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The New Forest

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The New Forest - A Concise Historic Account

The History of the New Forest National Park can be traced back to Neolithic times, based on carbon testing conducted on various artefacts that have been uncovered around the area.

Ancient History

The New Forest is littered with numerous round Barrows and these are very telling of the area's history. Basically a round barrow is in fact an ancient burial chamber and contains numerous archaeological artefacts, many from the Bronze Age but some from earlier Neolithic period.

These round barrows can be anything from simple mounds of earth or more elaborate affairs with surrounding ditches and kerbs made of stone. No doubt the ancient chiefs where buried here some traditionally but often the barrows contain the cremated remains of past important figures.

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You can also find historic Boiling Mounds in the New Forest as well. The date span of these is far wider than the barrows though, in fact right up to the early 20th century. Boiling mounds otherwise also known as "burnt mounds" contain shattered rock fragments which are thought to be the by products of stone heated fires that have been used in the new forest since the earliest times for cooking, bathing or even for treating leather.

The New Forest National Park is also home to over 200 Scheduled Ancient Monuments within its boundaries. The term scheduled ancient monument cover a wide gamut and can be anything from an ancient burial mound, an old bridge, an important settlement area or even a listed building. You’ll struggle to find a listing though as in the past some have been stolen so it’s often a question as to whether they should be publicly listed.

Originally cleared for cultivation purposes in between the stone and bronze ages it soon became clear that the land and in particular the quality of the soil was too poor to sustain continuous agriculture so previously cleared areas were abandoned to revert to the heathlands we see today.

Royal Forest Is Decreed

The New Forest was later established under royal decree by William the Conqueror in 1079 as a Royal Forest. A royal forest is not as you would imagine a densely populated wooded area (although the New Forest Does have its fair share of trees), but is in fact an area of land that is set aside for the sole use of monarchs, dignitaries and aristocracy of the day.

The practice of seizing the land for the royal pursuit of hunting (a practice introduced by the Normans in the 11th century) did not go down well with local peasants, as the very land on which they relied for their very existence was snatched away form them and new forest laws were introduced. These forest laws dealt a swift justice in the form of blinding on any offender caught poaching the protected beast and fowl on royal land.

William Rufus was then said to increase the severity of the punishment for breaking Forest laws his new justice included death and mutilation, so it is little wonder that he met his death in a mysterious hunting incident (probably at the hands of the local peasants) in 1100. The purported site of his death is now marked by the Rufus Stone.

Common Rights and Privileges Introduced

Gradually over time the laws of the forests were relaxed as the kings of the day sought to derive income from the royal forests and this marked a beginning of the introduction of some New Forest common rights that are still practiced today.
The formal common rights were later established in the 16th century.

A Naval Influence

England was soon to become a great naval power and its requirement for more and larger ships grew and grew. Many Navy ships around that time including many of Admiral Nelson’s fleet were built in the vicinity at Bucklers Hard on the banks of the nearby Beaulieu River.

To fuel the ever increasing amount of wood required to build these vessels attention natural focussed on the local area and massive plantations were put in place to replace the wood previously felled.

However once again the local inhabitants were again put under threat as these massive plantations started to encroach on the rights they had earned over the centuries before.

It eventually took an act of parliament to confirm the rights of the commoners and in 1877 The New Forest Act became law.

With the advent of the First World War the need for wood once more became a national concern and traditional deciduous varieties were replaced with faster growing conifers to meet an escalating demand. This pattern continued many years later to also meet the growing need for the Second World War.

More Recent History

After the war life in the forest started to settle down, helped by three further New Forest Acts over a 20 year period, between 1949 and 1970. And in 1970 the New Forest became a Site of Special Scientific Interest and was given the status of an Heritage Area.

In very recent times we have now begun to take more interest in our natural environments and ecological bodies around are looking to preserve and enhance natural habitats. And to that end the Forest was nominated to become one of the worlds National parks and in 2005 after lengthy consultations and public enquiries the New Forest finally became the New Forest National Park.

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