The importance of wood to the local economy
|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.
Mimmine, wood, and the Domesday Book
|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.]
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 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
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
|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
|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 faggots, peasticks, hedging stakes, hurdles, wattles, and cart wheels, to the frames for manor houses.
|A team of eight horses hauling a beech tree butt in Hertfordshire woodland 24 Feb 1936|
Image from the Peter Miller Collection
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
|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
|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
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.