The village of Clapham is a wooded oasis, nestled beneath the limestone hills of the Yorkshire Dales. This is not native woodland but the result of planting by generations of the Farrer family of the Ingleborough Estate. This article is not about the family but rather about the tree planting, the management of the woodlands and the economics of forestry .
Today we mostly think of tree planting in terms of enhancing biodiversity and enriching our wildlife as well as a means of carbon storage to ameliorate the impact of climate change. However, in previous times planting was seen as a way to improve the landscape, as a patriotic duty to contribute to the war effort and a means of generating wealth. One of the most influential men in arboriculture was John Evelyn (1620-1706), whose book ‘Sylva’ was published in 1664. The book was the outcome of an approach by the navy to the Royal Society to increase the depleted stock of timber needed for ship-building . The book resulted in an enormous stimulus to tree planting in Britain and went through a number of editions during Evelyn’s lifetime and the following century.
To give some idea of the impact it is worth mentioning some local landowners and the extent of their planting. For example, Thomas Whitaker, better known as a historian and clergyman, owned extensive land in Holme-in-Cliver. Between 1784 and 1799 he planted over four hundred thousand larches, birch, rowan and ash. In just a single year, 1790, he planted sixty four thousand larches for which he was awarded the gold medal of the Society of Arts. On his death he was buried in one of these larches, which had been hollowed out to form his coffin. Unfortunately the estate was left in debt when Whitaker died in 1821 which was partly because of the costs incurred in creating the plantations . It was only later, when the trees reached maturity, that they were felled and sold to provide pit props for the local mines and so the costs were recouped eventually. Other local landowners were even more ambitious in their planting. Thomas Lister, first Lord Ribblesdale, planted over one million trees at Gisburn Park. The Devonshires planted three and a half million trees between 1809 and 1819 at their Bolton Abbey estate . So the Farrers of Ingleborough Hall were part of a fashionable movement in tree planting on their land in and around Clapham. It is fortunate that many of the estate archives have been preserved, so providing insights into the process which continued over a hundred and fifty years.
The ArchivesThe material consulted is held primarily by the North Yorkshire Archives Service at Northallerton. Among the maps and correspondence there are a couple of invoices for trees purchased from nurseries. However it is a series of ledgers, recording the annual income and expenditure from 1833 to 1952, which have provided the most valuable records . As these provide such a wealth of information it is useful to describe them in more detail.
The ledgers are records which were kept by the estate manager and submitted to the owner, for approval, on an annual or occasionally half-yearly basis. Both income and expenditure were split into different categories. For example, income was derived from the farm rentals, sale of timber and game, the leasing of shooting rights etc. Expenditure was divided between that spent on maintaining the house, the gardens, the drive and pleasure grounds, the planting of the woodland, and so on. Unfortunately these categories were not always consistently applied by successive estate managers and there is the added complication that the financial year did not always correspond to the calendar year. Also, due to the joint ownership of the estate in the initial years by several members of the Farrer family, separate accounts were kept which had to be amalgamated for the purposes of this study. Despite these problems it was possible to provide reliable data for the analysis.
Having extracted the relevant income and expenditure from the ledgers, the question is: what do the differing sums mean? Clearly with inflation £1 in 1830 would not be equivalent to £1 in 1870. Economists have derived several indices to translate what £1 in 1830 or any year would be worth today. The most familiar are the consumer and retail price indices. However, both have serious drawbacks when applied over long periods of time. As the bulk of the expenditure for both the estate as a whole and the woodland in particular was on wages, it was decided that it was most appropriate to use average earnings as the conversion method . This is shown in parentheses hereafter.
The Ingleborough EstateThe estate was acquired piecemeal over several years. James Farrer (1751-1820) began investing in land in Clapham in 1782, although the family had owned property here before this. His elder brother, Oliver (1742-1808), also bought land there, which was added to by his two nephews: James William (1785-1863) and Oliver (1786-1866). According to the Tithe apportionment of 1851, the Farrers owned roughly one quarter of the land in Clapham (2550 acres). By 1887 they had increase their holding in Clapham to 3296 acres as well as owning land in the neighbouring townships. At its peak the estate consisted of 12,590 acres in total .
The PlantationsThe earliest record of tree planting dates from 1806 when a total of 9,700 saplings were bought from the Clarks and Hanks nursery at Keighley at a cost of £32 5s 6d (£31,600) . One might have expected that the majority of trees would have been oaks but just 700 were purchased, compared to the larches (3,200), ashes (1,200), sycamores (1,000) and elms (1,000). There were also other trees such as the Weymouth pine (the Eastern White pine) and two species of poplars.
There is also an invoice of 1843 for trees supplied by Archibald Dickson and Sons of Hawick . The 20,950 saplings cost £21 7s 11d (£17,400). Again the most common tree was larch (8,750), followed by oak (5250). There were no sycamores, elms and ashes but other species included beech, alder, silver fir and hollies. The invoice also contained details of the size or age of the saplings (the oaks were 18-24 inches tall) and their unit cost (the oaks were three to the penny).
For the same year the total expenditure on the woodlands was £71 11s 10d (£58,400) the bulk of which was on labour (approx 70%). In other years the proportion was much higher (84% in 1843 and 85% in 1920) and in those years when no trees were planted the expenditure was almost totally on labour. Occasionally the ledgers provide a breakdown of these labour costs. For example, in July 1833 John Carter, carpenter, was paid £1 1s (£924) for putting up a fence around the plantation. Then in October unnamed men were paid £3 8s 6d (£3,010) for the preparation of Little Thwaite for planting, £2 2s (£1,848) for the digging of the planting holes and a further £1 10s (£1,320) for the planting of the trees. John King was paid £1 (£880) for bringing the unknown number of trees from Kendal.
Of the total area of the estate it is unclear how much consisted of woodland. Unfortunately the ledgers rarely refer to which areas were planted or felled or even to the number of acres involved. In a rare exception the 1840 ledgers show that it cost £5 (£4,420) to plant one acre, excluding the purchase of the trees. Over that decade it appears that between 55 and 59 acres in total were planted. The modest income for the same period suggests that this was new woodland being planted rather than the re-planting of a recently felled area.
More unusual items of expenditure included the employment of a mole-catcher (who was paid 7s 8d in 1893 or £180) and in 1863 11s 6d (£410) was spent on the wood measurers’ dinners. The 1920s saw the first purchase of galvanised wire for fencing and the use of four gallons of tree bark protector for £1 6s (£156). Was this as an insecticide or a deer deterrent?
So far the focus has been on the expenditure. The income generated included the sale of timber, firewood and bark for the tanning industry. As one might expect, the income from the sale of wood from the plantations was very irregular. In 1892 and 1893 the combined sales amounted to £435 13s 8d (£208,000) followed by seven years when the annual sales were under £20 (£9,120). This suggests that the felling was undertaken on a lengthy rotation interspersed with thinning of the trees. The remaining income may have been made up with firewood sales and the felling and sale of field trees.. The 1892 ledger records the felling and sale of spruce, sycamore, larch, ash and birch but there is no indication of the number of trees or their size. The only such entry for all the years was the sale of 20 sycamore trees in 1938 for £245 (£43,100). Similarly the details regarding the sale of bark are sparse. In 1860 22 ¼ cwt of bark was sold for 6s 6d per hundred-weight (total of £7 4s 6d or £5,340). Likewise, although there are numerous entries for the sale of firewood it was not until 1952 that we learn of a price: Rev Foster paid £4 5s (£323) for one ton.
There are some intriguing entries during the 1860s when timber was actually purchased by the estate (described as American and Baltic timber) and joiners and sawyers were employed to process it. A closer look at the ledgers shows that it was used extensively across the estate for what may have been repairs or improvements at High Grains, Dovenanter, Browside, High Birks etc. . As they were still felling their own timber this suggests that there was some urgency for the seasoned wood and that they were not using their own green timber.
Whilst there is an enormous amount of information contained in the ledgers, which may seem daunting, it is disappointing that there is not even more! Details about where the trees were planted, what they were, the management regime etc would have given even more information about the landscape history of the estate. However, it is still possible to get an overview of the economics of the forestry. Table 1 is a summary for each decade of the expenditure on the plantations and the resulting income. The difference, the profit or loss has also been expressed in terms of what this would be equivalent to in 2020 (based on average earnings). The first thing to note is that the forestry did not break even until the mid 1860s, or 35 years after the start of the planting. Thereafter the profits were variable, possibly reflecting a forty year felling cycle. Despite the agricultural recession of the 1880s and the wider recessions of the 1920s and ‘30s the estate maintained its expenditure on re-planting and in the following decade the plantations returned to being profitable.
DiscussionThere does not appear to be any evidence, in the archives, that the woodland in Clapham was managed by coppicing or that there was wood pasture where pollarding was practised. Instead the estate consisted of plantations of both hardwoods and conifers of a similar age structure. Even with the faster growing conifers, reaching maturity well before the hardwood trees, the Farrers were not planting for themselves but for their descendants. All the investment in planting the trees and their maintenance would not be realised until at least thirty or forty years later by which time the succeeding generation had taken over.
We will probably never know the motives of the Farrers in planting their estate. In part it may have been to ‘improve’ the landscape – whether simply a view of the picturesque or to provide cover for the game birds which were shot in prodigious numbers. They may also have seen it as their patriotic duty, as a way of contributing to the war effort. This may have been the case in 1806 but by the time the trees reached maturity the Napoleonic wars were long past and shipping had largely moved on from timber construction to the use of iron. However the estate was in a good position during the First World War to contribute to the huge demand for the timber required by trench warfare.
Growing trees for financial profit has always been an uncertain business. With such a slowly developing product there are always the uncertainties of changing demand, the increasing cost of labour and the threat of cheaper imports from elsewhere. Whilst there were sizeable sums achieved with the felling of the plantations the income was irregular. It nevertheless provided a much needed injection of cash into the estate accounts.
From the establishment of the Forestry Commission in 1919 successive governments have recognised the need for grants to make private forestry economically viable. But today the emphasis has shifted to the wildlife benefits and climate change amelioration by planting trees. Whatever their motives the Farrers have enhanced the landscape which has been appreciated by countless people and will be enjoyed by many more in years to come.
AcknowledgementsKen Pearce kindly read an initial draft and made a number of corrections and suggestions.
References and notes