Savernake Forest - Thornhill Nurseries 1 of 3 Articles
In 1939 the Forestry Commission obtained a 999 year lease from the Savernake Estate to look after the sylviculture in Savernake Forest. John Wildash was the first Forestry Commission Officer to be in charge of the work in the Forest. John's subsequent career took him to many other forests in England but he kept in touch with the Blanchards who used to farm at Manor Farm Burbage. In 1992, Savernake Parish Councillor Diana Faux (nee Blanchard) invited John to talk at the Savernake Annual Parish meeting about his days in Savernake Forest. John gave a very entertaining talk about the Forest during and immediately after the Second World War. He said the Forest was a beautiful place with long drives of grass and large trees of oak, beech and chestnut. His main work was to grow and plant trees. A number of nurseries were set up in the Thornhill area on Great Lodge Drive. Soon after the start of the war, the men were called up and Land Army Girls were employed to sow the seeds in the nurseries and plant the young trees out in the Forest. The girls had to work hard, the hours were long and the usual means of getting to work was a bicycle.
The severe winter of 1940 caused severe damage to the mature trees and this produced a lot of timber. The New Zealand Army worked a nearby saw mill for the production of sleepers and there was continual charcoal burning in the Forest, with the charcoal being used in gasmasks. There were many ammunition dumps in the Forest and when the American Army arrived to look after the ammunition John said we had to use our imagination as to how much extra work he had in looking after the girls! John showed us interesting photographs he had taken of the Land Army Girls, working in the Nurseries, how the seeds and young trees were protected, the amount of weeding and transplanting which had to done before the trees were large enough to plant out in the Forest. The damage caused by deer and rabbits was a continual problem. His later photos, taken in the late 1940s and early 1950s show that the men had returned and taken over from the girls. John died in 2005 and some of his old photos were given to the Blanchards. Diana lent me the ones taken in Savernake Forest which I scanned. I made notes of the wording on the backs of the photos which I have added to the following photos. I wrote to Rob Guest, FC Deputy Surveyor asking for more information. The reply from Ben Lennon said Savernake was merged with several other districts before joining in with the Dean and he had been unable to find the old planting records. During the 1940s and 50s a lot of seed was imported from Europe. Much of the beech in the Mendips, which was managed with Savernake for a long period, was established from Polish seed. This agrees with what John said at the meeting, that in the very early days he had the boys from Marlborough College collecting acorns, but later on seeds were imported from Europe. The 1 + 2 written on the back of one photo means, 1 year in a seed bed and 2 years as a transplant in the nursery. Therefore Sitka Spruce was 2 years in the seed bed and 1 year as a transplant, whereas 1 + 1 means both Corsican Pine and Norway Spruce were 1 year in the seed bed and 1 year as a transplant. Ben added that sylviculturally Sitka spruce was an inappropriate species for Savernake. Within Savernake Forest 290 hectares (725 acres) were planted between 1940 and 1950. In Savernake, conifers were planted in the eastern part of the Forest and mainly oaks in the western part. In addition to Savernake the Thornhill Nurseries were providing young trees for West Woods, Collingbourne Woods, Bedwyn Common and other outlying woods so the Nurseries provided millions of young trees.