Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Uses for Chopwell Wood (NZ136580)

It may now be the area’s prime source of Christmas trees, but the famous Chopwell Wood overlooking the Derwent Valley has had a good few more uses over the years – and, dare I say it, rather more important ones, too. The little patch of green in question has been there for a very long time indeed, once forming part of the original Wild-Wood which blanketed most of Britain in ancient times. It has, however, not changed a great deal size-wise since the days of the Romans.

Most notably, timber taken from Chopwell Wood has been used to build several important ships over the centuries. The first recorded use of this type was in 1294 when wood was gathered for a galley ship being built at Newcastle for King Edward I’s navy. And then, in 1635, King Charles I tapped the wood for timber for the construction of his fanciful Sovereign of the Seas – his new flagship, which included more than 2,000 oak trees from Chopwell (as well as other woods, too). The tax levied by the monarch to build this showcase ship was one of the major causes of the English Civil War.

Castle builders have also made use of Chopwell Wood’s resources. In 1538, timber for Dunstanburgh Castle’s new roof and floor were sourced there – and soon afterwards Bamburgh’s roofers put out a similar call. In 1593, the constructors of Berwick’s new pier put in an order for 40 tons; and more than twice that was later sent to Norham Castle for general repairs. Berwick was back again in 1620 with a request for 250 tons of timber for bridge work. It is also known that Newcastle’s old Tyne Bridge, in need of urgent post-Civil War repairs, was patched up with Chopwell timber in 1647.

The Napoleonic Wars brought demand for timber to something of a crisis point, too – with Chopwell Wood being reduced to a few hundred specimens come 1820. After that, more careful management of the wood secured its future. In the 20th century it was used for the training of foresters; and pine grown there was used for pit props down the mines. World War II saw demand for timber rise again, and the wood was heavily utilised. The Forestry Commission’s North-East base was stationed there from 1923 to 1947, and a District office replaced it in 1955. Since then it has been used increasingly for recreational purposes.

Quite apart from all of this, Chopwell Wood has been regularly plundered for the construction and repair of dwellings, bridges and the like by the locals. And Christmas trees, of course.

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