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Timber production in North Mymms

The importance of wood to the local economy


Harold Spencer and Bob Rogers at Woodside Place in the 1900 Image from P. Grant / G. Knott
Harold Spencer and Bob Rogers at Woodside Place in the 1900s
Image from P. Grant / G. Knott, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection

North Mymms once had a thriving timber industry. Wood was grown and farmed as a felling crop on all the large estates in the parish. In one year alone, an "exceptionally wealthy" local landowner planted 40,000 oaks in a 27-acre field in Gobions.

Local wood production was such, that large auctions were held in the parish to sell the timber, with buyers notified via the press throughout Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Cambridgeshire, and Middlesex.

By the second half of the 19th century, an eighth of the land in North Mymms was being used to produce wood. Of the 4,966 acres that made up the parish, 633 (12.7%) were given over to timber.

The local ancient woodland was also coppiced, particularly chestnut and hazel, in order to produce a sustainable supply, which was then widely used by rural craftspeople.

Nationally, timber was essential to almost every aspect of living, and was of particular importance in the defence of Britain. In the 18th century, the Royal Navy used vast amounts of oak to build its warships. And the demand for oak continued into the 19th century, including its use in the production of ironclads.

The North Mymms History Project has been looking at the importance of timber to the local economy. Our research found that wood was identified as a resource worth recording in the Domesday Book entry for the parish.

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Mimmine, wood, and the Domesday Book


Scan of a Domesday Book page made available by Professor J.J.N. Palmer and George Slater. Image released under a Creative Commons BY-SA
The Domesday Book entry about Mimmine
Image made available by Professor J.J.N. Palmer and George Slater
Released under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0

In 1086, assessors, sent by the King, William The Conquerer, arrived in Mimmine (North Mymms as it was known then) to calculate the value of the land. It was to be a detailed survey, listing not only every piece of land, but also every person, and every farm animal. Their records, published in the Domesday Book, show that Mimmine contained "Woodland" (this link leads to a page that attempts to explain the meaning of the terms used in the entry which was written more than 900 years ago).

"The Bishop of CHESTER holds NORTH MYMMS. It was assessed TRE at 8 hides and 1 virgate; and now at 8 hides. There is land for 13 ploughs. In demesne [are] 4 hides, and there are 2 ploughs, and there can be a third. There 17 villans with 8 bordars have 10 ploughs. There are 3 cottars and 1 slave, pasture for the livestock, [and] woodland for 400 pigs. In all it is and was worth 8l; TRE 10l. 3 thegns, Queen Edith's men, held this manor and could sell."

A long history with tree felling


Fast forward 500 years, and much of North Mymms would have been wooded. The name Welham Green, for example, means that it is a clearing from woodland.

In the 15th century, Robert Knolles, then the owner of the Manor of North Mymms, apparently cleared a lot of the woodland on the estate, as this paragraph from A short history of the Knolles and Frowick families confirms.
"Thomas Knolles, in his will dated 7 & 8 February 1445 (PCC Luffnam fo 30, refers to his wife Isabel already deceased; mentions his son Robert (to whom he left the manor of North Mymms), his son Richard, and his son John. He mentions also his daughter Beatrice as a nun at Dartford; his daughter Johanna as wife of William Baron, and a daughter Isabella.
"Robert, eldest son and heir of Thomas, appears to have invested more time at North Mymms and was unfortunately responsible for cutting down much timber belonging to the manor, which, until then, appears to have been thickly wooded. Perhaps he was under some financial pressure, for just after the death of his father he came to an agreement with his brother, Richard, to pay him 100 marks yearly from the North Mymms estate." 
This is supported in the Manors section of Victoria County History of North Mymms 1908, by William Page.
"Up to this date the manor appears to have been thickly wooded, but Robert is responsible for the cutting down of much timber."
Three hundred years later, landowners in North Mymms were realising the potential of wood and producing a steady and "sustainable" supply for the Victorian timber trade.

40,000 oaks planted in a 27-acre field at Gobions


Gobions house from the south C. 1833, picture by a Kemble family member
Image from the Gobioins Wood Heritage Report

In the autumn of 1799, one local landowner, the "exceptionally wealthy" John Hunter,  planted 40,000 oak saplings on a 27-acre field at Gubbins, later known as Gobions, North Mymms.

The trees were already two to three years old when they were put in the ground. Hunter protected them from "the depredations of cattle, or anything else that can tend to injure or destroy the same" with fencing, and by creating a mound of earth around the trees.

These trees it seems, were planted to produce wood, and not for their aesthetic or environmental value. They were to be harvested to help meet the demand for timber.

A few months later, in February 1800, Hunter, sat down at his desk at Gobions and wrote a letter to the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce telling them what he had done.

Almost two years later, in December 1801, the society awarded Hunter its Gold Medal for his work. Clearly, producing quality wood in such a quantity was something that was held in the highest regard by manufacturers and commerce.

The cuttings below are of Hunter's letter to the society, and the society's announcement of the award. They are taken from the 'Papers In Agriculture" section of the 'Transactions of the Society, Instituted at London, for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, Volume 20.

[Full citation for excerpts: Hunter, John, et al. “PAPERS IN AGRICULTURE.” Transactions of the Society, Instituted at London, for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, vol. 20, 1802, pp. 75–198. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41325747.]
screen grab of correspondence between John Hunter and the society

screen grab of correspondence between John Hunter and the society

screen grab of correspondence between John Hunter and the society

The timber estates of North Mymms


To meet the demand for timber many North Mymms landowners were heavily into growing trees, particularly on the large estates such as North Mymms Park, Brookmans, and Gobions.

In Peter Kingsford's book Gobions Estate North Mymms Hertfordshire, he writes in Chapter 1 - A History Of Gobions In The Parish Of North Mymms, about the sale of the Gobions estate in 1838.

In the sales brochure mention is made of the 'Finest Timber" being grown on the freehold estate. Clearly a reference to the work carried out by John Hunter 40 years earlier when he planted the 40,000 oak saplings.

Brookmans in the 19th century  Images courtesy of Mill Green Museum, part of the Images of North Mymms collection
Brookmans in the 19th century
Images courtesy of Mill Green Museum, part of the Images of North Mymms collection

When Brookmans was sold in 1785, the timber on the estate alone was valued at £2,500.

In Peter Kingsford's book A Modern History of Brookmans Park 1700-1950, he writes in Chapter 1: Lord Chancellor and Bank Governor 1700-1816 about the sale.
"The description continued with details of The Park of 240 acres, Other Land in Hand of 72 acres most of which had growing crops, Clement’s Lease of 15 acres, the White Hart Inn with 20 acres, Ansell’s Tenement (a small new brick house) with 4 acres, the Smith’s Shop, Mrs. Stephenson’s House, Reeves Farm with 45 acres, and Lilly’s in Hatfield Parish with 45 acres and, of course, the timber estimated to be worth £2,500."
According to the National Archive currency converter, £2,500 would be equivalent to £215,261 in 2017.

The same calculation using Bank of England calculator (which allows for an average inflation of 2% a year) sets the value at £373,264 (October 27, 2018 comparison).

Timber on the Muffets Estate


Photograph of Moffats House taken in the 1980s - Image from the NMLHS
Moffats House taken in the 1980s
Image from the NMLHS, part of the Images of North Mymms collection

When the Muffets (Moffats) estate was sold in 1803, mention was made in the sales brochure of the timber on the estate. The brochure pointed out:

"... fertile Lane, chiefly Meadow and Pasture, pleasingly ornamented with thriving Timber Trees and Plantations."

We have the Sale Details For Muffets House, North Mimms 1803 on this site, courtesy of the Peter Miller collection.



Timber, used locally, and sold at auction


Photograph of Faggots prepared from coppiced woodland at Essendon in 1926 Image from the Peter Miller Collection
Faggots prepared from coppiced woodland at Essendon in 1926
Image from the Peter Miller Collection

Timber was a valuable resource, producing a range of useful items from faggotspeasticks, hedging stakes, hurdles, wattles, and cart wheels, to the frames for manor houses.

Timber-framed buildings 


Timber frames (usually green oak) were usually constructed off site in framing yards and delivered and assembled on site. They were the original pre-fabs. The carpenters made marks with their chisels (usually roman numerals) to aid construction, see image below.

Chisel marks made by carpenters constructing the old barn at Tollgate Farm Image from the Peter Miller Collection
Chisel marks made by carpenters constructing the old barn at Tollgate Farm
Image from the Peter Miller Collection

The brick infill was invariably done at a much later date than the frame construction as the price of bricks dropped (and fashions changed). Buildings were also often faced in brick to ‘disguise’ the timber frame and provide protection from the elements.

Timber-framed cottages on the green at Water End c 1900  Image from P. Grant / G. Knott, part of the Images of North Mymms collection
Timber-framed cottages on the green at Water End c 1900
Image from P. Grant / G. Knott, part of the Images of North Mymms collection

Brick infill was notoriously a poor substitute to the original materials, with differential qualities of movement of either wattle and daub, lathe and lime plaster or timber weatherboard.

Church Cottage,  a Grade II listed building bordering St Mary's Church, North Mymms Image by the North Mymms History Project released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0
Church Cottage,  a Grade II listed building bordering St Mary's Church, North Mymms
Image by the North Mymms History Project released under Creative Commons

Earlier weatherboarding was oak or elm but in the 19C cheaper Baltic pine became available and was widely used, often with the application of black tar to extend the longevity.

The granary at Skimpans Farm, on Bulls Lane, Welham Green (below), one of the 45 Grade II listed buildings in North Mymms, is an example of a timber-framed structure with brick infill.

The granary at Skimpans Farm, Bulls Lane photograph dated 1982
Image from the NMLHS part of the Images of North Mymms Collection

English Heritgage Practical Building Conservation


English Heritage has produced an excellent illustrated guide showing how timber was used in the building industry. We have embedded it below for those who want to know more.



The use of timber in agricultural buildings


The exterior and interior photographs of the barn at Potterells Farm (below) show how wood was used for agricultural building in North Mymms.


Potterells Farm old wooden barn in the 1980s
Image by the NMLHS, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection

The interior of the barn at Potterells Farm - picture taken 1985  Image from P Edgar, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection
The interior of the barn at Potterells Farm - picture taken 1985
Image from P Elgar, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection


Photograph - Paine's Cottage and barn, Station Road, 1958. Built by Nash Bros. as tied cottages for Potterells Farm, has since been replaced by houses.
The wooden Paine's Cottage and barn, Station Road, Welham Green built by Nash Bros
Image by Ron Kingdon, taken in 1958. Part of the Images of North Mymms Collection

Other uses for local timber


Timber seasoning at Welham Green in the 1900s before being used by local builder Nash Bros
Image by Ron Kingdon, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection 

The Welham Green builder, Nash Bros, would dry timber on the roadside before using it. According to this site's archivist, the picture above could be of elm, which was being dried in order to build coffins.

Wood was also used during the laying of the sewer system in North Mymms, as the image below, taken in Welham Green, shows.

The wooden frame for the deep sewer at the Bulls Lane end of Holloways Lane 
Image by Ron Kingdon, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection

Timber auctions selling hundreds of trees


Timber was sold at large auctions, sometimes held at the Swan Inn at Bell Bar, where, at one sale on Wednesday 2 April, 1851, more than a thousand trees went under the auctioneer's hammer.

The sale included 840 oaks, 100 ash, 80 elm, 30 lime, and other trees. The auction was advertised in the local newspaper, the Hertford Mercury, on Saturday, March 8, 1851. The three newspaper cuttings below are from the Peter Miller Collection.

cutting from the Peter Miller collection
Newspaper cutting from the Peter Miller collection


Fine oak, 300 winter-felled, and 400 standing


In another auction, on Thursday 7 April 1853, advertised in the The Reformer, Herts, Bucks, Essex, Cambridgeshire, and Middlesex Advertiser, a further 700 "fine oak" from the Brookmans Estate, including "300 winter felled", and "400 standing" were sold, along with 200 other trees. Also included in the auction were 3,000 fagots, 700 poles, and 200 stacks of hardwood and roots.

This and the following cuttings are from the Peter Miller collection
Newspaper cutting from the Peter Miller collection


The sale of standing trees


In another auction, held on Wednesday 18 December 1861 at the Railway Hotel in Potters Bar, the sale was of 831 fine elm and ash timber trees from a variety of estates and farms, and all still standing. The trees were marked with white paint so that prospective buyers could see them and check the quality before bidding. The advert reads:

"NB - The Timber is standing partly in the Park and part on Swanley Bar Farm, on Mr. Pilgirm's Reeves Farm, and Mr. Giddins' Moffats Farm; Mr. Farr's Bell-Bar Upper Farm; Mr F. Gunton's Skimpans Farm; Mr Wise's at Smallford; Mr. Browns Hill-end Farm; Mr. Grainge's at Butterwick Farm; Mrs. Day's, at Sleeps Hyde; and Mr. Jackson's at Roestock Farm."

Cutting are from the Peter Miller collection
Newspaper cutting from the Peter Miller collection




Saw pits and sore fingers



The old sawmill near Cuffley
Image from the Peter Miller Collection

There were many saw pits (such as the one pictured in nearby Cuffley, above). These pits used large two-man saws. The person at the bottom of the pit, called the under dog, would get covered in sawdust. Much better to be the top-dog in the sawing team.

In a transcription of an oral interview, recorded in 1940, Welham Green resident, James Chuck describes how his grandfather, Jimmy Chuck, born in 1842, used to walk from Welham Green to Cuffley to fell trees. Perhaps Jimmy worked for the sawmill pictured above.
"Did plenty of walking them days. I’ve heard my aunt say that my old grandad used to walk to Cuffley, tree felling there, walk there and back, that’s a good old step you know. He always wore his hat - outdoors and indoors. A bowler, then later a trilby. Wouldn’t take it off for nobody."
Working with wood seems to have passed through the Chuck family, from felling to sawing. James' father (who was born in 1874 and died in 1954) lost three fingers on the saw bench, an incident that made him give up alcohol for the rest of his life.
"And the funny thing was, they used to have a saw bench come up to saw the wood up and he used to put the wood to the saw, like. And one day he must have been three parts drunk and the saw had three of his fingers off. He went to hospital and never touched another drop of beer from that day till he died. Whether it was an act of God, I don’t know, but he was a real teetotaler after. And they took him into St. Albans Hospital and he used to smoke his old pipe and they couldn’t stop him smoking in bed so they turned him out before they should have done and he had his fingers off."

Harold Spencer and Bob Rogers at Woodside Place in the 1900s
Image from P. Grant / G. Knott, part of the Images of North Mymms Collection

Gradually mechanisation developed and the North Mymms wood industry matured. A timber yard was built in Welham Green, and was connected to the Great North Eastern Railway via a sidings.

The Welham Green timber yard


Massils of Marshmoor, Welham Green, centre-left of image taken in 1952 Image was marked by Aerofilms Ltd for photo editing from the Britain From Above series
Massils of Marshmoor, Welham Green, centre-left of image taken in 1952
In the centre of the image is the 
Dottridge Brothers Ltd Coffin Factory
Image was marked by Aerofilms Ltd for photo editing from the Britain From Above series

In his feature on the Marshmoor WWI Prisoner of War Camp, local historian Mike Allen tells how in 1916 German prisoners helped build the camp, and then continued to be employed in the local timber industry.
"We can see from an Ordnance Survey map issued in 1926 that the huts were on the site of Massills wood yard which is now the industrial estate that fronts Dixons Hill Road. It appears that the prisoners were employed in tree felling and saw milling and presumably had to offload timber from the railway siding that ran into the yard and possibly produce such things as props for trenches, planks for making into trench supports, ammunition boxes etc. there were complaints that their pay of 1d per hour was not enough."
The sawmill referred to is in the bottom left of this Ordnance Survey 25-inch map of Hertfordshire, revised in 1922 and published in 1924.

OS 25-inch map of Hertfordshire, revised in 1922 and published in 1924 Image courtesy of the National Library of Scotland and released under Creative Commons
OS 25-inch map of Hertfordshire, revised in 1922 and published in 1924
Image courtesy of the National Library of Scotland and released under Creative Commons

The site of the prisoner of war camp would have been to the north of the Marshmoor sawmill, close to the railway sidings.

Dottridge Brothers Ltd coffin factory


As can be seen in the arial picture above, Massils of Marshmoor was situated next door to the Dottridge Brothers Ltd coffin factory. An ideal situation for both companies; a marriage made in heaven, perhaps.

The article below,  from The Quarterly Journal For British Industrial And Transport History No 63 (2009) claims that:

"Dottridge Brothers was arguably the most important firm of funeral wholesalers from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1950s, supplying undertakers with coffins, handles, coffin trestles, wheel biers ... the firm occupied a crucial position meeting the needs of the numerous family funeral businesses operating throughout the UK."


Cutting above from the Peter Miller Collection


By 1925 the Mashmoor Mill was selling off its stock in order to clear the site. On Saturday 7 July that year large quantities of timber from the mill was advertised for sale at auction.

The cutting below is from the Bristol newspaper,  The Western Press, suggesting that the sale was promoted countrywide.





Cutting above from the Peter Miller Collection

North Mymms company becomes a leading European woodturner


In 1946, Massils moved to Marshmoor occupying a the four-acre site of the former Marshmoor Mill. The company produced and supplied 20,000 Queen Anne legs "of infinite variety to some of the biggest manufacturers in the furniture trade".

The cutting below from the Peter Miller Collection tells how the company grew from humble beginnings in Shoreditch, London, to "become one of the largest contractors to the Ministry of Supply for precision wood turnery contracts".



Cutting above from the Peter Miller Collection


According to the following newspaper cutting from the Cabinet Maker magazine, published on November 6, 1961, Massils of Marshmoor developed into one of the leading woodturning firms in Europe.

When the piece below was published it was claimed that Massils had produced 1.5 millions hardwood soles for Scholls sandals.





Another feature, written almost 20 years later on February 6, 1982, and published in the Timber Traders Journal, reported on the new technology that had been installed at Massils of Marshmoor that increased production of kitchen door handles.

Prior to the new machinery the Welham Green factory produced 80 door handles an hour; the new equipment increased that to 300 handles an hour, the equivalent of 40,000 a week.




The two cuttings taken by P. Elgar, part of the Images of North Mymms  Collection


The change in the importance of trees in North Mymms


Scan of the cover of the Brookmans Park Estate sales brochure of 1926 From the Images of North Mymms Collection
Scan of the cover of the Brookmans Park Estate sales brochure of 1926
From the Images Of North Mymms collection

Trees have always been a big part of North Mymms life, but from the mid 20th century on it seems they were appreciated more for their beauty rather than their value as timber.

A sales brochure for housing on The Brookmans Park Estate, published in 1926,  spoke of preserving the magnificent trees in the area, and sold the point in order to attract buyers to move to what was to become a growing commuter village following the arrival of the railway and the opening of Brookmans Park Station.
"As will be seen from the plan of the estate, definite spaces have been set aside for use as parks and pleasure grounds. The majority of the magnificent trees which timber Brookmans Park are to be preserved and will not be destroyed haphazard. They will be thinned under the supervision of a forestry expert, so that walks and glades, fringed with noble elms and oaks, will remain to keep the distinctive character of Brookmans Park as it is to-day."

The trees of Gobions in 2000


In 2000, the former Gobions Woodland Trust (GWT) commissioned a study to "help inform the development of a restoration and management plan for Gobions Wood, North Mymms, Hertfordshire".

The resulting Heritage Report was prepared by Landscape Design Associates from Peterborough, and published in March 2002.

The 118-page Heritage Report contained a seven-page appendix in which details of a survey of the trees of Gobions was included (Appendix B, embedded below).  It listed 491 trees in the former ornamental gardens, and as few as 24 were species of oak. However, the report also recorded "116,167 Oaks etc. in the strip of planting at West Boundary Path".





The Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust took over the management of Gobions Wood in 2009.

Survivors of the 40,000 Gobions oaks


So how many of those 40,000 oaks planted in the 27-acre field at Gobions by John Hunter in 1799 are still around in 2018? Well, the answer is probably not a lot.

Photograph of A 200-year-old oak (approx) to the east of the path leading to Gobions Wood Image by North Mymms History Project released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0
A 200-year-old oak (approx) to the east of the path leading south to Gobions Wood
Image by North Mymms History Project released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0

In October 2018, the North Mymms History Project team took a walk through both Gobions Open Space and Gobions Wood to see how many 220-year-old oaks are still around.

The impressive oak pictured above, which is to the east of the path from Gobions Gardens and Gobions Pond to Gobions Wood is unlikely to be one of the 40,000 planted in 1799 because it is probably too young. Judging by its girth, it is approximately 200 years old; perhaps it was planted by Hunter as one of a later batch before he sold the property in 1838.

Editor's Note: For those interested, you can estimate the age of an oak by measuring its girth, dividing by 3.14, and then multiplying by four. Alternatively, if that's too difficult, just check the Woodland Trust's ready reckoner.

Conclusion - preserving the trees of North Mymms


Oak on Love Lane, North Mymms. Grid Ref: TL 22297 03592 approx 250 years old 
Image by the North Mymms History Project released under Creative Commons (2018)

So, from the time when North Mymms would have been largely covered in woodland, through to the 15 century when on one estate alone Thomas Knolles, was "unfortunately responsible for cutting down much timber belonging to the manor, which, until then, appears to have been thickly wooded", and on to the demand for timber during Victorian times, the trees of North Mymms have had a varied history, and are now mainly an aesthetic and environmentally important feature of the parish.

And, for that reason, this site has embarked on a project to record all the ancient, veteran, and notable trees in North Mymms parish as part of a project being run by The Woodland Trust. We are photographing the trees, measuring their girth, attempting to identify their species, and adding all that information to the Woodland Trust's website.

We've also created an interactive map where we are plotting the trees of North Mymms, and we have put out an appeal on our news website, North Mymms News, for the public's help in this important task. If you can, please consider signing up for the project on the Woodland Trust's site (it's free of charge), and help record the trees of North Mymms. The more people who record these trees the better. It's a big job, but it's loads of fun.



The feature is a collaborate effort involving all four members of the North Mymms History Project.


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