Woodland use and townships

Trees were an important building resource for townships. Early houses often had low turf or stone walls, but the main building material was wood.  

Large amounts of timber were needed for the construction of the roofs, which were then covered with turf and finished with a thatch of straw, bracken or heather. The weight of these roofs would have been too much for turf walls to bear, so they were supported by pairs of large timbers, known as crucks, set into the ground or on stone footings and tied together at the top to form a couple. You can see illustrations of these traditional buildings at Rosal.

From wood to stone

From the late 18th century onwards, houses with more substantial stone walls became increasingly common, but roofs were still commonly supported on crucks, for example at Arichonan.

Landlords always controlled the use of their woodlands, and the lease granted to a tenant usually outlined what wood they could use. Often tenants could not cut the trees down but were permitted to take the branches or top wood.

Pollarding

A management technique called pollarding was common. This involved pruning the tree by cutting branches back to the trunk. This encouraged a vigorous growth of new branches which could be harvested periodically. The original trunk was left about six to ten feet high to prevent farm animals eating the new shoots.

The new branches would be left to reach a required thickness before being cut down. Most of the roof timbers of a house would be produced in this way, though timber for the mighty crucks would often require the felling of a whole tree. Tenants also collected the leaves and twigs, referred to as tree hay, to feed livestock in the winter.

Pollarding creates very distinctively shaped trees, which can help us to understand the way woodland was used in the past.