Quantock Land-use in the past.

In the past most people made their living from the land in one way or another. You can still see signs of these long-forgotten Quantock land-uses, hidden away in the landscape.

Coppicing

  • Oak trees used to be very important on the Quantocks and many people made their living from them. The evidence is still there: when you walk in the woods today you might spot coppiced oak trees like this. They have no main trunk, just lots of shoots coming straight out of the ground.

  • No-one coppices the Quantock oak trees now. But coppicing is still done in other woods. Here is someone coppicing hazel trees.

Charcoal burning

  • The Quantock oak woods used to be very busy. There was big demand for charcoal, made from oak. People needed charcoal for smelting iron and later as fuel for their factories.

    Here is a Quantock charcoal burning camp in the 18th century. The woodsman has made a big pile of oak. Then he will cover it with turf to make a kiln. The wood dries out and ‘cooks' for several days. It slowly turns into black charcoal. Then the woodsman will be able to sell it.

    The family have built a shelter in the woods where they can all stay. They need to look after the kiln all the time so that the charcoal is good. There’s no time to walk back to the village every day.

Bark-stripping

The bark from oak trees contains ‘tannin’. This is a special substance that is used to make leather from animal skin. There were many tanneries on the Quantocks. They all needed lots of tannin, so this was another way for woodsman to earn a living.

The oak trees were chopped down in the spring, and then the ‘barkers’ stripped off the bark with special iron tools. They had to keep the bark dry so that none of the tannin leaked out. When they had collected enough bark they loaded a wagon and took it down to the tanneries.

Lime-burning

  • The soil on the Quantocks is quite acid.
    To improve it, farmers spread lime (also called quicklime) on the field.
    To get lime, you burn limestone in a big kiln (oven)

Limekilns are cone-shaped holes, wide at the top, about 3m high and 3m in diameter.
They have openings in the side to stoke the fire and to get out the lime.
Often they were built against the side of a steep bank or cliff

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  • Limestone is heavy, so you find limekilns where there is natural limestone. People quarried it out of the ground by hand. You can still see the old limestone quarries. The earliest limekilns used wood for fuel.

    There are also lots of limekilns near the coast. It was easier to move limestone by sea than by land. Coal and limestone was shipped over from Wales. Then it was burnt in the Quantock limekilns. Local farmers used some of the lime. The rest went back to Wales.

    Look out for old limekilns when you explore the Quantocks.