Woods

Whenever I thought of landowners earning income from woods, I thought it meant trees were felled and sold for the wood. But it is much more than this, which I learned when I read Jane Austen, Edward Knight, & Chawton: Commerce & Community by Linda Slothouber.

“For Edward Knight and the Knight estate owners who preceded him, unlike many others, exploitation of the woodlands was a long-term, strategically managed business, conducted with an eye toward preservation of the woodlands as well as money-making.”

Here is a list of products from the woods:

“Firewood was cut and sold in different quantities as (from largest oot smallest) cordwood, faggots, and bavins*, the latter two bound in bundles. Although coal was increasingly used for domestic heating (even at Chawton Great House), firewood was still in high demand in southern England. Some industries, such as brickmaking and lime-making, relied on wood for firing kilns.

“Bark was used in the tanning of leather. There were several tanneries in Alton.

“Timber, that is, wood to be sawn into planks or used whole, had a number of uses. Ash timber from Chawton was advertised as suitable for coach-makers’ or wheelwrights’ use, and local builders bought oak timber for house construction.

“Hop poles cut from slender branches were used to support hops while growing in the fields.

“Rods, small and flexible branches, were used to make hurdles and fencing, and for other purposes.”

What is so interesting is that you don’t necessarily have to cut down a tree for all of these products. Read on.

“Timber required felling trees or topping (cutting large branches out of the crown.) Firewood, hop poles, and rods were obtained through coppicing, cutting wood from a tree without killing it. Shoots would re-grow from the tree’s base or stool, and after a period of years it would be ready for coppicing again. Each year coppiced wood (known as underwood) and beech and oak timber were harvested and sold from Chawton and Knight’s other Hampshire woodlands.

“Every imaginable wood product was monetized, and woodlands were assiduously protected. Brush from trimming along the roads in the woods was sold, as were roots from land that had been cleared; even a ‘decayed ash’ that had fallen brought £0.1.6 per foot.”

Finally, how does all this this relate to one word in the third paragraph of Sense and Sensibility? Slothouber describes how Jane Austen uses this information, “Turning trees into money was well understood to be one of the quickest methods by which an estate-owner could raise cash. Jane Austen, in the opening paragraphs of Sense and Sensibility, exacerbated Henry Dashwood’s financial predicament (and made it more credible to her contemporary readers) by stating that he was legally prevented from selling any of the ‘valuable woods’ on the Norland estate.”

So one word “woods” describes an on-going money-making enterprise, which Austen’s contemporary readers would understand. For the rest of us, I think many would interpret it to mean that you would cut your trees for income and that would be it. At best, a land-owner would replant for the next generations to enjoy or use for profit.

There is much more in the book that explains the economics of running an estate and I highly recommend it.
Jane Austen, Edward Knight, & Chawton: Commerce & Community by Linda Slothouber. Chapter 4: pages 31 – 33

* Bavins – a piece of kindling wood
Faggots – a bundle of sticks, twigs, or branches bound together and used as fuel, a fascine, a torch, etc.

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