“The officer in charge shouts… ‘Lower away.’ The tremendous log hovers over the hatch and then disappears into the bowels of the ship…theres a moments pause, the rope strains and groans… that rope breaks and comes clawing at us, a mass of bent and broken wire. As we scatter that great log goes with a crash into the hold, fortunately not through the ship’s bottom.”

Wood: From Forest to Man published 1964 and Timber: Its Development and Distribution: A historical Survey both written by Bryan Latham (of James Latham timber merchants) can be found and read at Hackney archives library. The books are a real eye opener to the world of wood and its history: from its source – the numerous forests around the world and differing wood types – softwoods, hardwoods and woods used for furniture. You soon realise the world of wood is vast and its science complex and although these timbers yards aligned the paths of the river Lea they connected out far beyond east London.

A Victorian account of the far from easy journey from West Africa to London describes how the trees were felled by local chief and tribesman where hundreds of men would haul them to water. When they reached the shore the trees were rolled down the beach and through the sea to the ship docked off-shore.

Reference: Kingsley in Bryan Latham, Wood: From Forest to Man, 1964, George G Harrap and Co Ltd, p 58-9)

This book can be found at Hackney Archives Library.

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Historic location

Wood was imported through the many London Docks off the River Thames in East London including West India Docks and Commercial Surrey Docks.

Information about the Timber trade and importation can be found at Hackney Archives Library.