February 25, 2009

Kielder forest history: Lord Robinson of Kielder & Adelaide

By Dr Clive Dalton
This Collier photo about 1936 shows children from Kielder school planting some of the first trees in Kielder forest. Their teacher Miss Allcroft (on left) and Miss Storey (centre) are watched by Mr Macdonal and Mr Weir (in cap).

Oot for a bit of a drive

In 2000, Don Clegg took me away for a bit drive oot from Stanners Burn and then along forestry roads, making away west towards the Cumbrian border. On the way, the road passed through what was known as Whickhope forest as before the trees, it had been Whickhope farm.

By the side of the road this notice appeared directing us to a cairn, the final resting place of one 'Lord Robinson of Kielder and Adelaide'. The notice was easy to see as the current crop of trees had been clear felled. We didn't have time to get to visit the cairn and pay our respects - but if we had known what we know now, it would have been an essential walk.

A mystery
What a surprise, and what a mystery it was to find the sign. The mind boggled as to how anyone could have connections with two places on either side of the planet! I was especially interested, having resided on both sides of the planet. What could Kielder and Adelaide possibly have in common? It certainly couldn't be the climate!

Where is the cairn?
The ride (fire break) in Whickhope forest block where the cairn is located
A few old former forestry workers who had worked on those blocks knew of the the cairn, and it had something to do with the start of the Kielder forest. But recent enquiries through a friend at the Forestry Commission offices in Kielder and Bellingham were fruitless. They knew nowt! The Forestry Commission needs to place a memorial to their founder in in some public place like Leaplish.

Whickhope was a well-known and highly-respected farm in its day, farmed by the Beattie family.

X marks the spot (just below the D in Kielder) of the Memorial

What does the cairn look like?
Don Clegg and Paul Gough have made a special mission to the cairn to get this photo. Clearly the stone work was done by a very skilled "waller" to lay the stones so perfectly in such a tight circle. It's a pity he was not named. The cairn is in a 'ride' or cleared fire break between blocks of trees in the forest surrounded by sphagnum moss and heather. Nature has put an beautiful moss crown on the top.

Don Clegg paying tribute to Lord Robinson
Solved - thanks to Google
We must give thanks to Google, as this information below is what a search came up with about Lord Robinson. The image shown here is from forestry-memories.org, and is attributed to have been taken in 1950. Clearly that's his wife Charlotte and one of their family in a very clean 1950s Forestry Commission Landrover. The building in the background looks like Kielder castle. The other person is probably from the Kielder Forestry Commission administration. Confirmation would be welcome.

So the mystery has been solved. What an incredible man, with such a range of talent! And what an honour for our humble North Tyne fells, and indirectly, for all of us born there to have the ashes of such a great man left in our midst. It's nice to see the beautiful sphagnum moss growing at the foot of the notice. May he rest in peace.

  • First Baron Robinson of Kielder Forest and of Adelaide (1883-1952), forester.
  • Born on 8 March 1883 at Macclesfield, South Australia. Eldest son of William Robinson, blacksmith, and his wife Annie Blanche, née Lowe.
  • Educated at Macclesfield and Port Adelaide Public schools; won an exhibition to the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, in 1896.
  • Entered the School of Mines and Industries in 1900 to study mining engineering, and combined study for its fellowship diploma (passing eleven subjects with distinction in one year) with his course at the University of Adelaide (B.Sc., 1905).
  • In 1904 while on field-work for both courses he was briefly sports master at Townsville Grammar School, Queensland.
  • Following brilliant academic and athletic performances, he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship in 1905 (the second from South Australia) to Magdalen College, Oxford (B.A., 1908).
  • He obtained first-class honours (1907) in natural science (geology) and the diploma (1908), with distinction, in forestry (under Professor Sir William Schlich), also representing the university in cricket, athletics and lacrosse.
  • In 1909 Robinson was appointed assistant inspector for forestry at the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, London, and laid the foundations of what was to become an unrivalled knowledge of the forests and forestry of Britain.
  • On 26 November 1910 at St James' Church, Marylebone, London, he married Charlotte Marion Bradshaw.
  • Seconded to the explosives department, Ministry of Munitions and Agriculture (1915-18), he subsequently became secretary to the forestry sub-committee of the Cabinet Reconstruction (Acland) Committee.
  • He was largely responsible for the report which led to the establishment of the Forestry Commission in 1919, and his appointment as its technical commissioner.
  • He became vice-chairman of the Forestry Commission in 1929, and chairman in 1932, holding that office for 20 years.
  • He was appointed O.B.E. in 1918, knighted in 1931 and raised to the peerage in 1947.
  • Lord Robinson is regarded as the chief architect of state forestry in Great Britain, being largely responsible for the planning and initiation of the extensive government plantation programme designed to make the country less dependent on imports of wood, particularly in time of war; for the formation of National Forests Parks for public enjoyment; and for co-operative schemes with private woodland owners.
  • Gifted with a first-class brain, an impressive physique, a forceful but engaging personality and tenacity of purpose, he provided inspired leadership, especially during World War II and the following difficult reconstruction period.
  • Widely respected internationally, he was regarded as the ‘Elder forestry statesman of the Commonwealth”.
  • He was the only man to attend the six British Empire (Commonwealth) Forestry conferences held between 1918 and 1952, being secretary and vice-chairman to the third (Australia, 1928), and chairman of the fourth (South Africa, 1935) and the fifth (Britain, 1947). He was leading the United Kingdom delegation to the sixth (Canada, 1952) when he died.
  • Robinson was one of the founders of the Society of Foresters of Great Britain and first president and first recipient of its medal (1947) for eminent services to British forestry.
  • He was an honorary member (1940) of the Society of American Foresters and the Institute of Foresters of Australia; corresponding member (1947) of the Académie d'Agriculture de France; and an honorary LL.D. of the University of Aberdeen.
  • He returned to Kielder to cut down the first tree in 1948.
  • He died in Ottawa on 5 September 1952 of pneumonia.
  • His wife and two daughters survived him. A son was killed on active service in 1942.
  • In 1953 his ashes were scattered in Kielder Forest at Whickhope and a cairn marks the spot.

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