Recession And Retrenchment
The prosperity of the coal trade was of increasing importance in the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth for the well being of the economy of the North Tyne valley. The arrival of wool and sheep meat from the Antipodes coincided with three years of wet springs and cold summers from 1879 to 1881.
Sheep farmers in the North Tyne Valley suffered a decline in prices that meant that they could no longer meet the cost of renting their farms at current prices. Their landlords, faced with the potential ruin of their tenants, helped out by reducing rents and encouraging the farmers to rear more cattle in an effort to stabilise the situation. Helpful though this was, it was only the onset of a rearmament policy by government in the face of threats of war that caused market conditions to improve. When war did break out in 1914, prices paid for meat and wool rose and the prosperity of farming was restored.
However, within a year or two of the cessation of hostilities, market conditions deteriorated once more, not only for agriculture, but also for other sectors of the economy. Landlords were now faced not only with lower rental returns, but also had to contend with higher taxation, especially death duties. The Dukes of Northumberland were particularly badly hit by these difficulties and were forced to relinquish much of their property in the North Tyne. Fortunately these changes coincided with initiatives by the government to encourage the growth of more timber in Britain in order to reduce the quantity of imports. Thus the Forestry Commission took over a number of former Percy farms and began to plant them with trees. Those who had formerly worked on the farms now became foresters or left the area to find work elsewhere.
At Plashetts, all was well until the miners joined coal industry strikes in 1921 and 1926. During the strikes, the collieries sustained much damage and customers began to seek other suppliers of coal, as deliveries from the mine became erratic. By 1928, the mine had closed, with the exception of some few men working to supply local customers. As in the case of the farm workers, some of the miners began to work in the forests, but others left the valley never to return.
Forestry undoubtedly provided a new source of employment for some people, but it could not prevent an exodus from the valley and a decline in population that had damaging effects on numbers using the railway and the tradesmen living in the villages. A certain amount of retrenchment was possible, but the general level of the national economy in the late 1920s and 1930s inhibited the development of new industries and discouraged many city dwellers from taking country holidays. Other estate owners began to follow the Dukes’ example and the area of forest continued to increase. Once again, some salvation arose out of war, but it did not halt the forces of change in North Tynedale.