| Modern * Surrey |
Hidden in the foliage of a forest are ten bridges leading nowhere. They were built by Lord Lovelace, Lieutenant of Surrey (wealthy by heritage and intelligent by practice) in order to ease the process of carrying timber through his large woodland estate. Designed in a ‘moorish’ style of brick and flint, a favourite design of Lovelace and one which can be found all around East Horsley, they were also used as a demonstration of Lovelace’s architectural taste.
Lord Lovelace wasn’t the only rich landowner in the 19th century who was tapping in on the increasingly lucrative timber trade. Britain isn’t a very wooded country, but after the Napoleonic Wars, the French naval blockades, and the prevention of timber imports, there was a mad panic to ensure the country could be self-sufficient in its wood supply. Prices of timber increased dramatically - alongside population, empire, and all those potential markets - and so did the protection of woodland.
Unfortunately, this protection was relatively short lived. Empire provided more markets, but open trade also provided cheap imports, and towards the end of the 19th century everyone had forgotten the pain of the Napoleonic wood shortage. Cheap timber flowed into the country, Britain's local timber plantations declined, and woodland preservation fell to the bottom of the priority list: woodcover eventually hit rock bottom at 5% - the lowest of any European country. World War One, and the repeat of naval blockades, was a sharp reminder that if you live on an island then protecting woodland and locally sourcing your materials is a good idea.
There are now multiple organisations dedicated to preserving the UK’s woodlands, but only because the social advantages of forestry began to become apparent from the 1970s. The Lovelace bridges reminds us that there are hardly any points in the country where nature is ‘wild’ because human communities have been managing nature for centuries; but it should also be remembered that we don’t have to manage a forest for it to thrive: woodland is naturally occurring, leave most areas of land alone and it will turn self-reliant. Either way, it is important to understand how much we depend on a steady supply of natural resources, and to try to separate it from the ebs and flows of the modern economy.
East Horsley, Leatherhead KT24 5TG