Preserving standards: A brief guide to buy and sell treated timber correctly

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A blog post from Peter Hunt, Chairman of the TTF’s National Softwood Division (NSD) and Procurement Manager for Arbor Forest Products.


Preservative treated timber is a great way to add value to timber products and increase the range of use applications they can be specified for. However, some merchants have expressed concern that in some cases, customers may be buying products not suited for their intended applications.

No merchant wants to be selling goods that don’t meet the required standards or aren’t right for the job and fail on customers. The TTF is always keen to maintain high standards and the reputation of the industry. Treatment is a big topic and one we are currently looking at to ensure standards are consistently met.

It is important that merchants know what to ask for when buying and stocking treated products. We recommend merchants familiarise themselves with this TTF guidance to help inform them of best practise in purchasing treated timber. It means you will get what you ask for, and your customer will be getting fit-for-purpose products.”

From the blog some key ‘dos and don’ts’

To Do …………

DO specify the right product for the right job. If you don’t ask for the right product, you won’t get it!

DO ask your timber supplier if the timber has been treated to the standard BS8417 to meet its use class. If not, don’t buy it!

DO ask for verification or treatment certificate with your invoice to show that the timber delivered meets the correct standard for its use class.

DO make sure that Fence Posts are treated to Use Class 4 since they are in permanent ground contact. If they are not UC4, they will soon fail.

DO ask your customers exactly what application they are using the timber for. Only sell them a product which has been treated in accordance to the use class they need.

DOrecommend using an end grain preservative for sealing any exposed wood.

DO ask a Timber Trade Federation Member for guidance, training and advice.

Not to Do …….

DON’T substitute and sell timber treated for internal purposes as external timber – It will fail.

DON’T sell treated products without advising on how to seal exposed timber when cut, drilled or bored in installation.

For more information and guidance, contact the TTF at-

Nicks Timber History Gallery

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Aperture: 2.2
Camera: iPhone 5s
Iso: 32
Orientation: 1

Private Limited Company

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As Nicks & Co was readjusting to the role of timber merchant again, senior partner Thomas Drury died in August 1955, leaving the business to be carried on by his sons Tom, John and Kenneth. In January 1960, the three brothers converted the business into a private limited company, and a year later they purchased the freehold of Canada Wharf. This paved the way for them to upgrade the mill, including replacing their steam engine by electric power in 1963 (51).

The 1960s was a time of great change in the timber trade, particularly due to the new practice of packaging timber in the country of origin and the use of machines for handling timber in the yard. Tom Drury and his son Chris toured the Baltic ports to persuade suppliers to package their timber, and they arranged for this to be shipped in coasters that could deliver direct to Canada Wharf. This saved the expense of transhipment into lighters at Sharpness, but the Gloucester dockers claimed it was their work to unload a coaster and insisted on the employment of a much larger gang than was really needed. This method of importing continued until July 1986, when MV Eosarrived from Oskarshamn, Sweden, with 1062 cu m for Nicks & Co and Romans & Co. (Fig. 5) After that, all supplies arrived by lorry from east coast ports and from forests in Scotland

Second World War

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Second World War at Nicks Timber

In July 1939, Nicks & Co agreed to take half of a cargo of 600 standards of spruce being shipped from Digby and St Johns in Canada, with neighbours Griggs & Co taking the other half. To aid discharge, Nicks & Co asked for their half to be put up one end of the vessel and their neighbour’s half at the other end as the two firms used different lighterage firms on the canal between Sharpness and Gloucester. However, while the steamer Rimfakse was in transit, Britain declared war on Germany, and the government of Norway (where the ship was registered) ordered the ship to dock at Queenstown, Ireland, rather than sail to any country at war. After urgent communications between the various parties, Nicks and Griggs agreed to pay the extra war insurance, and the ship arrived at Sharpness on 15 September (49). With Britain at war, the Ministry of Supply took control of the timber trade, arranging all imports and issuing licences to recognised timber merchants to sell from the national stock. Nicks & Co then took on the role of wharfingers, receiving and storing timber and selling toapproved customers. In November 1940, the coaster Ngatia brought a cargo of timber toNicks’s yard from a big ship that had discharged at Milford Haven, and for many years this was thought to be the last coaster to discharge at the yard (but later events proved this fear wrong). In 1941, concern grew that the concentration of timber yards beside the canal at Gloucester was vulnerable to enemy action, and arrangements were made to disperse much of the local stock to sites further down the canal and to other places further inland The controls continued for a few years after the war and were relaxed in stages

Business in the 1930s at Nicks Timber

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A number of surviving documents indicate how timber imports were arranged. London agents issued schedules of prices for timber that would be available at supply ports in the coming months. When needing more stock, Nicks & Co sent in an offer to buy so many standards of a range of specific sizes, a standard being 165 cubic feet, and the agent usually sent back a counter offer quoting slightly different quantities to suit better what he had available. Once both parties were satisfied, the agent sent a formal contract recording the names of the seller and buyer, the place and date of shipment and the agreed quantities and prices for all of the sizes ordered. Some contracts included the cost of freight and insurance while for others the buyer arranged the shipment separately. In either case, transport was arranged in accordance with a standard form of charter party appropriate to ports in the Bristol Channel, although it was common for specific clauses to be amended to suit each particular shipment. Before the ship departed, a bill of lading was prepared specifying the quantities that had been loaded – which could differ from what was ordered depending on practicalities at the time. When the ship was discharged, the numbers of each size received were checked by a tally man, and then a clerk had to enter the information into a ledger and calculate the total quantity for comparison with the bill of lading. As the dimensions were in feet and inches and the quantities shipped were in standards, the calculations were tedious and prone to error (45).

During the 1930s, Nicks & Co continued to import timber from the Baltic and Scandanavian countries with some shipments from Archangel, Canada and the United States. In 1933, the firm stopped using G T Beard’s lighters to bring the timber from Sharpness to Gloucester, and changed over to Mousell Chadborn & Co instead. Most of their timber was sent away by rail, but lorries were coming into use and some wood was still carried up country in canal boats (46). One of the railway sidings in Nicks’s yard became known as Hellfire Pass because it sloped down towards the canal and wagons sometimes got out of control. If the man on the brake missed his footing, the wagon could continue on its own, rushing down to join the line alongside the canal and crashing through any planks across the line being used in discharging a lighter. It was also known for a free-running wagon to hit an obstacle and tip into the canal (47). A more serious accident occurred in May 1932 when four boys employed by Nicks & Co were playing hide-and-seek in the timber yard after having their mid-day meal. One boy climbed the back of a stack of timber, and as he was coming down the front by means of the projecting arms, he lost his balance and fell 10ft to the ground. He was taken to the Infirmary but did not regain consciousness and died the same evening due to laceration of the brain. An inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death. As the accident did not occur during hours of duty, Nicks & Co did not consider they were formally responsible, but they did make a contribution towards the boy’s funeral expenses

Change of Management at Nicks Timber

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In the later years of his life, Albert Buchanan no longer took much part in local politics, but he was vice-president of the Conservative Club and a director of the company that ran it. He also served on the Gloucester Pilotage and Harbour Boards and as a Severn Commissioner. However, his health deteriorated after he sustained a stroke, and not long after a second seizure, he died in April 1913 .

By this time, accountant John Barnett had become the moving spirit of the firm and had been president of the Bristol Channel Timber Importer’s Association in 1912 (36). He was assisted by Albert Buchanan’s two sons, Ernest and Lawrence, at what was a very critical time. The outbreak of the First World War had a serious effect on the timber trade because much of the traffic from the Baltic was cut off. The partners were soon in financial difficulties, but the firm survived thanks to help from Frank Croxford, managing director of Price Walker & Co, the principal timber merchants in Gloucester. It seems that Croxford was happy for Nicks & Co to continue to supply smaller customers while Price Walkers concentrated on the larger businesses. To strengthen the management of Nicks & Co, Croxford introduced a new partner in the person of Thomas Lawrence Drury , who had been works manager of timber merchants Thomas Adams & Sons prior to its closure, and Croxford lent enough money to keep Nicks & Co going. Drury brought with him substantial business, including the supply of wood for packing cases to firms like Guest Keen & Nettlefolds of Birmingham. Croxford also arranged for Price Walker’s to take over responsibility for the lease of Canada Wharf. Lawrence Buchanan remained as a partner, but Ernest Buchanan and John Barnett departed (37). The Buchanan coal business evidently went through similar difficulties and eventually passed out of the family’s control, although the name was retained (38).

Thanks to the loan from Frank Croxford, in 1916 the new management were able to build a large new shed adjoining the south side of the mill building for storing the better classes of timber under cover (39). (Fig. 4)

However, even after the war was over, trading conditions remained difficult, and Nicks & Co’s imports were only around one third of the level before the war, mainly coming from the Baltic and Scandanavian countries (40). A surviving agreement between the employers and the Dock Wharf Riverside and General Workers Union shows that the working hours in the timber yard on weekdays were 6 am to 5 pm in summer (7 am start in winter), and 12 noon finish on Saturdays. There were breaks of 90 minutes for breakfast, 60 minutes for lunch, and 30 minutes for bait each morning and afternoon. Piecework pay rates were agreed for men discharging lighters and carrying deals to piles in the yard, with additional money for carrying more than 80 yards, and day-work rates were agreed for taking wood from pile for dispatch. The height of the piles was not to exceed 80 three-inch deals or equivalent (20 ft) in order to limit the height of the lines of planks supported by trestles along which the men ran when carrying the wood to pile (41).

By the end of the 1920s, some ships used in the timber trade were too big to enter Sharpness, and Nicks & Co received some imports as part-cargoes discharged at larger ports such as Avonmouth and sent on by barge (42). Another timber shed was built to the north of the mill in 1927 (43), but before much benefit could be derived from this, Lawrence Buchanan died in January 1929. He had not played a major role in public life, but he was one of the senior members of the Gloucester Freemen’s Committee and he was a trustee of the Municipal Charities (44). Following his death, Buchanan’s family wanted to withdraw their financial interest in Nicks & Co, and Tom Drury managed to find sufficient finance to pay them off, leaving him as the sole proprietor until his son Thomas Robert Drury joined him a few years later.

1907 Fire destroyed mill

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Fire Destroyed Mill

History of Nicks Timber – Change of Management – BUSINESS IN THE 1930S – Second World War – Private Limited Company Gallery

The rhythm of normal business was dramatically interupted in March 1907 when a major fire destroyed Nicks & Co’s saw mill. The fire spread to some of the timber in the yard, which soon became one great mass of flames that lit up the whole neighbourhood. The local fire brigades set up four hoses spraying water from the city mains, and the Salamander fire-float pumped water from the canal. These combined efforts brought the fire under control in about three hours, but pumping continued for a further four hours until the fire was fullyextinguished. (Fig. 3)

Two further fires in the neighbouring timber yards on the following days led to suspicion that all three had been started deliberately, and a young man later confessed that he was responsible, saying that he had just wanted to see the fire-float at work! (34) Although the damage was serious, the mill was soon rebuilt on the same site, and the business returned to normal.

We have a couple of Videos of the fires:

Early Days at Nicks Timber

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Tall ship passing Nicks Timber

William Nicks was the second son of a builder and contractor of Warwick who came to Gloucester in the early 1840s as a traveller for timber merchants Price & Co (1). There he met Robert Heane, and following a misunderstanding with their managing partner, the two young men broke away to set up their own business in 1849. Trading under the name of Heane & Nicks, they quickly built up a successful business importing timber for the railways being built in the Midlands. However, it seems that Heane was not very enthusiastic about business life, and in 1855 Nicks, then aged 35, took over the business in partnership with Thomas Wyatt Baxter, thus establishing the firm still known as Nicks & Co.

The 1850s was a difficult time for the timber trade in Gloucester as the war with Russia in the Crimea had the effect of blocking access to Russian controlled ports in the Baltic from where many imports had previously been received. So Nicks & Co’s early imports were mainly from Canada with less from Sweden. Each ship typically brought a few hundred baulks of oak or pine and several thousand sawn soft-wood deals and battens, often topped up with hundreds of barrel staves and/or lengths of lathwood. The firm also traded in slates for roofing, mainly in sizes known as duchesses and countesses, which smaller vessels brought from Portmadoc in North Wales .

William Nicks . Our founder

Nicks & Co evidently supplied builders and contractors in Gloucester and the Midlands. An invoice dated 1858 has survived for 29 bundles of lathwood, totalling 5050 feet in length and costing £2 18s 1d, supplied to Messrs Jones & Son who were builders based at Worcester Parade, Gloucester. Remarkably, the same firm continued as a customer for at least ninety years and probably longer (4). It was normal to allow some credit to regular customers, but this led to a bad debt when contractor William Maxwell of Redditch and Banbury went bankrupt in 1860 and William Nicks acted as one of the trustees for his creditors



Nicks & Co initially operated from premises on Bakers Quay with a 45 yards frontage on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal immediately to the south of the Pillar Warehouse and straddling what is now called Merchants Road (6). (Grid Ref. 826180) A large storage area was necessary to keep at least four months stock of timber because the Baltic froze over around the end of November and first open water was at the beginning of April. Their office is shown in a photograph dated 1863, and standing by the door is William Nicks himself wearing a top hat (7). (Fig. 1) The firm did not have their own saw mill and so presumably employed hand-sawyers, although they may also have used a nearby saw mill owned by Samuel Moreland (who later became a celebrated match manufacturer) (8). Goods for customers in the Midlands could be forwarded by canal boat or via the Midland Railway which had a yard at the southern end of Bakers Quay.

William HooperIn 1860, Nicks & Baxter were joined by Henry Morgan Hooper, who with his former partner Joseph Robert Sanders had traded from the neighbouring yards to the south. These had a canal frontage of 63 yards, and the enlarged firm took them over, thereby more than doubling the previous area (9). Benefiting also from the ending of the war with Russia, in 1860 Nicks & Co dealt with 13 ships from Baltic ports, 11 from Canada, 2 from Gothenburg and 2 from Savannah, Georgia. Most cargoes were primarily softwood deals and battens with some baulks, but those from Savannah comprised large pieces of pitch pine. There were also four smaller cargoes of slates from Portmadoc (10).

The prosperity of this period allowed William Nicks to build Greville House, a fine newresidence on the west side of the Tewkesbury Road (now the Gloucestershire Club) (11) Aswell as running his main business, Nicks was a leading promoter and director of the Gloucester Wagon Company established in 1860. He also took an active role in the public life of his adopted city, serving on the city council as a Conservative and being elected Mayor in 1859 and 1862. He helped to set up the Gloucester City Rifle Company and was an active organiser of the Grand Volunteer Review held in Gloucester in 1860. During his second term as Mayor, he helped to establish penny entertainments for working men and often assisted both as singer and reader.

The timber importing business must have suffered a set-back in 1865 when the two partners, Baxter and Hooper, both died when only in their late thirties (13). Somehow Nicks managed to keep the enterprise going, but then he became concerned about a wider issue. The size of doubt felt particularly proud that the first ship into the entrance, the barque Director, was carrying a cargo consigned to his firm – 1025 tons of deals from Canada (19).

Over the next few years, Nicks & Co dealt with 15 to 20 ships a year, bringing sawn deals, baulk timber and some railway sleepers from Canada, the Baltic ports and Archangel with occasional cargoes of pitch pine from the United States of America. The trade in slates continued but at a lower level than previously due to competition from the railways (20). To convert the wood to suit customers’ needs, the partners built their own sawing, planing and moulding mill at Canada Wharf, the steam engine being fuelled by waste wood and cooled by water from the canal. They also built a creosoting works for preserving wood, the creosote being supplied from William Butler’s tar distilling plant on the river bank at Sandhurst. There was a crane on the quayside for handling large pieces of wood, and in 1881 the partners erected an elevator nearby for landing railway sleepers which were becoming a significant part of their business. (Fig. 2) At the same time, they laid a pipe across the quay underneath the railway to convey creosote from a boat on the canal to the storage tank in the yard (21).

As these new premises were some way out of town, the firm also maintained an office at Ashley House (now 174 Southgate St) for several years (22). Death of William Nicks In the later years of his life, William Nicks sat regularly as a magistrate and was a trustee or governor of various local schools and charities. He no longer took much part in local politics, but he did establish the Conservative Club in 1883, having bought Constitution House for the purpose before selling it to the company set up to run it. Soon after this, however, his health deteriorated, and after a long illness he died in December 1885 (23). He had no sons to carry on the business, but he was no doubt happy to see it pass into the hands of his son-in-law Albert Buchanan in partnership with Joseph Francis Hooper, the son of Nicks’s former partner. By this time, Buchanan was also trading on his own account as a coal merchant in the docks (24).

During the 1890s, the new management of Nicks & Co continued the business much as before. Their imports increased from around 15,000 to 25,000 loads a year (a load being 50 cu ft), mostly deals and railway sleepers with occasional cargoes of pitch pine (25). A surviving contract from this period defines the quantities and prices of fourteen sizes of deals from 3in x 11in down to 2in x 6in being sold to Nicks & Co by the Korsnas sawmill in Finland, which was again supplying the firm a century later. The prices included delivery alongside a ship at Gefle (modern Gavle) across the water in Sweden, and the wood was to be ready for shipment at first open water in 1894 (after the ice had melted) (26). As the size of ships bringing timber continued to increase, Nicks & Co occasionally shared a ship-load with one of the neighbouring timber merchants. Also, more cargoes had to be discharged at Sharpness and carried on to Gloucester in barges or rafts. At busy times, Nicks & Co arranged for surplus rafts to be stored temporarily in a shallow pond adjoining the canal at Two Mile Bend (27). When landing wood at Canada Wharf, most pieces were carried on men’s shoulders into the yard and stored in piles until sold to a customer. Heavier pieces were lifted by crane on to trollies that ran on rails around the yard, although this arrangement was superceded in 1897 by a power-driven gantry that could move baulks direct from the waterside to the sawmill or to anywhere in between . Like his former partner, Albert Buchanan served on the city council as a Conservative, and in 1900 he was elected Mayor. However, he resigned after six months, following a High Court ruling against the election of a fellow councillor which put the Conservatives in a minority (29).

In the early years of the twentieth century, there were changes in Nicks & Co’s management arrangements. Long serving accountant John Barnett became a partner, as did Buchanan’s sons Albert Ernest and Wilfred Lawrence, and Joseph Francis Hooper left the firm

Premises Described

A contemporary description of Canada Wharf noted that the premises covered an area of approximately seven acres, every foot of which was required for the storage of timber. Private railway sidings extended throughout the yard and into the saw mill. An elevator on the canal side was used for lifting and conveying sleepers, and a power driven gantry carried baulks from the water’s edge to the mill. The mill contained log and deal frames, circular saw benches and planing and moulding machines. The creosoting tank could hold 7½ tons of timber at a time, and the creosote was injected under vacuum so that it fully penetrated the pores of the wood. This treatment was a speciality of the firm and was much used for treating timber for railway bridges, sleepers, sheds, fencing and blocks for road surfaces (31).

In the early 1900s, Nicks & Co were prospering with foreign imports of 20,000 to 25,000 loads a year (a load being 50 cu ft) (32). A surviving ledger shows that the firm’s customers included a wide range of businesses in Gloucester and the Midlands, particularly railway companies, other timber merchants, builders merchants, wagon makers and other manufacturing companies. Large quantities of sleepers were supplied to the Midland Railway, the Great Western Railway and the London & North Western Railway. Gloucester customers included timber merchants Price Walker & Co, the Gloucester Wagon Co and match makers S J Moreland & Sons. Other well-known customers included the scale makers W & T Avery of Birmingham, brewers Bass Ratcliff & Gretton of Burton on Trent, cider makers Bulmers of Hereford, wollen cloth makers Playne & Co of Nailsworth and the Salt Union at Stoke Works, Worcestershire. Timber was also supplied to large estates, including those of Earl Bathurst of Cirencester, Earl Beauchamp of Madresfield, the Earl of Dudley and Lord Fitzhardinge of Berkeley. Of the smaller businesses, one notable example was Lewis Blakemore of Longney – his family building firm continued to buy from Nicks & Co for over 100 years, and a third generation Lewis Blakemore was a valued customer in 2003 (33).

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History of Nicks Timber

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Nicks Timber History

Early Days  –  FIRE DESTROYED MILL 1907 – Change of Management – BUSINESS IN THE 1930S – Second World War – Private Limited Company Gallery

Nicks Timber in 1863

Nicks Timber in 1863

The firm of Nicks & Co has been importing timber through Gloucester for more than 150 years and can claim to be Gloucester’s longest established independent business. Founded by William Nicks, it has remained essentially a family concern through five generations.



Key collaborative ‘join-up’ this week at Timber Expo

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News of a significant collaborative join up was tracked this week by our Editor.

The Wood Protection Association (WPA) got the go ahead to join the Confederation of Timber Industry after their Board met and approved their application recently.

Following approval of the application to join, the CTI staged the official sign-up on the CTI stand at Timber Expo, on at the NEC in Birmingham all this week.

Our Editor observes this event marks another important step in the growth of the Confederation and representation for the timber industry supply chain.

Roy Wakeman OBE, Chairman of the CTI stated: “This is another critical step in ensuring that the timber supply chain effectively unites to provide a common voice and a platform to support collaboration.”

As we look forward to developing our Industrial Strategy we need to be mindful of every stage in our process, improving productivity and innovating our products to ensure they maintain the highest possible performance, health and sustainability credentials. It is great to have the WPA with all the expertise they bring in timber treatment and protection to this forum”. 

Steve Young, Director of the Wood Protection Association, said: “We have been watching the CTI going from strength to strength and feel like now is the time to get involved.”

We have an exciting new programme of work focussing on supply chain education and materials health matters, much of it inspired by our already close working relationship with colleagues from the TTF and BWF, it seems a natural fit now to progress this and support the wider work through the CTI.”

Who are the WPA?

The Wood Protection Association is a technical and advisory organisation dedicated to improving the performance and value of wood as a sustainable construction material.

The WPA operates the ‘WPA Benchmark’ third-party quality schemes which verify wood and wood-based panel products are treated correctly by an industrial process to deliver the durability performance required under British Standards.

In the picture above, you can see CTI Board Members at Timber Expo. In the middle, CTI Chairman Roy Wakeman OBE and WPA Technical Director Gordon Ewbank.