by Matt Parkins
While searching for historical charcoal platforms at Fingle Woods some interesting artifacts have appeared from the woodland soil. They tell the story of the people of the Teign valley and the work they were doing over 100 years ago. The charcoal industry was thriving in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and a picture is emerging of just what hot and heavy work it was. The platforms were hand dug into the steep sides of the wooded valley and the oak was cut and stacked then covered in soil mounds before the charcoal was burned, producing a valuable fuel. The 5m diameter platforms are dotted around the woods and, in places, are still visible after many redundant years. Now the coniferous trees have replaced the oaks it’s the time of year to restart the thinning program but before the 21st century foresters can begin their work the historic remnants are being marked out, protecting them from damage. While the hunt for platforms and blackened soil is underway, small pieces of century-old charcoal and refreshment bottles appear in the ground. It’s a fascinating job and shows how the woodland environment has changed quite dramatically since the Victorian era. With the current habitat restoration work the broadleaved woods will gradually reappear – but will the charcoal industry ever return?