In his autobiography, The Village Carpenter, Walter Rose invites us into his memory of the pre-industrial carpentry trade in the rural southeast Midlands of the 19th century. Although Rose could only recollect back to the latter half of that period, he assures us that the work of the carpenter was still evocative of the medieval era:

“The operations of the timberyard were richly eloquent of an older England; my grandfather, who was born in pre-enclosure days, could remember and tell us much about the days before railways existed. The old homestead- the pride of our family- had come down to us in direct succession for well over three centuries.”

One is immediately struck with the impression of how much the carpenter’s life was connected to the land, both in the amount of work that was related to farming and in the use of indigenous timber.  Walter Rose says that when he was a child “almost all the wood was English” and very often came from the very farm or estate on that the carpenter was working.  Oak and elm were selected and felled by the carpenters themselves and taken to the yard or site by horse-drawn wagon where the de-limbed trunks or ‘deals’ were then sawn by hand into usable lumber.  This was the arduous task of the soon-to-be extinct pit-sawyer.  The surviving expression, “it’s the pits”, informs us of the unfortunate state of the ‘pit man’, who stood below the log being sawn, receiving a constant rain of sawdust whilst the more experienced ‘top man’ guided the long two-handled saw along the prescribed cut line.  Although the pit-sawyers were, according to Rose, of a lesser status than the carpenter and were the source of difficulty as a result of their sometimes-excessive fondness for beer, they were respected for their patience, hard work and skill, especially when it came to the daily sharpening of the great saw, that was “no mean act”.

The enormous amount of energy that the early Victorian carpenter put into simply preparing the wood to be used demanded that he have an adequate knowledge of the tree itself and the need for systematic husbandry of the few remaining ‘noble oak’ forests of England.  The respectable carpenter, according to Walter Rose, was a conservationist: “Every right-minded person deplores the ruthless felling of trees… the tree of beauty, after fulfilling its years of life, might better have given another period of usefulness, another period and order of charm.”