Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society

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Dec 2008

Thu 04 Dec 2008

Local Timber and Forestry Businesses.
by John Harrison.

In the midst of a flood of bad news over the past few weeks that reported redundancies in all forms of industries and services across the country, the local report of “60 jobs at risk” might not have received as much attention as some others.
The story related to the company Palgrave Brown which claims to be the UK’s leading supplier of timber, has its HQ in Brinscall, and was a reminder that whilst we as historians read and hear a lot about industries such as textiles, mining and engineering, we perhaps overlook other industries and businesses of significance.
Although de-forestation over many centuries had long since de-nuded Chorley, forestry (and resulting timber trades) has continued to be an important feature of the economy in the Brinscall and Abbey Village area. We can get a sense of this importance from the following advertisement taken from the Liverpool Mercury March 30 1832:

An advertisement about this sale had appeared in the Preston Chronicle the previous week. However it had only been quite brief. Clearly the sellers saw their product as being most suitable for shipbuilding and that is why the Liverpool paper was used with this detailed advertisement. Nearly 1000 oak trees were being sold and this was clearly a major event described as “perhaps, the largest quantity of fine oak timber which has, in this County, been offered to the public for sale at one time, for very many years.” Whether or not there was some exaggeration in the “sales pitch”, the loss of 1000 trees from the landscape must have made a huge difference. How long would it have taken to fell them? How many people would be involved?

The trees were from north of Abbey Village on the Stanworth, Edge End and Close House estates. These are either side of the Preston to Bolton road, but it is possible that the trees came from land in the wooded valley flowing down from Roddlesworth.
The proximity of the Leeds and Liverpool canal was clearly seen as important and advantageous as in these pre-railway times it would not be easy or desirable to move such a large amount of timber by road. The loading point would presumably be Riley Green.
Evidence that this was not a “one-off” sale can be found from advertisements three years later in the Preston Chronicle (21 November and 5 December 1935). This was for a sale in the same area, although this time for a mix of oak, ash, sycamore and alder. Key selling points were again suitability for shipbuilding and proximity to the canal. This sale was however on three times the scale of the previous sale, being for over 3000 trees! The scale of the operation of felling and moving such a huge amount of timber must have been immense.


Finally, in case we think that the timber trade was all “out in the sticks” (sorry for the pun!), the advertisement which follows from the Preston Chronicle on 5 October 1833 shows that in Chorley, again by the canal, the timber trade had been flourishing. The timber business of Richard Withnell was one part of a well-established and varied family business. Thomas Withnell of Botany Bay was listed as being a bleacher and Freemason 1799-1801; John Withnell, a builder was one of the original shareholders in the Chorley Gaslight Company in 1820;Baines Directory in 1824 lists Brownbill and Withnell, Brickmakers of Eaves Lane, John Withnell, a joiner and builder, and also a Timber and Ruff Merchant of Trigg Hall.

Undoubtably the timber yard at Botany through the Withnell family business and others was a major contributor to, and benefactor from, the expansion of Chorley, given the importance of timber in housebuilding.
There is certainly a need for further research on the history, extent and impact of the forestry and timber trades on Chorley and its surrounding communities.

John Harrison
December 2008