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A History of the Native Woodlands of Scotland, 1500-1920$

T.C. Smout and Alan R. MacDonald

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780748612413

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748612413.001.0001

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Outsiders and the woods II: charcoal and tanbark

Outsiders and the woods II: charcoal and tanbark

(p.225) Chapter 9 Outsiders and the woods II: charcoal and tanbark
A History of the Native Woodlands of Scotland, 1500-1920

T. C. Smout

Alan R. MacDonald

Fiona Watson

Edinburgh University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the degree of impact by the outsider and the external market on the Scottish woods. The native species of broadleaf trees, as a group, have always been far more numerous and widely distributed than the conifers, despite the attention given to Scots pine as quintessentially the Scottish tree and undisputed queen of the mythical Caledonian forest. However, whereas the attraction of Scots pine to the outside world was as building timber, broadleaf trees were mainly influenced through external markets by the demand for charcoal for smelting iron, and the demand for bark for tanning leather and hides. Oak was the preferred species for charcoaling and tanning, but a wide range of other species could be used if supplies of local oak were insufficient or unavailable. The chapter looks first at iron smelting with reference to the outside partnerships and firms involved in charcoal-fired blast furnaces from 1610 onwards, but considers tanbarking mainly in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when external market forces were most evident.

Keywords:   broadleaf trees, charcoal, iron smelting, bark, tanning

The native species of broadleaf trees, as a group, have always been far more numerous and widely distributed than the conifers, despite the attention given to Scots pine as quintessentially the Scottish tree and undisputed queen of the mythical Caledonian forest.1 However, whereas the attraction of Scots pine to the outside world was as building timber, broadleaf trees were mainly influenced through external markets by the demand for charcoal for smelting iron, and the demand for bark for tanning leather and hides. Oak beams and boards were certainly carried significant distances for building, especially of royal palaces and warships in the sixteenth century, (see pp. 42, 45, 81, 97 above) but after 1600 exploitation of this kind, though not unknown, was normally a by-product of other considerations. Oak was also the preferred species for charcoaling and tanning, but a wide range of other species could be used if supplies of local oak were insufficient or unavailable.

External interests followed local use. Primitive ways of making iron, using mainly bog ore from the upland mosses, were widespread since before Roman times: the iron ore was smelted with charcoal in a bloomery hearth to produce a paste that then had to be hammered in a smith's forge to produce wrought iron.2 Traces of such bloomeries are widely scattered through the Highlands, with few elsewhere. As long ago as 1886, the Victorian metallurgist and antiquarian W. I. Macadam, identified ninety-four sites where he considered bloomery iron had been made.3 The National Monument Record of Scotland has pinpointed eighty-one sites as bloomeries, by no means all coincident with Macadam's; but the pattern is ‘heavily influenced by the small number of field workers who actually (p.226) recognised them and the picture of the overall distribution pattern may be misleading’.4

Table 9.1 Bloomery sites in Scotland



NMRS, 2002




Moray and Nairn









Argyll, Bute and Arran



Perth and Kinross












Dumfries and Galloway






Sources: See text, above.

Note:These lists are indicative but not exhaustive. See also, for example, J. Williams,‘A mediaeval iron smelting site at Millhill, New Abbey’, Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Archaeological Society, 44 (1967), pp. 126–32, and J. Wordsworth,‘Report on the investigation of various iron-working mounds in the Ben Wyvis area in November, 1992’, report to Scottish Natural Heritage, northern area (Inverness).

There are, however, very substantial problems about dating such sites. Opinions are divided on how common bloomeries were after 1600. Lindsay thought that by then such peasant iron-making was restricted to the far north, but even in Sutherland, where ‘in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries there was a fair amount of iron working’ (as in the wood of Skail and the woods of Creich), it had ‘come to an end long before the end of the seventeenth century’.5 Other recent work, however, suggests that medieval associations between bloomery iron and elite weapon-making may have continued in places until the decline of the Highland military machine in the eighteenth century.6 Tittensor also believed that it persisted (p.227) as far south as Stirlingshire until the eighteenth century.7 In any case, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, outsiders played an increasingly dominant role in Scottish iron-making, as technology turned away from bloomeries and towards new water-powered blast furnaces and forge hammers. It is relatively simple to trace the impact on the woods from the new ways of smelting because the outsiders (Lowland, Irish and English) formed a grouping of entrepreneurs easy to identify (Map 9.1).8

With the tanbark industry, the position is rather different. As we have already seen, cutting tanbark was for centuries a characteristic activity of local people operating generally within a ten to twenty mile radius of their own homes, often building up small businesses to supply the nearby towns with bark (see above, pp. 153–4). This pattern scarcely changed: the technology did not alter, capital requirements per unit of production did not grow, external firms did not become involved and the activity was sustainable.

But where the external world did decisively impinge was through the market price for tanning materials. When the demand for leather increased at home and in the colonies, and when bark became in short supply through wartime checks on imports and for other causes, it increased in value in the Scottish woods. As we shall see, this inspired the same attention to good coppice practice and led to the same preference for oak over other broadleaves that the iron industry had itself inspired a little earlier, but on an altogether wider scale. Whereas the impact of the ironworks was restricted mainly to areas within a few miles of the shore in Argyll, and to a lesser extent in Solway and Wester Ross, the impact of tanbarking was felt in all those areas, but also strongly across inland Dunbartonshire, Stirlingshire and Perthshire, in a belt along the southern Highlands quite beyond the reach of the sea but readily accessible by land carriage to the main Lowland centres of leather manufacture such as Glasgow, Stirling, Linlithgow, Perth and Edinburgh. Thus, although enterprise in tanbark may have remained local, the forces that drove and rewarded it were no less external than in iron smelting.

In this chapter we shall look first at iron smelting with reference to the outside partnerships and firms involved in charcoal-fired blast furnaces from 1610 onwards, but consider tanbarking mainly in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when external market forces were most evident. (p.228)

Outsiders and the woods II: charcoal and tanbark

Map 9.1 Charcoal ironworks with outsider interests. Note: Dates are those when agreements with landowners were reached, not necessarily when work began, which was often a year or two later. Based especially on J. H. Lewis (1984) in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 114, pp. 445–63, with modifications.


The first blast furnaces in Scotland were established around Loch Maree in the early seventeenth century, and, as noted in the last chapter, originated in the interest that Sir George Hay had in the north-west Highlands through his involvement from 1605 with the Fife Adventurers (Fig. 9.1). It is not clear exactly when his attention was caught by the possibilities of using sophisticated iron technology in the area, but that something was afoot in the Highlands is indicated by an Act of Parliament of Scotland of 1609 that tried to prevent ‘some personis’ taking advantage of the general peace in the area, who ‘wald erect yrne milnis in the same pairtis, to the vtter waisting and consumeing of the saidis wodis’.9 The phrasing suggests that nothing had happened yet, and Parliament's prohibition on such activity was perhaps an attempt at a pre-emptive strike, given their longstanding concern that Scotland was short of good quality woods except in the Highlands. It did not, however, deter Sir George Hay one whit. On Christmas eve 1610, he obtained from the Crown a ‘Commission and licence [to] make yrne and glass’ within the kingdom of Scotland for thirty-one years, a patent confirmed by Parliament two years later.10

In June 1611, he signed an important contract with the Mackenzie laird of Kintail.11 In it, the debts owing to him by Mackenzie's late father were liquidated in exchange for another 7,000 merks a year paid to Mackenzie and the sale to Hay of all the woods within four miles of the shores of Loch Maree, Loch Alsh, Loch Carron and Loch Duich, with certain exclusions: in this area, Hay was to have for thirty-one years all the oak, pine, ash, elm and aspen, but only half the birch, hazel, holly and other trees, and also to leave enough pine for Mackenzie to build his galleys and only to cut the oak once. Mackenzie also sold all the iron ore and other metal ores (except gold and silver) and granted liberty to Hay to erect sawmills and ‘mylnis for making and fyning of iroun, kills, fornaces and all utheris airt work and ingyne’ necessary, including the right to make mill leads, construct dams and houses, sail ships, pasture horses, make roads, and so on. Finally, Mackenzie bound himself to defend Hay's enterprise and his workmen ‘fra the injurie, violence and oppressioun of all uther inland hielandmen, illismen and also the said John McKenzie of Gairloch’. The deed made clear that hitherto ‘the woods, mettallis and utheris eftirspecifeit hes heirtofoir importit littill or na commoditie to the said nobill Lord’, and made no mention of pre-existing bloomeries, though it did refer to a sawmill already at Kinlochewe. Although 1607 has been mentioned as a date that saw the (p.230)

Outsiders and the woods II: charcoal and tanbark

Fig. 9.1 Sir George Hay, first Earl of Kinnoull, painted by Daniel Mytens the elder in 1633. The wild scene in the top right must refer to his speculations in Wester Ross. National Galleries of Scotland.

(p.231) commencement of industrial activities round Loch Maree,12 it does seem from this document that nothing substantial had happened before 1611. It has also been suggested that Hay may have set up a glassworks in the area at the same time, but there is no mention of one in the document.13 Thereafter things moved relatively quickly. Nothing much could happen with the new blast-furnace technology (which reduced the iron to a molten liquid, not, as in a bloomery, merely to a workable paste) without help from the south. Hay involved English partners from the Sussex weald, assigning (in August 1611) one-fifth equally to John Middleton of Horsham and Henney Scheillis of Worminghurst, and one-fifteenth to Anthony Fowll of ‘Ratherfeild’.14 English workmen were also employed, and in 1612 Sir George Hay obtained from Privy Council the rights to exercise justice over the ‘grite nomber of strangeris’ as well as Scots in his workforce, whereby he had ‘interprysit and undertane … the arte and practize of making of irne’.15 A little English colony developed on Loch Maree, accorded rights to bear ‘haglibuts and pistolats’ against the danger of ‘the injurie and malice of the disordinat persouns nixt adjacent to them’.16 A location beside Loch Maree was known in the late nineteenth century as ‘Cladh nan Sasunnach’, or the burying-ground of the English, and a pool in a marsh called Lochan-Cul-na-Cathrach, was supposed to be where they had flung their tools on leaving the district: nevertheless there were still families in the area named Kemp and Cross, traditionally held to be descendants of the original Englishmen.17

For a decade or more, Sir George Hay's ironworks on Loch Maree operated actively: as well as using the local bog iron specified in the contract of 1611, he shipped clayband iron ore from Fife, encountering opposition from Lord Sinclair at Dysart in 1613 and problems from fishermen at St Monance in 1620. In the latter case, his local English expert who had been stockpiling the ore found it all pilfered and loaded as ballast aboard boats going to the herring drave, ‘to his grite hurte and inconvenient’. In each case Privy Council backed his lawsuits, perhaps not surprisingly, as by 1616 Hay had become Lord Clerk Register and returned to Edinburgh to pursue a profitable career in public service.18In 1613 Privy Council also protected Hay's supplies by forbidding the export of iron ore from Scotland (not that any known exports ever took place), in consideration that certain people in the (p.232) kingdom had brought the manufacture of iron ‘to ane reassounable good perfectioun’.19 The iron manufactured was apparently good enough to sell to the Master of Works at Edinburgh Castle in 1617, when the substantial quantity of 1,194 stone was sold for 26s. 8d. a stone, compared to Swedish iron selling at 28s. a stone.20 In 1621, Hay obtained the right to send his iron to any port or harbour of any burgh, notwithstanding the existing privileges of royal burghs.21

Shortly thereafter, however, operations in the north-west were seriously interrupted, perhaps for reasons that had more to do with Hay's own priorities than with any insuperable weakness in the business. By 1622 he had become Lord High Chancellor of Scotland, a prelude to his elevation in 1627 to a peerage as Viscount Dupplin and Lord Hay of Kinfauns and then to securing in 1629 the office of Collector General of Taxes for himself and his son.22 There were manifestly more profitable and easy things in life than making iron in Wester Ross.

In a letter apparently dated July 1624, Mackenzie of Kintail, now Earl of Seaforth, wrote to the Lord Chancellor.23 He informed him that the furnace at Loch Maree was blown out and the stock of raw materials exhausted. An unnamed Englishman recommended by the Lord Chancellor was considering whether to take a new lease of woods in the area (perhaps in partnership with George Hay, the latter's nephew), but meanwhile Seaforth had dismissed all the workers until a new stock was made, except for those who worked at the sawmill. He hinted that charcoal wood was at least temporarily in short supply at Loch Maree – the Englishman saw ‘sick woods as was thair’ – but that those on Loch Carron would suit him better – ‘they may best do his turne, and may mak me maist benefeit’. The Earl was now actively managing affairs locally, perhaps having acquired a controlling interest in the works following non-payment of rent.

No immediate action seems to have followed this English show of interest, but in 1626 James Galloway, Master of Requests (who had been mentioned in passing in Seaforth's letter as a person through whom the unnamed Englishman could be contacted), and Nathaniel Udwart, well known as a risk-taking entrepreneur and adventurer from Leith, sought a (p.233) patent of monopoly for twenty-one years to make ordinance and shot, ultimately confirmed in 1628 by Privy Council.24 The words of the grant suggest that casting cannon was then a novelty in Scotland, and there is, indeed, no evidence that Hay had attempted it in his own venture.

In order to finance the undertaking, Galloway and Udwart originally sought a grant of £2,000 from the Crown, but when this was not forthcoming they entered into partnership with the Earl of Seaforth, ‘without whose helpe and concurrence thay could not undergoe so weightie a charge’, in the words of the Privy Council Register.25 Other documents show that there were several other individuals involved in complex financial and logistical agreements that are difficult fully to understand. In one agreement of 1628, the Earl was to receive 46,665 merks Scots (about £2,592 sterling) from a partnership consisting of the Lord Chancellor, his kinsman Lord Hay of Yester, Galloway and Udwart, for the lease of the woods and ironworks of Loch Maree, and the partners were further to provide money for stocking the works for a three-month trial to see if cannon could satisfactorily be made there.26 Presumably the Hays had to be involved, even as sleeping partners, because the original 1610 iron-making contract was still valid.

There was a second and subsequent agreement between the Earl on one part, Galloway and Udwart on the second part, and four English gentlemen on the third part – Sir Robert Vernon of Fordham in Cambridgeshire, Richard Bathhurst of Bromley in Kent, Dennis Fleming of Camberwell in Surrey and Alexander Thomas of Lamberhurst in Kent.27 The Earl was to provide on Loch Maree ‘one sufficient furnace and one sufficient forge’, together with the outbuildings, casting vaults, sawmills, water courses, dams, tools, boats and so forth, necessary for making iron ordinance, shot and ‘other engynes of warre’. He was further to provide two years stock of iron ore, that is, 2,000 tons of ‘the best stone myne and bogg myne well washed and clensed’, and an equivalent stock of 2,000 loads of charcoal at twelve dozen per load, at specified prices. The option of shifting the concern to Loch Carron after two years was left open. After two years, the two sets of partners were to have full possession of the works and to enjoy all the privileges that George Hay had had in his earlier agreement over the lands of Loch Maree and Loch Carron in relation to cutting, digging and transporting timber and ore, and otherwise carrying on their business. The ordinance and shot made was to be jointly owned by the Earl and the partners, who agreed a common interest in the patent of monopoly and (p.234) that it should only be exercised on the Earl's lands. The English partners agreed to provide ‘good skillfull and expert able workmen’ for the works, that is to say a founder, a mounter, a hollower, a borer and a cutter (or as many of these as the appointed founder considered essential). Every year, the net profits after deduction of the running expenses were to be divided between the three interests. Provision was made for royal pre-emption of any of the material, and for turning broken guns into bar iron. It was agreed that if the three-month trial of the furnace showed that ordinance could not be made, the contract was to be void.

What happened thereafter is difficult to determine, but it is unlikely that the concern continued for very long. In 1629 the patent holders petitioned Privy Council to say that the works were ‘being now begun and in a good way to continew’ but also that they were hindered for want of sufficient bog ore. They were granted the right to take it wherever they could find it, paying compensation to the owners.28 They do not seem to appear again in the record, and when Blaeu's Atlas was published in 1654 with a text compiled from notes made by Robert Gordon of Straloch a decade or two earlier, the author seems doubtful if the works were still going.29 Though oral history reported much later suggested they had struggled on until the 1660s, there is no documentary evidence for this.30

Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of three different ironworks around Loch Maree. Those at Fasagh on the north-east shore, four miles from Kinlochewe, revealed only bog ore, and though described as ‘a complex industrial processing site’ there is no evidence of a blast furnace rather than a bloomery. Indeed, archaeologists have recently concluded after excavation that the site was ‘an iron-working as opposed to an iron-making installation’.31 The second was probably constructed at Letterewe higher up the north-east shore, described as probably ‘the site of a high bloomery later converted into a blast furnace’: the ores around it include both bog ore and mined ore, some of it characteristic of ores from the Scottish central belt, including Fife, but some of it apparently haematite of the kind found at Ulverston in Lancashire, suggesting an additional connection with (p.235) north-west England in the search for raw materials.32 The third is at Red Smiddy on the east bank of the short stream that connects Loch Maree with the sea at Loch Ewe: this is unmistakably a blast furnace and associated forge, using the same mix of ores as were found at Letterewe.33 The Red Smiddy was the only site from which a fragment of cannon has ever been recovered.34 It would be well sited for the import of materials both by sea and by fresh water from the shores of Loch Maree, but whether it predates Letterewe or the final works made by Seaforth for the ordinance monopolists (as is perhaps more likely) is not yet established.

What was the impact of these early ironworks on the woods of Loch Maree and the adjacent areas? They should be considered in conjunction with the rest of Hay's timber business in the area, which was described in the last chapter. Taken together, these operations must have cut down the wildwood described so vividly in Timothy Pont's account – ‘many fair and tall woods as any in all the west of Scotland’ (see p. 15 above). On the other hand, this would not of itself have led to deforestation. The ironworks would have left the pine alone (it was regarded in the 1628 contract as unsuitable for making charcoal) but, as we have seen, the pines were the subject of a considerable trade in deals. The broadleaf woods, especially the oak, were the charcoal burners' target, and the Earl of Seaforth's lukewarm phrase about ‘sick woodis as was thair’ in 1624 suggests a certain impact from Hay's furnaces on Loch Maree. In 1628 the Earl undertook to provide (not necessarily from Loch Maree alone), 2,000 loads of charcoal over two years, which, (following Lindsay's calculations of the consumption at Bonawe) equates to the yield of about 427 acres of Highland coppice each year: to have kept this up on a twenty-year rotation would have demanded 8,540 acres set aside for the purpose.35 On the other hand, this can be considered as evidence that the Earl thought there was plenty of wood left on his estates to meet this demand, and there is also no sign that such demand ever actually materialised in the years after 1628. The effect of all this exploitation in the first half of the seventeenth century was probably to convert old growth woodland into secondary growth, and then perhaps expose it to further loss and erosion as a result of uncontrolled grazing of (p.236) regenerating trees. There is no sign that the Earl enclosed any wood, though he was careful not to allow Hay or his successors to return to any oak once they had cut it. Substantial woods certainly still remained on Loch Maree in the early eighteenth century, sufficient to attract Irish timber-merchants (see below, pp. 345–6), and of course important woods still exist there today. The works themselves were also so transient that the effect they had, except in converting old growth wood to secondary growth, must have been rather limited.

The smelting of iron on an industrial scale was apparently not seriously attempted beyond Loch Maree in the first half of the seventeenth century. Robert Edward in 1678 wrote of a project by Sir David Lindsay to build a smelting house in the Wood of Dalbog near Edzell in Angus, ca. 1600, but ‘there is no record of any iron produced’.36 Sir George Hay in 1611 received permission from Inverness Burgh Council to divert water to serve a lead mill and ironworks that he intended to build nearby, but no evidence survives that he did so.37 Hay did construct a manufactory at Limekilns near Dunfermline with a substantial forge that operated for many years probably using Swedish bar, for it had no smelting capacity.38 Archibald Primrose was granted privileges to make iron in the sheriffdom of Perth in 1612, but there is no sign he ever used them, and Sir John Grant of Grant was in the 1630s similarly considering erecting ironworks in Strathspey or at Urquhart on Loch Ness, but did not pursue the idea further.39

In the second half of the century, however, there were two ventures which, while adding up to little in themselves, were forerunners, in different ways, of things to come. The first was a venture of Irish capital on Cameron of Lochiel's land north of Fort William. The Irish were also becoming interested in Scottish tanbark around this date, and their own involvement in ironworks had been both extensive and destructive of Irish woods in the seventeenth century, though what they now did in Scotland was on too small a scale to have much impact. In 1674, Cameron of Lochiel made a contract with John Davidson and William Munro (their nationality is not stated) ‘for building and erecting of an iron miln and other works’ at Achnacarry on Loch Arkaig. In 1681 Davidson and Thomas Rickaby of Lambay in Co. Antrim bought all Lochiel's woods, except the pinewoods at Glen Loy and Loch Arkaig (pine was widely regarded as unsuitable for charcoaling). In 1688 ‘one half of the iron forge at Achnacarry’ was assigned (p.237) to Lochiel for non-payment of debt by Mathew Riccaby and James Stammie (or Tammie) of Lorn in Ireland. Nothing else is known about the concern, except that in the same year the Earl of Breadalbane bought a small quantity of ‘excellent’ iron from the works, still managed by John Davidson, for window bars and hammers.40 It foreshadowed the interest of more ambitious Irishmen in the woods and iron-making possibilities in the west coast in the first part of the eighteenth century. (See Chapter 13.)

Equally a precursor of things to come was the involvement in 1699 of three Englishmen from Cumbria, in this case in a site at Canonbie near the Solway coast in Dumfriesshire.41 Richard Patrickson ‘of Calbrodie’, Thomas Fawcett, clock-maker and Charles Russell ‘hammerman’, contracted with the Duchess of Buccleuch to buy woods to make charcoal and to ‘erect one or two forges or furnaces in … convenient places’. The sums offered were large: £30 sterling annual rent for the industrial site for nineteen years, and £150 sterling a year for the woods for ten years. Nevertheless, five years later the partners were bankrupt and the estate seized the ‘forge and all materials’. Yet it limped on, acquiring first in 1712 three new owners from London (William Hall, ironmonger, Thomas Davis and Robert Child) and then in 1715 two further new owners, also from London, John Henry Boock and Thomas Dod. These two continued the works in production, after a fashion, until 1729. According to a Swedish visitor to Scotland, Henry Kalmeter there were in 1719 ‘no ironworks in Scotland’ except those at Canonbie ‘where there is a smelting house and four forge-hammers’. He explained that it was ‘not going so strongly’ and used remelted scrap iron rather than local or imported ore.42 A letter of 1732, after closure, however, suggests that attempts had at least been made to mine local iron ore, and also to use pit coal as a fuel alongside charcoal. The concern had evidently not compromised the charcoal supply in its thirty years of operations, as the correspondent wrote that ‘the wood may last to maintain a forge with addition of pit coals to make iron for generations’.43 Indeed, in 1737 the (p.238) woods of Canonbie were sold to a tanner from Hexham in Northumberland to make charcoal and process bark, so they were still in sustainable use.44

In the early decades of the eighteenth century there were a few other concerns which showed some ambition, if not much success. The ill-fated venture by the York Buildings Company at Abernethy in the early 1730s has been discussed in the previous chapter (see above, p. 212), and that of an Irish partnership at Glen Kinglass between 1725 and the later 1730s was also short-lived (see below, p. 345). Another Irish partnership was involved in 1718, when John Smith of Castlefinnan in Donegal and John Irvine of Newtonwood in Co. Tyrone paid £2,000 sterling for the rights to cut oakwood on the Montrose estates in Buchanan and Menteith. This was probably primarily for tanbarking, but they also secured the rights to make charcoal, to prospect for iron ore and to build an iron mill. In the event, the ironworks (just a large bloomery and forge) was financed by Glasgow and Dumfriesshire Scots and built at Achray, east of Loch Katrine. It used local ore and Dutch scrap, its fuel supply was charcoal from the local birchwoods, of which John Smith had also secured a ten-year lease (for £222 sterling, vastly cheaper than the oak). This concern may not have survived beyond 1730 and was always small-scale.45 Still less is known of a small blast furnace built by the Earls of Cathcart around 1732 at Terrioch, west of Muirkirk in Ayrshire, of which archaeological but scarcely any documentary evidence survives.46 Apart from Canonbie, it was the only charcoal-fired blast furnace constructed in the Lowlands. It cannot have amounted to much to leave so little trace.

Much better documented was the Highland concern of Thomas Rawlinson and partners, owners of an existing ironworks at Furness in Lancashire, who set up operations at Invergarry on the Great Glen following an agreement in 1727 by John Macdonell of Invergarry to sell his woods for thirty-one years for the very modest price of £320 sterling. At considerable expense a furnace was built with skilled English labour, and, in 1729, production began using English ore that had to be transhipped overland from Corpach by Fort William. Scots cut the wood, Irishmen turned (p.239) it into charcoal and English smelters used it in the furnace: 295 tons of pig iron were produced in the first six months of operations and marketed in England and (to a smaller degree) elsewhere in Scotland. In 1731 a second furnace was started but experienced operational difficulties. Chronic problems of high cost for the transport of ore and the manufactured pig iron overwhelmed the advantage of cheap wood supply, the works began to operate intermittently, ran into debt and closed in 1736.47 It was not quite the end of the story, as the indefatigable Thomas Rawlinson in 1737 began negotiating with John Champion of Bristol (the main purchaser of the Invergarry pig-iron output), and his partners, for further finance. This was to continue mining ventures in the western Highlands, but based now on mineral concessions from John Mackenzie of Applecross and existing ‘considerable and (as is conceived) profitable’ leases of wood in Moidart and Arisaig from Ranald Macdonald of Clanranald and Donald Macdonald of Kinlochmoidart.48 Nothing came of this because the minerals (iron, copper and lead) were not there, but it further serves to illustrate the irrational optimism of many English entrepreneurs of the period about wood-based opportunities in the Scottish Highlands, a phenomenon that appeared again in the activities of the York Buildings Company and of John Lummis and his associates (see above pp. 207–12, 295–6).

Although, as at Loch Maree earlier, Thomas Rawlinson and partners can have had little long-term effect on afforestation, if only because their onslaughts were so brief, they may well have provided significant shortterm experience of paid employment for the local population. According to Lindsay, output from Invergarry, which was very irregular, sometimes achieved as much as 583 tons of pig iron within a limited period, which may have necessitated the felling, in a year, of as many acres of wood to supply the charcoal.49

Just as Invergarry and similar concerns such as the York Buildings Company in Strathspey began to get into difficulty, the Trustees for Establishing the Colony of Georgia in America started to look for Highland recruits to establish on the frontier a settlement they were eventually to call Darien. Many of those who took up the Trustees' offer came from the Great Glen and the northern or north-central Highlands – Mackintoshes, Macdonalds, Munros, Mackays, Grants and many more. Apart from the clansmen's (p.240)

Outsiders and the woods II: charcoal and tanbark

Fig. 9.2 Bonawe, Loch Etive, 1836. The big timber transported in the foreground is too large to be charcoaled, but the hill in the middle distance shows clear evidence of coppice felling. Thomas Allom, in William Beattie, Scotland Illustrated. St Andrews University Library.

martial prowess, their main attraction to the organisers of the colony was stated to be their skill in managing cattle and in cutting trees.50 The nascent capitalism of the 1730s in various parts of the Highlands, with the provision of wage payments for cutting timber that suddenly came to an end, may well have shaken loose suitable recruits for just such an adventure.

A new and much more significant start was made in the charcoal iron industry in Scotland when, in 1752, Richard Ford and associates of the Newland Company from Furness in Lancashire set up what was to become known as the Lorn Furnace Company, at Bonawe on Loch Etive (Figs 9.2 and 9.3). This concern was to last for a century and a quarter, though in the closing decades its operation was very spasmodic. Two years later, Henry Kendal, William Latham and partners of the Duddon iron works, also in Furness, planned to build a furnace of comparable capacity at Craleckan on Loch Fyneside. It became known as the Argyll Furnace Company, and (p.241) remained in operation until around 1813. Both produced pig iron from imported Cumbrian ore, and exported it back to the parent concerns for finishing, though Craleckan later had limited forge capacity.51

The business climate of the early 1750s was very different from what it had been in the 1730s. The Highlands were settled: banditry had still been regarded as a problem in 1729 when Invergarry was started. Landowners were anxious to be seen as improvers encouraging industry in their domains. Demand for iron south and north of the Border was growing rapidly. True, the use of coal in iron smelting was a recognised new technology, but an uncertain one. When Carron Iron Works opened near Falkirk in 1759 to utilise coal, the owners were so unsure of its future that in 1760 they paid £900 to Patrick Grant for a twenty-year lease of his woods in Glen Moriston to secure a charcoal supply, although they lay eight miles on bad roads from the navigable waters of Loch Ness.52 Despite the increasing success of coal-based iron smelting in subsequent years, there long remained a limited niche for charcoal iron for certain qualities. When Bonawe eventually closed, the Newland Company were operating the last three charcoal blast furnaces in Britain, both of the others being south of the Border.53

Bonawe and Craleckan opened in 1753 and 1755 respectively, and were substantial undertakings of comparable size. Production at Bonawe in the later eighteenth century was of the order of 700 tons per annum, falling to around 400 tons in 1839 and becoming intermittent after 1850.54 Lindsay has suggested that 10,000 acres would have been the necessary area to sustain such an output on a twenty-year rotation, though planned rotations by the company were sometimes as long as twenty-four years, which would increase the need to 12,000 acres.55 Assuming that, at its peak Craleckan was no less productive, the two would have called upon the resources of at least 20–24,000 acres when their output was greatest. In 1798, the extent of the natural woods of Argyll was estimated at 20–30,000 acres, though other and later estimates put it much higher, one as high as 98,000 acres which probably included much scrub pasture. The demands of the two furnaces clearly had the potential to affect a substantial proportion of the mature oak resource of the region.56 (p.242)

Outsiders and the woods II: charcoal and tanbarkOutsiders and the woods II: charcoal and tanbark

Fig. 9.3 The buildings of the Lorn Furnace, Bonawe, photographed in the 1960s before restoration: (above) the furnace and (opposite) the charcoal store. Despite the immense size of the charcoal store, there was at least as much land under oakwood in Argyll when they ceased operations in 1876 as when they commenced in 1753. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Crown copyright.

Contemporaries believed this to be the case, but not in any destructive or inimical sense. James Robson in 1794 commented on the ‘frequency of returns to the proprietors from keeping the oak in coppice wood’, which was due to the high price of tanbark and the demand for charcoal ‘in that quarter where it is used in smelting iron’: these two factors ‘naturally induces these proprietors to keep their woods in coppice’.57 James Smith in 1798 was still more explicit. After citing the sale of the Glenorchy pinewoods to Murphey and Galbraith ‘for a mere trifle’ (see below Chapter 13), he went on:

Some time after that, however, the remaining deciduous woods in the (p.243) country were brought into greater estimation, by means of two English companies who set up iron forges, the one near Inveraray, and the other at Bunaw. Ever since, our natural woods are in general tolerably cared for; and though the long leases granted to those companies, of some of the woods, and the want of a sufficient compensation for the rest, has hitherto kept some of them low; yet they are always of more value to the proprietors than any other equal extent of ground, arable land excepted.58

Good silviculture in such woods consisted of enclosure, division into haggs, a systematic coppice-with-standards regime, exclusion of all grazing animals for six or seven years after felling, thinning and weeding the coppice, the eradication of inferior wood such as birch and hazel and the planting up of gaps with acorns to provide a more uniform oakwood.59 Such treatment would, of course, fundamentally modify the old open wood pastures where (p.244) peasant animals had grazed freely and trees had been pollarded for local uses, or the thickets of oak, thorn, hazel, birch, ash and other trees described on Loch Fyneside by Dugald Clerk of Braleckan in 1751 (see above, p. 73). The modern oakwoods of Argyll, such as those in the National Nature Reserves at Taynish and Ariundle, have been profoundly affected by these forestry regimes in the past and bear obvious traces to this day.60 To find a wood which bears little or no trace of this kind of industrial management one may have to visit some of the remote Hebridean localities, such as the woods of Loch na Keal on Mull, or near Cluanach in the middle of Islay.

The two Argyll furnaces were plainly stretched to find wood sufficient for their needs, and outsiders feared the worst. Pennant in 1769 considered that the ‘considerable iron foundry’ at Bonawe would ‘soon devour the beautiful woods of the country’, and Saint-Fond believed in 1784, after talking to the company agent, that the works would soon be forced to close because the available woods were too small and too slow growing.61 The companies avoided their nemesis by promoting good practice among landowners (thus Henry Kendall advised the Argyll estate on the best methods of wood enclosure62) and by searching out new wood supplies. As Map 9.2 shows, Bonawe came to be supplied from sources up to about seventy miles by sea from the furnace, ranging from Jura and Loch Tarbert in the south to Arisaig in the north and probably beyond.

None of this led to deforestation. Lindsay, in a very careful examination of woodland cover in the Muckairn parish, where the Lorn Furnace Company had its largest long-term contract with Campbell of Lochnell, showed that there appeared to be considerably more wood in 1876 than in 1750. Part of this was apparent, not real, as Roy's surveyors omitted woods in the west of the parish which were actually mentioned by name in the contract of 1752, but unless they recorded ‘less than half of the true woodland area of 1750 … the extent of woodland in Muckairn increased or at least remained stable during the company's management’.63 This very cautious conclusion reinforces what contemporaries said about the ironworks assisting the preservation of the woods.

When the companies were first established, they aimed at long-term contracts at fixed prices which put as much of the onus as possible on woodland owners. Campbell of Lochnell, who had already had experience of selling his woods to the Irish ironmasters at Glen Kinglass (see below (p.245)

Outsiders and the woods II: charcoal and tanbark

Map 9.2 Supplementary sources of charcoal for the Lorn furnace at Bonawe, 1786–1810 (other than the main contracts with Campbell of Lochnell and the Earl of Breadalbane in the close vicinity). From J. Lindsay (1975), Journal of Historical Geography, 1, pp. 295, 297, with permission.

(p.246) p. 345), agreed to sell to the Lorn Furnace Company the wood on nineteen farms, to be felled in the first instance over the space of fourteen years, from 1754 to 1767, for the sum of £1,500 sterling. In this period the woods were to be cut in the accepted manner and in due season, the company leaving appropriate numbers of standards within the coppice and not felling pines, or certain areas of birch, hazel and other trees reserved for tenants' use, and undertaking ‘to inclose and preserve sufficiently’ the woods they felled in the same way as the estate had enclosed them ‘when last cut’ (presumably for the Glen Kinglass ironmasters), ‘or in any other manner of way the said Company can best devise’. After 1767, these woods were to be let for a further ninety-six years to the company to make charcoal on four rotations of twenty-four years each, paying Campbell a fixed price of 3 shillings per dozen of coals for the first two cuttings and 3 shillings 6 pence per dozen for the last two. This might be thought a considerable gamble on price trends, as indeed it proved to be, though in the previous century general price levels in Scotland had not varied much (we have no specific information on charcoal prices). In the first period of fourteen years, the company also had the right to sell and strip the oak bark: in the second, of ninety-six years, this was reserved to the landowner. In both periods, the oak standards were reserved. The company, but not the landowner, secured the right to withdraw from the contract at two break points, in 1767 or 1815, options they did not take up as the agreed price of charcoal proved highly favourable to the buyers at a time of general price inflation, especially during the Napoleonic Wars.64

In the same year the company signed similar contracts with the Earl of Breadalbane for woods on or near Loch Awe. Again there was an initial lease of the woods, in this case for ten years, for £1,500; again oak standards and pine timber were reserved, as well as certain trees to be used for mill axles and wheels; again the haggs were to be enclosed, but now by the landowner. This was followed, the company explaining that they could not proceed ‘without contracting for farther quantities of charcoal for keeping their works agoing’, by a second contract, whereby the estate itself undertook to make charcoal from two further systematic rotations of the wood, each of twenty-four years, ending in 1810. The product was to be delivered at Bonawe not for 3 shillings a dozen but for 18 shillings a dozen, the large difference between the prices reflecting the costs of manufacture and transport, which in the case of the Lochnell contract were borne by the company and in this case by the landowner.65 In yet another lease of the (p.247) same year signed between the Lorn Furnace Company and Captain Duncan Campbell of Inverawe, £275 was paid for an eight-year lease of woods that the landowner was to enclose, and thereafter to sell charcoal for one rotation ending in 1784 at 18 shillings a dozen delivered at Bonawe.66 As early as 1756 the company was looking as far afield as Mull, buying an eight-year lease of the woods of Lochbuie for £500, but with no further stipulation about making charcoal.67 All this generated a great deal of employment. Although the works themselves were run by a handful of men, probably under a score, even as late as 1845 it was said that almost 600 people were employed at some seasons in the woods, including women and children.68

Arrangements at Craleckan seem to have mirrored those at Bonawe, though less evidence has emerged of so wide a search for fuel among different proprietors. In 1754, the Duddon Company signed a lease with the Duke of Argyll to rent land on which to erect their ironworks, at a rent of £35. 10s. 0d. yearly and to buy an interest in the woods of thirty-one farms in seven parishes, including one as far away as Dunoon on the Firth of Clyde. The initial lease was to be for twelve years for a consideration of £3,000 sterling (later raised to £3,120), and included rights both to make charcoal and to cut tanbark, with the usual reservations of standards and mill timber. Thereafter there were to be another two cuttings of the wood at twenty-four-year intervals, taking the entire lease to 1812: in these the Duke reserved the right to utilise the tanbark, and either to sell the charcoal at 3 shillings and 6 pence a dozen, if the company manufactured and transported it, or at 18 shillings a dozen if the estate or its subcontractors did so.69

Both concerns had bid for the Argyll estate woods in 1754, the Lorn Furnace Company offering £3,840 as opposed to their rival's bid of £3,437, calculated as including the rent of the farms on which the furnace was to be built.70 The lower figure was nevertheless accepted, no doubt because the Duke preferred to have a furnace on his own territory: indeed, it seems likely that the Argyll estate actively promoted a second ironworks in the area in order to introduce an element of competition.

There is no sign that at the time local estates thought they had made a bad bargain. Indeed, the price of 3 shillings 6 pence a dozen fell exactly in (p.248) the centre of the range of 2 shillings to 5 shillings that Argyll had been independently advised was the value of charcoal in 1751. But in due course as the price of charcoal elsewhere increased, landowners came to feel resentful of the fixed price to which they had agreed. The Craleckan furnace ceased to exist around 1811, possibly because of competition from coalsmelted iron elsewhere, possibly because the Duke declined to renew the woodland leases. The Lorn Furnace Company went on for much longer, albeit at a reduced output, able to rely for at least an important proportion of its fuel on cheap charcoal from the Lochnell contract. As late as 1829, the beneficial effect on the woods was held up for admiration:

Travellers are delighted in passing through any district in which regular attention is paid to the forests, even when reared for the purpose of charcoal. No one can traverse the lands, held under long lease by the Lorn Furnace Company from General Campbell of Lochnell, between Oban and Inveraray, without a feeling of this kind; when the former waste state of that large tract of country is also contemplated, and contrasted with the marks of industry which appear, and the beautiful appearance of the regularly preserved and rising trees.71

It was a transformation in the opposite direction to that which has so long and so wrongly been assumed to have been the environmental impact of the charcoal iron industry.

The iron industry was only one of the determinants of the fate of the oakwoods. The other, which had a wider and longer impact, was the tanning industry. In this case, it was movements in price that determined and reflected the intensity of outsiders' interest. Table 9.2 shows that there were two periods when tanbark prices were generally inflated above previous levels – the early eighteenth century, and the period from around 1790 to 1820. In the first period, when rather sparse data suggest the price may have doubled, the most obvious sign of external interest came from the Irish. In the second, much more significant rise, when prices were up to five or six times the original level, it was the local entrepreneur, backed by knowledge of a secure outlet in the Lowlands, who made the running.

Of course, there is a sense in which in all other periods the influence of the external market was also critical, as even in the seventeenth century, bark from Perthshire was sent to Edinburgh, bark from Argyll sent to Glasgow, or bark from Loch Lomond and the Trossachs sent to Stirling, (p.249) Glasgow or Linlithgow, usually involving local wood purchasers who cut and chopped the bark and sold it on. But it is useful to concentrate our attention on the two periods of particularly high price.

Table 9.2 Price of oak tanbark delivered at Glasgow ca. 1690 – ca. 1825

Per Stone

Per Ton

Late 17th century

4d. – 5d.


9d.– 10d.


£3. 10s. 0d.– £3. 11s. 0d.



£3. 15s. 0d.


6d.– 7d.



£6. 8s. 0d.


£5. 0s. 0d.– £6. 0s. 0d.


£12. 0s. 0d.


£8. 5s. 0d.


£17. 0s. 0d.– £18. 0s. 0d.


£12. 0s. 0d.– £12. 12s. 0d.


£18. 0s. 0d.– £20. 0s. 0d.


£14. 15s. 4d.


£12. 17s. 4d.


£12. 12s. 0d.

Source: J. Lindsay,‘The Use of Woodland in Argyllshire and Perthshire between 1650 and 1850’, unpublished Edinburgh University Ph.D. thesis, 1974, pp. 401–6; NLS: MS 17665 fo. 248; 17666, fo. 160;W. Nicol, Planter's Kalendar (Edinburgh, 1812); R. Monteath, Forester's Guide and Profitable Planter (3rd edn, London, 1836), pp. 253–5.

The involvement of the Irish originated in their particular circumstances at the end of the seventeenth century, when wood became in short supply due to over-exploitation and clearance, but the tanning trade increased due to British prohibition on the export of live cattle and the concomitant need to process meat and hides at home.72 The Irish tanners publicly deplored that ‘the planting of trees [and] the enclosing and fencing up of copses … for many years past had been greatly neglected’ in their country, and that they had become dependent on imports of bark.73 Their main supply was across the Irish Sea from the oakwoods of Wales and western England.74 Certain communities like Troutbeck in the Lake District came to (p.250) depend on their purchases. Their interest in Scotland was not so intense or long-lasting, but it was part of a wider involvement in the timber trade and in ironworks (see Chapter 13).75

John Spreull, one of the best-informed commentators on Scottish trade on the eve of the Union of 1707, was the first to mention the interest of the Irish in the Scottish bark trade along the west coast. He said that when a wood was cut ‘most of the bark is carried into Ireland, without which they could not tan their leather, their own woods being worn out’.76 These comments were in general terms, and the Irish were directly responsible for only a small proportion of all known bark contracts of the first quarter of the eighteenth century, though these were spread over a wide area. For instance, in 1702 and 1703 Thomas Sawyer, merchant in Dublin, signed contracts with Sir James Douglas of Kelhead and his son to buy woods of oak and birch near Annan in Dumfriesshire for £1,050 (later reduced after independent valuation to £783). Sawyer was also to supply 1,200 deals and enough slate to cover the mansion house at no additional charge. From the quantities of peeled bark lying in the local storehouse in 1703 it was clear where his main interest lay.77 We have already noted (p. 238 above) how, further north, John Smith of Castlefinnan, Co. Donegal and John Irving of Newtownwood, Co. Tyrone, contracted in 1718 to pay the Duke of Montrose £2,000 for oakwoods on Inchcailliach in Loch Lomond, and in Menteith, together with the right to establish an ironworks. Later the same year John Smith offered a further 14,000 merks Scots (£889 sterling) for additional woods on the estate, though he later sold most of his rights to a local man.78 It is quite possible that Irishmen working from a distance found it too difficult to organise and supervise in the woods a workforce that consisted largely of women and children who peeled the trees after men had felled them, and that such outsiders preferred ultimately to operate through those better placed to manipulate the local labour markets.

In the Highlands, too, the Irish appeared, possibly in larger numbers. The first record of any commercial exploitation of the Sunart woodlands in Argyll was in 1706, when John McLauchlane, the principal tenant in Resipole, was collaborating with his uncle McNeill of Barra, to make ‘a bargain of barks to be sent to Ireland’.79 Cameron of Lochiel, never a family to miss a (p.251) commercial opportunity, and with previous experience of the Irish both in selling pine deals and at his ironworks at Achnacarry, signed three contracts between 1701 and 1721 for the sale of oak and oak bark around Loch Arkaig and elsewhere, to merchants from Co. Down, Co. Meath and Drogheda, before falling in 1722 to the blandishments of Roger Murphey and his associates.80 By then, Murphey and Galbraith had become by far the bestknown Irishmen in the west of Scotland, and the logical conclusion of all the commercial interest and probing that had gone before, but their story is left until later (see Chapter 13). In 1724, when Alexander McDonald of Aikbrechlan in Argyll sold Felix O'Neill of Drogheda certain woods at Kinlochbeg at the head of Loch Leven, with power to ‘peill the bark, coall, cord and carry the said bark and timber away’, for the modest sum of £47 in two instalments, it was stipulated that when the first was paid, the cautioners for the second were to be ‘Captain Arthur Galbraith of Dubline and Roger Morphy, tanner, of Dubline’.81 Not all reputations for probity are deserved.

After around 1730, direct Irish involvement in the bark trade disappeared, though the Irish remained very active in the trade from England until the end of the century, and also used quantities of German bark.82 They must have continued to buy from Scottish suppliers indirectly, at least to some degree: for example, an advertisement for an oakwood for sale in Glenelg, Inverness-shire, in 1797 spoke of its suitability to supply ‘the smelting furnaces on the west coast and sale of bark to the Irish market’.83

The second notable period of price rise, that began in the 1780s and lasted until about 1815, is in some ways less easy to study, as the contracts after 1780 have not been analysed in the same detail (an opportunity for further research). On the other hand, there is much more contemporary discussion of it in the literature, both by agricultural reporters on parishes and counties and increasingly by professional forestry consultants like Robert Monteath.

Almost always, though not invariably, the trade remained in the hands of local contractors, when it was not being directly run by the landowners themselves. There were exceptions – in 1760 a group of Glasgow merchants acquired a twenty-four-year contract for the Menteith woods, along with (p.252) those in Strathgartney and later some in Buchanan.84 Further, some eighteenth-century local contractors were men of some substance, like James and John Fisher, merchants of Inveraray, who respectively in 1716 bought woods extensively from the Earl of Breadalbane in Lochaweside, and in 1768 bought extensively from Patrick Campbell of Ardchattan, in order to strip bark and make charcoal.85 Another example was apparently a small landowner in his own right, James Drummond of Croftnappoch, who in 1754 offered the Forfeited Estates Commissioners £1,700 sterling to be paid over ten years for woods in the parish of Comrie, Perthshire: he had had a contract for the same woods twenty years before and handled woods on other estates. The factor commented of him:

Everybody in this neighbourhood that have woods choose to deal with him, as he is a discreet man and no complaints of him from tenants about carriages or any abuse committed upon the wood.86

When prices rose at the end of the century, haggs tended to be sold annually or on short contracts to take advantage of inflation,87 and some landowners probably always organised their own cutting and peeling in order to deal directly with the end purchaser of the bark.88

The price boom was fuelled by a combination of war after 1793 and rapid industrialisation. War cut off or reduced imports of the foreign tanbark that was becoming of increasing significance to the tanning industry, and demand was fuelled by enhanced needs for military shoes and harness, and more generally by a rising population. The new factories also demanded leather belting for engines and machinery on an unprecedented scale, and an ever-increasing supply of black cattle driven from the Highlands provided the hides. The bottleneck, reflected in rising price, was in the woods.

It was nevertheless much easier to supply tanbark than charcoal, because tanbark was easy to transport. Whereas charcoal was reduced to useless dust if carried by joggling horses more than about ten miles, tanbark was sturdy stuff: ‘a good horse will take fully a ton on a cart, so that the carriage from an estate thirty or forty miles inland is but trifling’.89 In fact, there was boom in the tanbark coppice market in a belt across Scotland from Argyll, (p.253) Dumbarton and Stirling to Perthshire, with a good deal of activity also in the south-west.

Professor Anderson noted the sales of coppice that appeared in the Edinburgh Advertiser from 1790 to 1814, over 200 in all.

Table 9.3 Sales of coppice advertised in the Edinburgh Advertiser, 1790–1814










Dunbarton, Stirling, Clackmannan



Renfrew, Ayrshire and Lanark



Dumfries and Galloway



Fife and Kinross





Eastern Borders



Aberdeen and Banff











Source: M. L. Anderson, A History of Scottish Forestry (London, 1967), 2, pp. 87–93. Anderson states there were 118 sales in the first period, but he seems to detail 120; either 84 or 81 in the second period, and he details 83.

The prominence of Argyll and Perthshire is very notable, but data from an Edinburgh newspaper would undoubtedly grossly understate the sales from Dunbarton, Stirling and the Clyde which would be more likely to appear in the Glasgow press, and probably also understate sales from the Solway which were no doubt focused to the south or to Ireland (though contemporaries complained of the neglect of coppice in Galloway).90 The sales in the first period mopped up a surprising number of coppices in Fife, but possibly they were not sustainably managed, as they make no appearance in the second period. In neither period did the eastern Borders or the eastern Highlands make much of a showing, being just too far from the market. Perhaps, though, the Highlands had markets nearer at hand, at Inverness or Aberdeen, and were less likely to advertise a sale in the Edinburgh press.

Even earlier, and in places that had a lively market for the charcoal, bark had always provided the main return in coppice produce. Thus in 1751, the value of the Duke of Argyll's woods at Loch Fyne and Loch Tarbert was estimated at £2,492 sterling for a twelve-year cutting, 60 per cent in the (p.254) bark, 36 per cent in the charcoal and 4 per cent in the oak timber.91 The bark remained much the most valuable component, but on well-grown coppice there came to be a valuable market for ‘spokewood’, small pieces of hard oak timber suitable for turning as wheel spokes, for which there was also an ever-increasing demand, as transport improvements and the industrial revolution multiplied the number of carts. In places where charcoal could never be marketed because of transport difficulty, this could make all the difference to the profitability of coppice. Monteath illustrated the value of an acre of coppice that would yield £167 sterling after twenty-five years: 67 per cent was the value of the bark, 30 per cent the value of the spokewood and 3 per cent the value of the brushwood. In this example, transport costs reduced the value by 20 per cent, so the spokewood could be said to more than cover the expense of getting the bark to the market.92 This could be crucial in an inland county like Perth or Stirling, but it also made a difference to the way in which the Duke of Argyll would have contemplated the closure of the furnace at Craleckan in 1813.

As there was also always a market for large oak timber, for shipping, construction and specialised uses such as mill axles, most coppice woods were run at this time on a coppice-with-standards basis. Monteath's ideal coppice would apparently have contained 855 stools per acre, eight feet apart cut every twenty-four years, plus sixty standards, of which forty were left for two rotations (forty-eight years) and twenty for three rotations (seventy-two years).93 To leave standards probably did make economic sense, though it partly involved guessing at markets beyond a human lifetime. Monteath swithered about this, and many of his calculations are ambiguous or contradictory. It certainly made psychological and patriotic sense, as landowners could feel that they were leaving oak for the dynastic and naval needs of the future.

Much of what exercised the improving literature of the time was the profit that could be made from woodland under coppice compared to any (p.255) alternative use. David Ure, considering Dunbartonshire in 1794, believed that there were in his county 11,800 acres of wood, of which 6,200 were natural woods:

The value of natural woods in this place, is very considerable. The annual profit of woods, in which the oak prevails, is estimated at £1 sterling per acre, when cut in twenty years. This is a much higher rent than could be got for the ground if put to any other purpose; for in general it is unfit for tillage; and if laid under pasture, it would not give much.94

Similar points were made by other commentators such as John Naismith, considering Clydesdale in the same year, who put the value of coppice after thirty years at £20 to £30 an acre, and Andrew Whyte and Duncan Macfarlan in 1811, considering Dunbartonshire again, who put the value of an acre of oak coppice at twenty-four years at £30.95

All this paled before the claims of Robert Monteath, writing in the later 1820s on the merits of ‘natural woods’:

By having yearly cuttings, very ordinary woodlands will pay an annual rent from £5 to £10 per acre, from natural oak, for any length of time, without the expense of planting, but keeping good the fences.96

We may suspect an element of creative accounting in his calculations, as he was a forester looking for employment as a consultant to the landed classes, but his lowest estimates were well above the rate of inflation between 1794 and 1825. No crop, not even wheat, would pay so handsomely, declared Monteath, becoming carried away by his enthusiasm, and he claimed to know proprietors who made £4,000 to £7,000 a year from their oakwoods.97

Whatever the hyperbole, the basic proof of the profitability of coppice management at this period is seen in the enclosure of woods and the exclusion of stock from individual haggs for periods of five to seven years or more, which amounts to a shift in land use from pasture (with a minor (p.256) return from wood produce) towards forestry (with some allowances still made for stock). This occurred throughout the areas most affected by rising prices, so that tenants often complained of shortages of grass and winter shelter, and of lacking access to necessary wood supplies themselves (see above, p. 118). Even those not personally affected sometimes commented on the adverse consequences. Thus in Argyll, John Smith in 1798 thought farmers were discouraged by having to bring timber from Norway to construct their own houses while surrounded by woods that were reserved for charcoal and bark, and in 1845 the minister of Muckairn complained that the interests of silviculture were put before the interests of agriculture, in a district which needed as much low ground as possible for wintering stock.98

The ideal coppice in the eye of most experts, however, was not one where all animals were excluded all the time, though some writers advocated that.99 Normally animals were kept out from a freshly cut hagg for five to seven years of a rotation that varied from twenty to thirty years, so that a third to a sixth of the woodland was unavailable for pasture at any one time, though on an individual farm this might deprive the tenant of wood pasture and winter shelter for a considerable period.100 There was, however, much variation. The minister of Ardnamurchan explained in 1838 that in his parish in some cases the young wood was enclosed for seven to ten years (and the tenants compensated), in others for fifteen to twenty years, and the woods then only pastured lightly, and in yet others the animals were excluded altogether:

The last method is most subservient to appearance, that first mentioned to profit; for, when profit is the object, the sacrifice of so much low land, where wintering is so much wanted, is thought bad management.101

So here was a serious attempt at integrating forestry with farming.

In general, the stricter exclusion of animals was considered very favourable to the survival and health of the wood, as contemporaries were unanimous in their condemnation of the damage that unregulated grazing had done in the past, and continued to do wherever enclosure was not practised. (p.257)

Within the coppice, experts advocated a strict regime of eradicating everything but oak, and that bare patches should be thickened up by setting acorns, often of English provenance. At the height of the boom, completely new oakwoods were often planted. In Dunbartonshire, for example, David Ure cited among the ‘many gentlemen’ who were planting oakwoods Herbert Buchanan of Arden, who had set 15,000 oak seedlings at the Strone of Achindennan, and in the north-east James Donaldson cited the Earl of Moray's planting of 614,000 oaks at Darnaway, and his neighbour's planting of 200 acres with 80,000 oaks, though in this area it was not clear they were ever intended for coppice rather than as timber trees.102

At the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars, imports became easier again. Monteath's statement in 1829 that he had it on good authority that 10,000 tons of foreign oak bark a year was being imported into Ireland, ‘as much into Scotland and I should suppose twice that quantity into England’, while not exactly having the ring of statistical accuracy, at least conveys the sense of the market coming under pressure.103 Prices fell, rapidly in the 1830s, until in 1847 it was reported that they had dropped from £16 a ton in 1822 to £5. 10s. a ton, ‘consequently reducing the value of oak coppice plantations in the same ratio’, that is, by about two-thirds.104 As we shall see in the next chapter, from this point onwards oak coppice became progressively neglected and the balance of rural land use in the coppice districts swung back in the direction of grazing and woodland neglect. But in its day, the tanbark boom, like the ironmasters' efforts before it, had done much to ensure the survival and continuity, but also to change the character, of the oakwoods of western and central Scotland.


(1) See, for example, H. Miles and B. Jackman, The Great Wood of Caledon (Lanark, 1991); R. Mabey, Flora Britannica (London, 1996), p. 21.

(2) H. Hodges, Artifacts: an Introduction to Early Materials and Technology (London, 1964), pp. 80–90.

(3) W. I. Macadam, ‘Notes on the ancient iron industry of Scotland’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, new series 9 (1886–7), pp. 89–131.

(4) Sites reported on www.rcahms.gov.uk/canmore. The comment is from Jack Stevenson of RCAHMS, in litt.

(5) J. M. Lindsay, ‘Charcoal iron smelting and its fuel supply; the example of Lorne furnace, Argyllshire, 1753–1876’, Journal of Historical Geography, 1 (1975), p. 284; M. Bangor-Jones, ‘Native woodland management in Sutherland: the documentary evidence’, Scottish Woodland History Discussion Group Notes, 7 (2002), p. 2.

(6) E. Photos-Jones, J. A. Atkinson, A. J. Hall and I. Banks, ‘The bloomery mounds of the Scottish Highlands, part 1: the archaeological background’, Journal of the Historical Metallurgy Society, 32 (1998), pp. 15–32; E. Photos-Jones and J. A. Atkinson, ‘Iron-making in medieval Perth: a case of town and country?’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 128 (1998), pp. 887–904.

(7) R. M. Tittensor, ‘History of the Loch Lomond oakwoods’, Scottish Forestry, 24 (1970), pp. 103–4.

(8) J. M. Lindsay, ‘The iron industry in the Highlands: charcoal blast furnaces’, Scottish Historical Review, 56 (1977), pp. 49–63.

(9) APS, 4, p. 408.

(10) APS, 4, p. 515; RPCS, 11, pp. 138–9.

(11) NAS: RD 11/85 reg. 27 Feb. 1612.

(12) J. H. Dixon, Gairloch in North-west Ross-shire (Edinburgh, 1886), pp. 72–96.

(13) J. Turnbull, The Scottish Glass Industry, 1610–1750 (Edinburgh, 2001), pp. 64–70.

(14) NAS: RD 1/213. fos 347–67.

(15) RPCS, 9, p. 351.

(16) RPCS, 14, p. 567; Turnbull, Scottish Glass Industry, p. 67.

(17) Macadam, ‘Ancient iron industry’, pp. 108–9, 116;Gairloch

(18) RPCSLindsay, ‘Iron industry in the Highlands’, p. 51.

(19) RPCS, 10, p. 24.

(20) J. Imrie and J. G. Dunbar (eds), Accounts of the Masters of Work, for Building and Repairing Royal Palaces and Castles 1616–1649 (Edinburgh, 1982), pp. 65, 67.

(21) RPCS, 13, p. 13.

(22) Turnbull, Scottish Glass Industry, p. 64.

(23) J. Maidment (ed.), Letters and State Papers during the Reign of King James VI, chiefly from the MS Collection of Sir James Balfour of Denmyln (Abbotsford Club, Edinburgh, 1836), p. 365.

(24) RPCS, 2nd series, 1, p. 290, pp. 338–9, p. 377. p. 433, p. 449. p. 482; RMS, 8, no. 1272.

(25) RPCS, 2nd series, 2, p. 64.

(26) NLS: MS 14476/19. See also NLS: MS 14476/18.

(27) NLS: Ch. 10779.

(28) RPCS, 2nd series, 3, p. 151.

(29) J. Blaeu, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum Sine Atlas Novus, 5 (Amsterdam, 1654), p. 98. The Latin runs: Lacus Ew, undique densis silvis obseptus, ubi superioribus annis ferrariae exercitae sunt, nescio an adhuc desitum sit.

(30) Macadam, ‘Ancient iron industry’, p. 123Gairloch

(31) Turnbull, Scottish Glass Industry, p. 66; J. H. Lewis, ‘The charcoal-fired blast furnaces of Scotland: a review’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 114 (1984), pp. 436, 443–4; GUARD, ‘Scottish Bloomeries Project: Interim Report’ (1996), p. 16.

(32) Lewis, ‘Charcoal-fired blast furnaces’, p. 445; Macadam, ‘Ancient iron industry’, pp. 109–19.

(33) Lewis, ‘Charcoal-fired blast furnaces’, p. 440–3; Macadam, ‘Ancient iron industry’, pp. 119–23.

(34) Macadam, ‘Ancient iron industry’, p. 122.

(35) Lindsay, ‘Charcoal iron smelting’, pp. 288–9.

(36) Lindsay, ‘Iron industry in the Highlands’, p. 54; R. Edward, The County of Angus, 1678 (ed. J. MacNair, Edinburgh, 1883), pp. 24–5.

(37) Lindsay, ‘Iron industry in the Highlands’, pp. 50–1.

(38) J. Shaw, Water Power in Scotland 1550–1870 (Edinburgh, 1984), pp. 89–91.

(39) Lindsay, ‘Iron industry in the Highlands’, p. 54.

(40) J. Munro (ed.), The Lochiel Inventory, 1472–1744 (Scottish Record Society, 2000), pp. 55, 61–2; Lindsay, ‘Iron industry in the Highlands’, pp. 54–5.

(41) A. R. MacDonald, ‘The first English ironworks in Scotland? The “forge” at Canonbie, Dumfriesshire’, Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 73 (1999), pp. 209–21.

(42) T. C. Smout (ed.), ‘Journal of Henry Kalmeter's Travels in Scotland 1719–20’, in Scottish Industrial History, a Miscellany (Scottish History Society, 1978), p. 19.

(43) MacDonald, ‘The first English ironworks’, p. 220. The writer of this letter was a John Davidson, who had been involved in the management of the works since 1704. The coincidence of the name with the builder and operator of Lochiel's iron works at Achnacarry from 1674 to 1688 is interesting. Although the length of time involved makes it very unlikely they were the same individual, they may have been father and son.

(44) MacDonald, ‘The first English ironworks’, p. 220.

(45) Lindsay, ‘Iron industry in the Highlands’, pp. 55–6. Lindsay doubted whether it had furnace capacity. The phrase in A. Mitchell (ed.), Geographical Collections relating to Scotland made by Walter Macfarlane (Scottish History Society, Edinburgh, 1906), 1, p. 343 that suggests the iron was made from local ‘tar’ (and Dutch scrap) is obviously a mistranscription for ore (or ‘oar’). Robin Maclean of Brig O'Turk has drawn our attention to papers relating to this concern in NAS: RH 15/120/91, which confirm that it was a forge and bloomery, not a blast furnace, and also that it used ore and scrap.

(46) Lewis, ‘Charcoal-fired blast furnaces’, pp. 464–5.

(47) NAS: GD 1/168. There are good accounts in H. Hamilton, An Economic History of Scotland in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 1963), pp. 189–91, and Lindsay, ‘Iron industry in the Highlands’, pp. 58–9. See also A. Fell, The Early Iron Industry of Furness and District (Ulverston, 1908), pp. 343–89.

(48) NAS: RD 12, reg. 9 June 1737.

(49) Lindsay, ‘Iron industry in the Highlands’, p. 58.

(50) A. W. Parker, Scottish Highlanders in Colonial Georgia: the Recruitment, Emigration and Settlement at Darien, 1735–1748 (Athens, GA, 1997), esp. pp. 31–2, 56–7.

(51) Lindsay, ‘Iron industry in the Highlands’, pp. 60–1; Lewis, ‘Charcoal-fired blast furnaces’, pp. 473–6.

(52) J. Walker, An Economical History of the Hebrides and Highlands of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1808) 2, p. 209.

(53) Fell, Early Iron Industry, p. 414.

(54) Lindsay, ‘Charcoal iron smelting’, pp. 283–98.

(55) Ibid.

(56) J. Smith, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Argyll (Edinburgh, 1798), p. 131.

(57) J. Robson, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Argyll (London, 1794).

(58) Agriculture of ArgyllJ. Williams, ‘Plans for a Royal forest of oak in the Highlands of Scotland’, Archaeologica Scotica, 1 (1784), p. 29.

(59) Agriculture of ArgyllR. Monteath, Miscellaneous Reports on Woods and Plantations (Dundee, 1827), p. 15.

(60) See, for example, Sunart Oakwoods Research Group, The Sunart Oakwoods: a Report on their History and Archaeology (n.p., 2001).

(61) Lindsay, ‘Charcoal iron smelting’, p. 293.

(62) NLS: MS 17668 fos 219, 240.

(63) Lindsay, ‘Charcoal iron smelting’, pp. 294–6.

(64) NAS: RD 14, reg. 1 Feb. 1773.

(65) NLS: MS 993, fos 8–15; NAS: RD 12, reg. 19 May 1755.

(67) NAS: GD 174/737.

(68) Lindsay, ‘Charcoal iron smelting’, pp. 286–7.

(69) NLS: MS 17667, fos 88–9.

(70) NLS: MS 17666, fo. 165. John Fisher, a local wood merchant, also bid unsuccessfully for some of the woodland in 1754, though he had no interest in the charcoal: fo. 156. And the Lorn Furnace Company had earlier bid for woods on Argyll land on Loch Awe, apparently without success: NLS: MS 17665, fo. 124.

(71) W. Singer, ‘An essay on converting to economical uses trees usually treated as brushwood’, TRHAS, 7 (1829), p. 139, quoted in Lindsay, ‘Charcoal iron smelting’, p. 204.

(72) L. Cullen, Anglo-Irish Trade 1660–1800 (Manchester, 1968), pp. 5, 11; E. McCracken, The Irish Woods since Tudor Times (Newton Abbot, 1971).

(73) The Case of the Tanners of Ireland Briefly RepresentedL. E. Cochran, Scottish Trade with Ireland in the Eighteenth Century (Edinburgh, 1985), pp. 12, 22, 72–3n.

(74) L. A. Clarkson The Pre-Industrial Economy in England, 1500–1750 (London, 1971), pp. 179, 199. English tanners, 1711–19, petitioned in vain to stop the Irish buyers.

(75) In 1700, Henry Sandwich of Dublin, merchant, sold to Captain William Richardson ‘thirty tuns of good and mercatable oak timber’ to be delivered at the head of Loch Creran. It must have been local Scottish timber that he was selling on. NAS: RD 14, 1700, no. 1219.

(76) J. W. Burns (ed.), Miscellaneous Writings of John Spreull (Glasgow, 1882), pp. 63–4.

(77) NAS: RD 12, 1702, no. 1279; RD 12, 1703, no. 385.

(78) NAS: GD 220/6/580/5–6; RD 13, reg. 26 Dec. 1727.

(79) Sunart Oakwoods, p. 45.

(80) Lochiel Inventory, pp. 81–2.

(81) NAS: SC 54/12/10, reg. 17 Feb. 1725.

(82) Anglo-Irish TradeJ. M. Lindsay, ‘The use of woodland in Argyllshire and Perthshire between 1650 and 1850’, unpublished University of Edinburgh Ph.D. thesis, 1974, p. 402.

(83) M. L. Anderson, A History of Scottish Forestry (Edinburgh, 1967), 2, p. 85.

(84) Lindsay, ‘Use of woodland’, p. 512.

(85) NAS: SC 54/12/10, reg. 4 June 1722; SC 54/12/27, reg. 7 Feb. 1770.

(86) Anderson, History of Scottish Forestry, 1, pp. 465–6.

(87) Lindsay, ‘Use of woodland’, p. 512.

(88) Robert Monteath wrote his Forester's Guide and Profitable Planter (London, 1826 and subsequent editions) as though this was always an option.

(89) Monteath, Forester's Guide (London, edn 1836), p. 152.

(90) Anderson, History of Scottish Forestry, 2, p. 136.

(91) Walker, Economical History, 2, p. 291, who considered in 1808 that bark accounted for two-thirds and charcoal for one-third of the value of a coppice.

(92) Monteath, Forester's Guide, p. 365.

(93) Ibid.Miscellaneous Reports on Woods and Plantations

(94) D. Ure, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Dumbarton (London, 1794), p. 83.

(95) Cited in Anderson, History of Scottish Forestry, 2, pp. 270–2.

(96) Miscellaneous ReportsR. Monteath, A New and Easy System of Draining and Reclaiming the Bogs of Ireland (Edinburgh, 1829), p. 3

(97) Monteath, Forester's Guide, pp. 151, 154; Monteath, Miscellaneous Reports, pp. 131, 145.

(98) Smith, Agriculture of Argyll, p. 131; NSA (Edinburgh, 1845), 7, pp. 150, 520.

(99) Smith, Agriculture of Argyll, pp. 130–1.

(100) James Robertson, General View of the Agriculture in the Southern Districts of the County of Perth (London, 1794), pp. 97–8Agriculture of ArgyllForester's Guide

(101) Anderson, History of Scottish Forestry, 2, p. 100.

(102) Ure, Agriculture of Dumbarton, p. 84; James Donaldson, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Nairn (London, 1794), p. 26.

(103) Monteath, Bogs of Ireland, p. 3.

(104) Anderson, History of Scottish Forestry, 2, p. 272.