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1724: A year to move a single tree 20 miles

Updated: Dec 31, 2022

The state of all the Wealden roads, until the macadamising process arrived later in the 19th century, was a constant source of adverse comment from all quarters. Little or nothing was done to effect any but the most, rudimentary repair to roads - they were generally a dust bath in dry summers or were almost impassable in winter.

In the early 1700's Defoe noted that a tree, once cut down could take over a year to reach it's destination on the coast from the High Weald, 'for once the rains come in, it stirs no more that year and sometimes a whole summer is not dry enough to make the roads passable ... the country indeed remains in the utmost distress for want of good roads'.

Tree deforestation

The Sussex Advertiser, from 1845-9, showed sales of over 5700 oaks; 1300 ash, 720 firs and 3 elms from the Plumpton area. And foresters were active in the Cuckfield area too.

The project to restore Notre Dame following the fire of 15 April 2019 needed over 1000 150 year old oak trees. Giving a measure of the timber that some ancient buildings can consume - let alone half timbered domestic properties - such as the many dotted around Cuckfield.

Shipbuilding took whole forests, for example over 2000 were needed for the building of HMS Victory alone. But Sussex consumed large acreages for charcoal in the iron industry to make, among other things, guns and ammunition including coppiced wood. Two loads of wood went to one load of charcoal, and two loads of charcoal were used to produce one ton of iron. Naval authorities stepped in to get an Act passed to preserve forests from the charcoal-burners’ fire.

We musn't underestimate the scale and importance of Sussex forestry in previous centuries. The Sussex Advertiser, from 1845-9, showed sales of over 5700 oaks; 1300 ash, 720 firs and three elms from the Plumpton area alone.

Woodland cover today

Since publishing this article Paul Prichard of Cuckfield Carpentry and Decking referred us to the West Sussex Tree Plan of 2020 derived from the Forestry Commission's data and commented:

'West Sussex still has woodland cover of 23%, compared to the national average of 10%. Which is approximately '42,500 hectares of woodland' - adding that since moving into the area from the Midlands he had noticed the difference adding we are 'not doing too badly compared to a lot of areas.'

West Sussex certainly owes much of its scenic charm to its tree cover which the local authorities are anxious to preserve and by so doing counter the carbon pollution that we generate.


Daniel Defoe, A tour through the whole Island of Great Britain, 1724-26, pp378, 441.

Consumption of wood for iron industry and the Navy from History of Cuckfield , Rev James Hughes Cooper

Quote found in Scarpfoot Parish: Plumpton 1830-1880 by Prof. Brian Short, University of Sussex, 1981 published by the University.

West Sussex Tree Plan (December 2020)

Photograph by Reuben R. Sallows (1855 - 1937). Wikimedia public domain image.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


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