It outbreak of the Great Northern War of 1720-21

It
is difficult to argue that Britain1 was never reliant on
Baltic timber imports throughout the period specified. However, the extent to
which the government rectified the dangerous issue of over reliance is
debatable.

In
1648, the Thirty Years War2 ended, and consequently
allowed Dutch merchants to continue trading heavily in the Baltic region. So
much so, that between 1649 and 1651, English ships trading in the region halved3. Due to England importing
most naval and nautical supplies from the Baltics, this risked the country
becoming dependant on the Dutch, and could impede the English shipbuilding
industry.

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The
Navigation Acts were passed by parliament in October 1651. These, which were
officially known as the First Navigation Ordnance4, were a direct result of
feelings of over reliance on imports from the Baltic which were subject to interference
by the Dutch. The laws dictated that goods could only be imported from their
original place of growth, and that they could only travel in English ships, or
those of the producing nation.

The
consequence of these protectionist laws, was the First Anglo-Dutch War of
1652-4. Another two wars followed in 1665-67 and 1672-74, which after much
struggle England emerged as victor. In the words of XXX, this demonstrated that
“Britain’s naval power was such that any real threats could be swiftly dealt
with”.

The
Dutch threat however, was by no means the last time Britain would be under
threat from lacking timber supplies. The outbreak of the Great Northern War of
1720-21 where Russia and ally Sweden reached into the eastern Baltic caused
Queen Anne to pass laws in 1704 and 17135, with the intention of
encouraging timber imports from New England instead of the Baltic. This
directly demonstrates an impetus for change from the English statesmen, and
illustrated that although reliant on Baltic timber, Britain could turn to other
safe resources.

 In 1721, this initiative was compounded by the
Naval Stores Act, which abolished costly timber duties on all timber imported
from the American colonies.

 

XXXX
said that, “Britain was probably self-sufficient in timber before 1600″6. However, concerns over
lacking supplies caused an impetus for planting in the 16th century.
The earliest example being Lord Burghley’s Windsor park in 1580. Despite this,
early records of legal action to bring in safe supplies from elsewhere began in
the reign on King Edward IV in 1483, who ordered that as a result of the wars
of the roses, “4 bow staves are to be imported with every tun of merchandise”7. This was followed again
by Queen Elizabeth I in 1593, who enacted a policy of having two hundred
clapboards imported with every six tuns of beer exported8. Britain is therefore a
nation of historic importers.

The
argument that Britain could have been reliant on its own timber is weak.
Although planting of timber became prevalent in the 17th and 18th
centuries, it was condemned by a government survey of 1791 which stated that
timber in Wales was “Not fit for the Navy”9. This was mostly because of
the choice to plant conifers rather than oak, however when a ship was built
with the timbers of the Duke of Atholl’s estate in 1820, “It was reckoned a
triumph”.10
This experiment was not repeated, and increasing urbanisation placed a premium
on agriculture rather than silviculture.

Initial
government and naval reliance on Royal Forests as a supply of timber in the
early 17th century was a result of reluctance to pay market price
for timber, instead of a lack of timber being imported. Whilst the Royal Navy
complained of English shortage, “Britain’s merchant marine almost trebled in
size”11.  This illustrates a lack of money, not safely
available wood.

 


17th c expension of navy —

—-
paragraph about the quantity required by country and navy —–

 

Historians
argue that it was not until the early 19th century that safe and
English controlled colonial impirts of timber were seen as a viable source of
supply to replace the reliance on Baltic trade. XXX states that in 1792,
Canadian loads totalled only 2,660. Only 1% of the quantitiy from the Baltic.
This si followed by XXX, saying that “An Act of 1810 doubled existing duties on
foreign timber, and made the import of Norwegian produce unprofitable”12 Thus, it was “largely
superseded by trade with the colonies”.13 Between 1816-1819, Canadian
timber loads increased from 10,500-188,300,14 largely as a result of a
275% levy raised on Baltic imports, and the removal of duties on colonial
imports. For the first time, Canadian imports overtook Norwegian15. Thus, it can be
generally said that before 1819 Britain was over reliant on Baltic timber.

However,
it is possible to argue that the benefits of colonial timber imports were
identified over 100 years earlier. XXX contrasts the argument of XXX, arguing
that during the second Anglo Dutch Wars in 1665, “The admiralty was quick to
grasp the potential of New England’s great white pines”.16 This is supported by a first-hand
account of Samuel Pepys, undersecretary of the British Admiralty, writing on
December 3rd 1666:

 “With everybody prophesying destruction of the
nation” – “There is also the very good news come of four New England ships come
home safe to Falmouth with masts for the King; which is a blessing mighty
unexpected, and without which, if for nothing else, we must have failed next
year. But god be praised for this good fortune, and send us a continuance of
his favour in other things.”17

Pepys’
account demonstrates that Britain was heavily impiorting timber from America during
the early years. The tone of his writing illustrates the impiryance of naval
masts in fighting a war with the dutch that was started as a result of the Navigation
Acts and the pursuit of commercial dominance.  

 

There
is much evidence to suggest Britain was heavily reliant on Baltic timber
imports between 1650 and 1850. Historically, timber imports from the Baltic can
be traced back to the 13th century.18

XXX
KENT states that: “Greater suitability of foreign wood for specific purposes…
played their part in the demand for foreign timber”19 and that “It may well
have been found more advantageous to transport such a bulky commodity by
water.”20 In the 17th
century, the American colonies sent only small quantities of timber, and thus,
the “largest source of timber for the British market was Norway”.21 ‘Timber’22 accounted for one third
of real value imports from Norway,23. In London in 1795, 30%
of all vessels in port were owned by Norwegian timber merchants,24 and timber accounted for
the 2nd highest concentration of ships coming into the country. The
English trade deficit with Baltics was so severe, that in 1758 Norway had to
legalize the payment of taxes and duties in English coin.

British
reliance on Baltic timber can further be illustrated by the quantity imported
for civilian purposes. “Norwegian and Baltic timber was, so to speak, physically
supporting British Urbanisation”.25 XXX argues that, “The
Great Rebuilding” after The Great Fire of London in 1688 was “Largely enabled
by timber from Norway and the Baltics”.26 Studies also suggest a
strong correlation between fluctuating timber prices and variable building
cycles. In the case of the building of the National Gallery, £15,000 of the
total £60,000 costs were spent on timber, with 80% of it imported.27 Had the Baltic supply not
been available, it is arguable that London would have never been rebuilt after
the fire without substantial extra time and cost. The sheer mass of timber
required could never be procured from English shores, and colonial imports
would have multiplied the cost considerably. 

Contrary
to the argument of British reliance, historian XXX illustrates that after a British
shift to American timber supplies, “The situation was dire for the Norwegian
and Baltic countries” and “many traders went bankrupt”. This suggests a foreign
reliance on the British market, as much as the British relied upon their
imports and therefore shows that the Baltics could never risk losing English
trade and that fears of over reliance were evidently unnecessary in the later
years of the timeframe.

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