Historical ecologists such as Rackham and G.F. Peterken (91) have focussed on ancient broadleaved woodland and its semi-natural successors. This kind of work has received a lot of attention through the efforts of the Nature Conservancy Council (now English Nature) to compile an inventory of ancient woodlands in England and Wales (3). The studies of the Rackham school have followed a parallel course of fieldwork and documentary research that emphasises the biological and historical continuity of woodland and tends to regard tree plantations only in the light of the destruction of ancient woods (14,15). The only modern general history of forestry in England is that by James (43), which devotes its final two chapters to a useful review of the growth of 'the new forestry' and conifer plantations. His view of the conifer plantation movement is the traditional one that reflects the political debate about forestry in the second half of the nineteenth century, which viewed Britain's timber needs very much from the perspective of the Royal Navy and its requirements for large oak timber for shipbuilding. In this view of things, the dramatic change to iron naval ships after 1862 caused a hiatus in woodland management from which there was no recovery until the Great War (43) and the consequent establishment of the Forestry Commission

The diverse manuals of forestry published in the second half of the nineteenth century, comprehensively listed by James (43), sometimes suffer from the personal bias of their authors, but have the merit of factual contemporary detail. The various editions of James Brown's 'The Forester' from 1847, particularly the 6th edition edited by John Nisbet (79), are very useful for their balanced comments on economic aspects of forestry and for their descriptions of contemporary practice. The studies by Harvey (60,70) of early tree nurseries have shed new light on planting practices and economics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They have revealed the importance of nurseries in the Scottish lowlands and in North East England in the introduction of conifer species for large-scale planting.

For the region that is the subject of the present study, an article by Cox & Forbes (92) in the Victoria County History of Durham is the best of the very few attempts to treat the general subject in a proper historical way. Local studies are equally rare. William Billington published an account (44) of his management of Chopwell Woods in the 1820s, and Tomlinson drew heavily on this and on earlier documentary sources for an article on the history of Chopwell Woods (93). Bailey & Culley, in their review of Northumberland agriculture for the Board of Agriculture (19) around 1800 have pertinent things to say about local developments and the potential for conifer forestry. Otherwise, apart from passing comments on plantations by contemporary topographical writers such as Mackenzie (94) and in biographies of Victorian estate managers and landlords, such as John Grey of Dilston (95) and George Silvertop of Minsteracres (46), nothing appears to have been written on the subject.


All manuscripts referred to are in the Northumberland Record Office (NRO) unless otherwise stated. The following abbreviations have been used: Anderson (I967). M.L. Anderson, A History of Scottish Forestry . Nelson, 1967. 2 Vols
Bailey & Culley (1805). J. Bailey & G. Culley, General View of the Agriculture of Northumberland Cumberland and Westmorland 3rd edn., 1805
Billington (I825). W. Billington, A series of facts, hints, observations and experiments on the different modes of raising young plantations… 1825
Brown(1851); Brown (1894). J. Brown, The Forester, 2nd Edition, Blackwood, 1851; 6th edition(ed. J. Nisbet) 1894
James (1981). N.D.G. James, A History of English Forestry. Blackwell, 1981
Ormston Diaries. Diary of Mary Ann Ormston of Newcastle, 1839-1850. In private ownership.
Ormston Notebooks. Notebooks of Robert Ormston 1876-1882. In private ownership.
Rackham (1987) O. Rackham, The History of the Countryside. Dent, I987
Rackham (1990) O. Rackham, Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape. 2nd edition. Dent, 1990

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).
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
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
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
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