Thorpe Thewles History Group

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What's in a name? - Thorpe Larches

In the first OS map covering Grindon Parish (c.1859) the area around what we now know as Thorpe Larches (a hamlet due north of Thorpe Thewles on the A177) was largely located within two heavily wooded plantations called Lady Moor and Oldfield. The hamlet itself at that date didn't appear to exist.

Looking at various earlier maps pre-dating the above first edition OS map I can find no early mention to the place name of Thorp(e) Larches. I remember someone once telling me that this hamlet name may have been a relatively modern one (post 1857). The story I was told was that "Larches" in the hamlet name was a reference to the predominant type of tree that was planted in this area as part of plantations established in the late 1700s or early 1800s by the Londonderry Family or some other local landowner. There are still several wooded plantations in the immediate area around Thorpe Larches. Some of their names (e.g. New and Old Homer Carr Plantations) would suggest that they have grown in size over time.

From the late 1600s into the Napoleonic War Period there were increasingly large national programs of deforestation in England especially in areas where there were plentiful mature oak trees. Much of the felled wood went to support the massive growth in both the British merchant and Royal Naval fleets while other increasing demands related to the Industrial Revolution accounted for other important markets. That being the case why would a landowner choose to plant predominantly Larch based plantations on his estate around the turn of the C18th as apposed to other types of woodland? What would have been the principal markets for such type of timber? Is Larch a fast growing tree suitable for shipbuilding etc. or more a sources of fuel or domestic charcoal for cooking?

I've noticed when walking through the footpath running east-west through Thorpe Larches that the plots of land associated with each house are very large, long and thin. I'm guessing these relatively modern plots reflect de-forested enclosures cut out of the late C18th or early C19th plantations. The bulk of modern Thorpe Larches now occupies the area previously occupied by Oldfield Plantation.

If anyone can throw any further light on the origins of Thorpe Larches and the derivation of its name I would be very pleased to hear them. Surprisingly Thorpe Larches is not covered in Victor Watts book “A Dictionary of County Durham Place-names” (published in 2002 by EPNS).

Thanks in anticipation.

Mark Smith

Re: What's in a name? - Thorpe Larches


My father told me in my younger days about Thorpe Larches. The word larches does mean timber, used for pit props by most of the south Durham coal industries. The Larches was the point to which the timber was hauled by horse, a tree at a time to the shear legs that were situated at the now Thorpe Larches. The Fishburns had Grindon Vicarage at the time and stabled their wood snigging horses there. The only two story house that ,in those days existed was built by old Mr Ridley at the point where the timber was hauled to the roadside and transported to the various collieries by pole waggons drawn by up to six horses.

Brownie colliery was one of the places my father hauled timber to with horses and pole waggons from a place called Crawford planting which was between the Larches and the railway near Woodend. The main contractors for the harvesting of the timber were Dryden Ward of Woolsingham and another firm call Woodward and Thubron.

The land arround the larches where most of the houses are built is not good growing soil because of the wood hauling operations that took place. I remember my father telling me of the depth of pluther as it was called was sometimes two and three feet deep, liquidised clay in other words caused by the dragging of timber to the road.

Hope this is of some use to you and if other details are recalled I will certainly pass them to you.


Re: What's in a name? - Thorpe Larches

Hi Mark and Tony,
I read your post late last night Mark but was too weary to reply. Reading Tony's full reply this morning,I am glad I didn't.

I would just have speculated with the fact that Larch made good pit-props and with 230 pits in Co Durham when I was a lad there would have been a great probability that the plantation was for that purpose.

cheers Tony,
see you sometime.
Bill A.

Re: What's in a name? - Thorpe Larches

You may already know this as you mentioned early maps in your posting, but equally baffling are some of the previous names of the Thorpe Larches area prior to development, one of which is Moon trees Larches.

Re: What's in a name? - Thorpe Larches

Hi John

I have never heard of this one before. What other names for the area have you come across?


Re: What's in a name? - Thorpe Larches

go to the following site,
Go to maps, then "launch the GIS now", zoom in on the area [Thorpe Larches], below the map is a box labelled "historical maps", click it and you will be given a choice [you may have to zoom in before a choice is given]of dates. Its not as accurate as it could be, as no development is shown at the larches before 1951. The Larches was built well before this.

Re: What's in a name? - Thorpe Larches

Dear All

I grew up in Thorpe Larches and I was given to understand that one of the first dwellings to be built was at the bottom of our track - still standing and called Moontree Cottage. Seems there may be a connection.