry, in Victoria County History, Durham, volume 2 (1907), 373-384
94. W.W. Tomlinson, Chopwell Woods, AA2, 19 (1898), 255-267
95. E. MacKenzie, An historical, topographical and descriptive view of the County of Northumberland... MacKenzie & Dent, 1825
96. J. Butler, Memoir of John Grey of Dilston . King & Co.,1975