The Turbary or waste, comprising a tract of about six thousand eight hundred
acres, is situated two miles east of Thorne church, and is bounded on
the south by the Stainforth and Keadby canal, from which it extends northward
4½ miles, and its width in some parts is 1½miles.
A century ago the space covered by the morass was much
greater than it is at present, a portion on every side having been cut
yearly, and carried off for fuel.
Under the whole of this extensive morass, lie buried,
oak, ash, fir, beech, yew, and willow trees, the remains of an immense
forest, which appears to have covered at one period a large proportion
of this part of the country. Abraham de la Pryme, appears to be the first
writer, who ascertained, by personal observation, that a forest atone
time grew where these morasses are now formed and posterity have borne
testimony to the accuracy of his observations.
Every one, who is acquainted with the Roman or early
British history, will perceive, with what obstinacy the native tribes
disputed every inch of ground with their Roman conquerors. Inaccessible
hills, impassible morasses, and impenetrable woods, were generally their
places of retreat; into these the Romans durst not attempt to follow them.
PLACE OF RETREAT
It was the practice of foraging parties to attack and
immediately retire into their fastnesses; which so enraged the emperor
Severus during his reign in this country, that he determined upon the
destruction of their places of retreat, as far as was practicable; to
accomplish which, he commenced with fire, and followed with sword and
axe, and in this and the like undertakings, he had the mortification to
find his ranks thinned of 50,000 of his men.
To this cause may be attributed the fall of the wood
in question. The trees when uncovered from the peat seem to have stood
near to the places where they now lie, as the remaining stump and adjoining
tree, where the axe has been employed, exactly correspond. Those trees,
which owe their fall to the agency of fire, are not so easily identified,
but otherwise there are many remaining, especially of oak, fir, birch,
yew, wirethorn, willow, and ash, the roots of all or most of which stand
in the soil, in their natural postures, as close together as they could
These roots, when dug up, are now used, either for fuel
or for fencing; when employed for the latter purpose, they have a truly
rustic appearance, presenting various fantastic shapes, and they would,
on that account, in some situations be highly prized. The oak roots are
Pryme says, in his paper before alluded to, "Oaks
have been found 20, 30, and 35, yards long, yet wanting many yards at
the small end; some of which have been sold for £4, £8, £10
and £15 a piece which are as black as ebony and very lasting and
The ash trees are as soft as earth, and are commonly
cut in pieces by the work men’s' spades, which as soon as flung
up into the open air, fall away into dust; but all the rest, even the
willows themselves, which are softer than the ash wood, preserve their
substance and texture to this day;" and it may be added, to the present
time, although it is now a century and a half later than when the above
remark was written.
40 YARDS LONG
He further adds, that Mr.
Edwards Canby told him, he found an oak tree within his moors,
40 yards long, 4 yards in diameter at the great end, 3 yards and a foot
in the middle, and two yards over at the small end; so that the tree seems
to have been as long again; for which he was offered £20. At another
time, he found a fir tree 36 yards long, besides the computed length thereof,
which well might be 15 yards more." The largest trees have no doubt
been picked out for different purposes by the inhabitants for several
generations past, yet there are men now living, who state, that they have
split up more than a thousand pales, four feet in length, fit for park
fencing, from a single tree, and that they have seen trees a yard in diameter,
for a very considerable length, and as sound as if just cut down. Some
of the firs too are so fresh and sound as to bear splitting into ceiling
laths, for which purpose they have been not unfrequently used.
This extensive forest being thrown down, in nearly a
level country, subject to floods, we may naturally suppose, would impede
the little drainage that had before relieved it of the superabundant waters;
that being once stopped, the accumulation of vegetable matter would be
very rapid, the branches and leaves of trees and other wreck, with aquatic
plants, and moss, that gather on the stumps and branches of trees in moist
situations, not covered by water, would soon shelter the main body of
the trees from the action of the sun and air, the vegetation of one summer
would be destroyed by the frost in winter; the next spring produces a
succeeding crop of morassy vegetation; this is again destroyed; until
returning seasons have formed peat, to the height and consistency we present
find it. The production of peat is at first rapid, but decreases in proportion
as it advances above the level of the country, and the change in its solidity
and vegetable production.
That the principal part of the wood had been thrown down
at one time, appears evident, from the sound state in which the trees
are generally found; if they had fallen from natural decay, they would
have been more decomposed; if part only had been thrown down, those left
standing, could never, after the peat began to accumulate, gain the horizontal
position in which they now lie. And another proof of the correctness of
the assertion may yet be adduced, if the trees were sound when thrown
down, and afterwards exposed to the sun, wind, and air (as scarcely any
are completely buried in the subsoil) they would have exhibited more evident
signs of decay; especially the less durable kinds; but when we see the
silvery bark of the birch, as bright as when just stripped from a living
tree, firs quite enveloped in bark, acorns, hazel nuts, fir cones, hips,
oak, and other leaves, we are led to suppose, that as soon almost as the
forest was overthrown, the site must have been covered with water and
by this means the wood, etc, preserved from decomposition and decay.
The peat is a substance composed of heath, moss, and
various morassy plants, which have undergone but little disorganization,
and are mixed with but a very small quantity of earthy matter. It is very
combustible, and when submitted to the action of fire is an iron retort,
produces gas capable of supporting a clear white flame, tar, and an ammonical
liquor; the pipes through which turf gas has been passed, acquire a very
peculiar smell, quite different from that emitted from coal gas, but not
less pungent and offensive.
Peat possesses two very peculiar properties, besides
its imflammability, viz, its antiseptic quality, and power of resisting
water. So great its antiseptic quality, that animal as well as vegetable
substances may remain for years in it, without undergoing putrefaction.
Anecdotes of the discovery of the remains of animals are related in almost
every place where peat abounds; and there are a few instances of human
subjects having bin thus preserved from decomposition. "About 50
years ago," says Pryme, "at the bottom of a turf pit, was found
a man laying at his length, with his head upon his arm, as in a common
posture of sleep, whose skin being as it were tanned by the moor water,
preserved his shape entire, but within, his flesh, and most of his bones,
were consumed and gone; an arm of whom is now in the possession of Dr.
In June 1747, the body of a woman was discovered six
feet deep in a peat moor; the antique sandals on her feet, shewed she
had been buried for many ages. Her hair and nails were as fresh as any
person's living; her skin was soft, of a tawn colour and stretched like
a piece of doe leather, and was as strong. Even the water found in the
peat moors possesses antiseptic quality. The existence of putrid water
(however stagnant) is unknown in the peat districts; and the men who dig
the turf, suppose that it is never injurious to them, ever. If they drink
it cold, when they are heated with labour and covered with perspiration.
• The Canby family, according
to a rental of 1712
held land both in Nun and Tweenbridge Moors;
their residence was at the top of Jacob-Lane.
Extracted from the History and Antiquities
of Thorne, published in 1829.
© Thorne Moorends Regeneration Partnership. All Rights Reserved.