Timber has a long, rich history that has spanned across tens of thousands of years. Humans have used it for centuries as building material, tools, paper and even weapons. To this day, we still use wood frequently. If you want to know the ins and outs of its history, Timber 2 U Direct can help with that. We’ve written this handy history blog to give you a detailed look into the history of timber in the UK, right up to today.
The Start of Timber
It’s always best to start at the beginning, almost 10,000 years ago. The use of timber within construction started in 100BC. It was used in roof constructions by Ancient Romans and Ancient Egyptians. Anglo-Saxons also used it to clad their homes. Pre-civilisation, wood was incredibly important. Around 6000BC, Neolithic longhouses were made from wood using certain techniques. These were houses that could house up to 30 people and were 20metres long. The timber that was originally used for such structures was oak, however in more recent years, softwoods have become more popular.
In medieval England, there were many different types of timber that were used like oak, sweet chestnut, elm, and poplar. Trees other than oak would have been harvested from local managed woodland using coppicing techniques. This is where the trees are cut close to the base and then, from the stool, shoots ca re-grow. Coppicing practices had been recorded since as early as the 12th century. It gave builders a regular crop of timber for building and domestic purposes. The type of woodland management was incredibly effective and remained in practice until only 150 years ago.
The Golden Age of Oak
Oak trees weren’t coppiced. They were left to grow through the underwood canopy and mature until harvested. When we look at the use of oak throughout the years, it is obvious that the longevity of it was taken into account when adding it to buildings and structures. Oak, when felled, does take a while to dry. This, however, meant that when used for beams and structure, it was easier to cut and fashion. The oak would then harden, and the drying processes would give a structure more strength.
Over the 17th century, the demand for oak rose. It was being used for fuel and building supplies, and this meant there became a supply and demand issue. By the end of the century supplies had to come from elsewhere, and people turned to softwood. In comparison to oak, softwood dries quicker which meant it was ideal for keeping structures stable. Softwoods started to be used more frequently in construction and these were mainly imported into the country. Many virgin conifer trees were shipped in form the Baltic and other areas to cope with the demand. After the Great Fire of London, many softwoods were imported to rebuilding the capital and played a large part in developing West London.
The Growth of Softwood
The demand for this new type of timber only grew over the next century. House building saw a call for a new type of timber – pine. A lot of the pine used in 18th century infrastructure and had an impact on a lot of architectural styles throughout England. During this time, imports were on the rise, seeing the majority of the Southbank of the River Thames being converted into timber yards and merchants. The banks of the River Thames are where Timber 2 U Direct first came about, operating as timber porters.
The First World War
Believe it or not, one of the major things that changed with the First World War was England’s woodlands. During the war, the Royal Navy found themselves faced with a shortage of timber due to the lack of imports and the fact that our forests were simply not ready to cope with that demand yet. There was an order put through to fell many forests, leaving them in a state of disrepair. In 1919, the Forestry Commission was established because of The Forestry Act, which began restoring the forests that had been lost during the war. They were tasked with creating woodlands and forests that were owned by the state. By 1939, the Forestry Commission had planted over 189,000 hectares of woodland.
The Second World War and Beyond
With another war came more demand for timber. 11% of all forests and woods in the UK had been felled by 1949. This led to the Forest Commission planting new forests, as well as private landowners planting their own forests.
The Forestry Commission’s main aim with their operations is to maintain and enhance England’s forests and wildlife. It does this by planting a range of tree species and creating forests that are particular resilient towards climate change and tree disease.
Today, the Forestry Commission looks after more than 1500 forests and woodlands in the UK. It continues to undertake important research and has played a big role in preventing big threats to trees.
The UK is one of the largest consumers of timber in the world. We produce 41% of softwood domestically, which is still a large amount from imports. The sustainability of timber harvesting has come a long way since coppicing. There are now organisations that help to regulate forestry (such as the FSC and the PEFC) and to promote sustainability. This ensures our future generations can enjoy the benefits of timber for many years to come. Here at Timber 2 U Direct, we source our timber from FSC and PEFC forests. We also ensure we follow UK timber trading regulations to ensure our timber gets grown, traded, and sold fairly and sustainably.
Purchase Your Timber
Timber 2 U Direct have a range of made-to-measure timbers available for you to choose from. We can even deliver them to your door. To find out more, get in touch or call our team on 0115 993 1111 today! We would love to hear from you.