Monday, August 22, 2016

My neck of the woods

Did you know that our neck of the woods was once just that - part of a wood, a very big wood? And not just any old wood but a Royal forest no less - Braydon Forest.

The origins of Braydon Forest date back to the 9th century and a belt of woodland stretching from the Thame Valley to the Vale of Blackmore and known to the Saxons as Sealwudu.

The Saxon lords were pretty easy going, it would appear, and then along came the Normans with their system of forest law, courts and officialdom.

Braydon became a royal forest by 1135 and in the 13th century it contained an area of some 46 square miles. The forest bounds included not only woodland but fields of arable, meadow and pasture and even villages such as those of Lydiard Tregoze, Lydiard Millicent and Purton.

In 1256, during the reign of Henry III the king gave Robert Tregoze 3 bucks and 8 does from Braydon to restock his park at Lydiard Tregoze and in 1270 John Tregoze obtained a royal licence to 'inclose and impark' his wood called 'Shortgrove' which lie within the forest.

The 13th century hereditary Wardens of the forest were various members of the de Sandford family and in 1309 that medieval rogue Hugh le Despenser the Elder also held office until his execution in 1326.

By the 14th century England's great royal forests were already under attack as farms and villages nibbled at the edges and the previously stringently enforced forest law lapsed.

Under the reign of James I the rules were briefly tightened up. A swanimote (a court to try offences against vert and venison) was held at Braydon once a year in either June or July. The crimes that most often came before the forest officials included rights of common of pasture on the forest wastes, felling trees and killing deer belonging to the king.

In 1613 Braydon Forest had shrunk to just four miles in length and two in width and was costing the King in maintenance when it was thought £30,000 could be raised via disafforestment.

After much negotiation the Court of Exchequer eventually decreed the disafforestation of Braydon Forest, but it wasn't all plain sailing. Rioting took place in protest against the loss of common rights and some of the demonstrators were arrested and imprisoned.

Eighteenth century maps of Lydiard Tregoze show that the area was still well wooded with the 30 acre Old Park Coppice and Park Coppice measuring 14 acres with the New Coppice at 16 acres.

In Lydiard Millicent Webb's Wood covered 387 acres in 1630. By the mid 19th century this had been reduced to 342 acres while Great Lydiard Wood measured 58 acres; Brickkiln Copse 29 acres and Purley Copse 14 acres.

Today small wooded areas remain and at Peatmoor Copse there are four acres of woodland beside a head stream of the River Ray, most definitely in my neck of the woods.

Peatmoor Copse

Braydon Forest. Key to bounds

Neck of the woods:- The use of 'neck' with reference to a narrow strip of land, usually surrounded by water, dates back to the mid 16th century. However general consensus appears to be that early American settlers used the term 'neck of the woods' to describe a settlement.

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