At the end of the last glaciation, about 10,000 years ago, the area’s ecosystem was characterised by a largely treeless tundra. Pollen studies have shown that this was replaced by a taiga of birch, and then pine, before their replacement in turn (c. 4500 BC) by most of the species of tree encountered today – including, by 4000 BC, the beech, which seems to have been introduced from mainland Europe. This was used as a source of flour, ground from the triangular nutlets contained in the “mast”, or fruit of the beech, after its tannins had been leached out by soaking. Beechmast has also traditionally been fed to pigs.
However, by 4000 BC, as Oliver Rackham has indicated, the dominant tree species was not the beech, but the small-leaved lime, also known as the pry tree. The wildwood was made up of a patchwork of lime-wood areas and hazel-wood areas, interspersed with oak and elm and other species. The pry seems to have become less abundant now because the climate has turned against it, making it difficult for it to grow from seed. Nevertheless, some remnants of ancient lime-wood still remain in south Suffolk.
Clearance of forests began with the introduction of farming (c. 4500 BC), particularly in the higher-lying parts of the country, like the South Downs. At this time, the whole region, apart from upland areas under plough, and marshy areas (e.g. Romney Marsh in Kent and much of Somerset), was heavily forested, with woodland stretching nearly everywhere.
Notable surviving examples include:
- The Chilterns (on the heights running from Oxfordshire through Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire to Bedfordshire)
- Kinver Edge (a remnant of the Mercian forest on the border of south Staffordshire and Worcestershire)
- Selwood Forest (Somerset)
- Wychwood (Oxfordshire)
- Wyre Forest (on the border of Worcestershire and Shropshire)
All of these were once far more extensive than they are today. For example, according to a late 9th century writer, the Weald (from the Anglo-Saxon word weald = “forest”) once stretched from Kent to Hampshire, and was 120 miles (190 km) long by 30 broad.
The New Forest (in south-west Hampshire) remains the largest intact forested area in this ecoregion (at 571 km2 ), although the hedgerow system, which separates fields from lanes and also from other fields, is also extensive, and serves as an important habitat for otherwise displaced woodland fauna. Some species-rich hedgerows date back at least 700 years, if not 1,000. For many species of bird, significant estuarine habitats include the Thames and Severn estuaries, and the mid-Essex coast.
The Mesozoic history of the area can be seen in the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, where about 180 Ma of fossil-rich sedimentary deposits have been exposed along a 95-mile (153 km) stretch of the Dorset and East Devon coast. The science of palaeontology can be said to have started in large measure here, with the pioneering work of Mary Anning.
Rackham was a prolific historical ecologist whose prime interest was the function, history, and management of British woodlands. He kept a series of notebooks, which he began during his youth and continued until his death, in which he recorded observations on plants seen in his home surroundings and on his travels, in addition to information about the weather and his college duties. Arising from his research on Hayley Wood in Cambridgeshire, he developed the concept of ancient woodland, rich in plant diversity and managed through traditional practices. His 1980 book Ancient Woodland, its History, Vegetation and Uses in England led to the recognition of such areas by the Forestry Commission and in planning legislation. It also helped to alter forestry industry views about woodland conservation. The Woodland Trust became a larger woodland owner to ensure conservation. He argued for the preservation of traditional management techniques like coppicing, to let light in to increase in the diversity of the herb layer.
In 1986 he published The History of the Countryside, regarded as his greatest achievement and described as “a magisterial 400-page account of the British landscape from prehistory to the present day, with chapters on aspects ranging from woodland and hedgerows to marshes and the sea.” The book won several awards for literature. His other books include Woodlands (2006), in the Collins New Naturalist series, and he also wrote on Hatfield Forest.
Ashdown Forest formed an important part of the Wealden iron industry that operated from pre-Roman times until the early 18th century. The industry reached its peak in the two periods when the Weald was the main iron-producing region of Britain, namely in the first 200 years of the Roman occupation (1st to 3rd centuries AD) and during Tudor and early Stuart times. Iron-smelting in the former period was based on bloomery technology, while the latter depended for its rapid growth on the blast furnace, when the Ashdown area became the first in England to use this technology.
The Forest was a particularly favourable location for iron production because of the presence of iron-ore in the local geology of sandstone Ashdown Beds and overlying Wadhurst Clay, the availability of large expanses of woodland for the production of charcoal, and deep, steep-sided valleys that had been incised into the relatively soft sandstone which together with locally high rainfall made it practical to dam streams to form lakes to provide water power for furnaces and forges.
Iron Age and Roman Period
When the Romans invaded Britain in AD 43 the Weald already had a well-established tradition of iron-making, using very small, clay bloomery furnaces for iron-smelting. The pre-Roman settlement pattern was one of sparse occupation based on major defended enclosures along the northern edge of the High Weald with smaller enclosures deeper within it, such as the hill-fort at Garden Hill. The association of these smaller enclosures with iron-making and other evidence suggest that Iron Age colonizers saw the Weald primarily as a source of iron.
The Romans also saw the Weald’s economic potential for iron-making and with growing markets in south-east England generated by the building of towns, villas and farms the industry grew, achieving high levels of output at its peak. There is evidence in Ashdown Forest of Roman bloomeries at Garden Hill, Pippingford Park and elsewhere. Like other sites in the western Weald, these are thought to have been private, commercial operations set up by entrepreneurs to produce iron goods for nearby civilian markets. This was in contrast to Roman iron production in the eastern Weald, which is thought to have been state-controlled and linked to the needs of the British Fleet, the Classis Britannica, and which may have been an Imperial Estate.
The transition from Late Iron Age to Roman Era iron production in the Forest, as elsewhere in the Weald, may have been quite smooth. Bloomery production was already well-established and this southern coastal region of Britain had already become Romanised prior to the invasion of AD 43. It has been suggested that the poorly built Roman-era bath building at Garden Hill may indicate continuity of indigenous community and activity, and a desire to indulge in a more Romanised way of life.
Oliver Rackham has highlighted the impact that the Romans’ sophisticated woodmanship, including coppicing, which they practised in Italy, would have had on the Wealden forest in supplying the Roman military iron works there. Using Henry Cleere’s estimates that the output of one Roman ironworks in the Weald would be 550 tonnes a year for 120 years, Rackham calculates that it could have been sustained permanently by the charcoal produced by 23,000 acres of coppice wood. He points out that there were many Roman ironworks in the Weald (at least 113 ironworking sites in the Weald have been dated to the Roman period, though of these 20 or less very big sites accounted for the majority of production); clearly, in this respect alone, the Wealden forest the Saxons found was not a virgin forest, but one already affected by human activity.
The trunk road between London and Lewes, partly metalled with iron slag from local bloomeries, would have served to carry the Forest’s iron products to the Roman province’s pre-eminent mercantile centre at London, and the densely populated agricultural areas of the South Downs and the coastal plain around Chichester. It is likely that the iron goods transported to London and elsewhere took the form of semi-finished products; these would then have been worked into finished products for onward distribution, including overseas.
Although the Roman iron industry flourished from the invasion to the mid 3rd century, it then declined until there was very little activity at all during the 4th century.
During the period between the departure of the Romans in the early 5th century AD and the Norman Conquest iron-making in the forest – as in the Weald as a whole – seems to have taken place on only a very small scale, judging from the lack of material evidence. A primitive Middle Saxon iron-smelting furnace at Millbrook, near Nutley, which operated in the 9th century, is the only furnace from the Saxon period to have been found in the entire Weald. 
Tudor and Stuart Period
The local iron industry underwent a massive resurgence in Tudor and early Stuart times as a result of the introduction of the blast furnace from northern France. Blast furnaces were much larger and more permanent structures than bloomeries, and produced much greater quantities of iron. They correspondingly made much greater demands on local resources, in particular wood, iron ore and water (to operate the bellows and forges in what was now a two-stage smelting and forging process). Because of the huge demand for water, they were generally located in deep valleys where streams could be dammed to provide a sufficient, consistent flow. Such resources were things that Ashdown Forest and the surrounding area possessed in abundance.
Ashdown Forest became the site of Britain’s second blast furnace when the works at Newbridge, south of Coleman’s Hatch at the foot of Kidd’s Hill, began operation in 1496. (Britain’s earliest known blast furnace, a few miles away at Queenstock, Buxted, began operation at the end of 1490). The Newbridge furnace, constructed at the commission of Henry VII for the production of heavy metalwork for gun carriages for his war against the Scots, was designed and initially run by French immigrants. The Crown’s involvement with Newbridge continued until a replacement, larger furnace was built in 1539 on the western edge of Ashdown Forest at Stumbles. Other works set up around this time in or near the Forest include a steel forge at Pippingford Park, around 1505, and a furnace and forge at Parrock, Hartfield, in 1513. Unfortunately, there is little visible trace of any of these sites today but it is possible to visit the site of Newbridge furnace, off Kidd’s Hill, where there is an information board, and to see a number of identifiable features.
The industry grew very rapidly in Ashdown Forest and elsewhere in the High Weald during the 16th century. The area became particularly noted for the casting of cannons for the British navy. The iron-master and gun founder Ralph Hogge, who in 1543 had cast the first iron cannon in England at Buxted, drew his raw materials from the southern part of the forest. The rapid expansion of the iron industry and its huge demand for raw materials, particularly the cutting of trees for making charcoal, is likely to have had a major early impact on Ashdown Forest by depleting its woodlands, although it is likely that in due course production of wood through coppice management, in common with the practice generally in the High Weald, will have been required to ensure a more sustainable supply.
The industry declined in the 17th century as a result of competition from lower-cost and higher productivity iron-producing areas in England and overseas, particularly Sweden.
Well, pilgrims (hat tip to Col. Pat Lang for that, ahaha) what’s on the menu today ?
Here is a list of sacred sites we have visited in Wales, grouped by county name. Have you tried our new MAP page?
The Ways of the Saints: Pilgrimages & Pilgrim Routes in the UK
I came across this, which reminded me of my chairmaking.
The drive was muddy and a brown fluffy dog came running out to greet us. The buildings were numerous, and although there was a sign letting us know we had the right place, we were still unsure which door to knock on. And the dog was jumping up on me with muddy paws (good thing he was a cute dog). Louie told us to come on in, “they’re just finishing up for the day.” Inside the living room, decorated for Christmas, was a familiar scene…a large chair mostly woven, everything else pushed to the side, tools and weaving scraps on the floor. “Sometimes its too cold to work in the shop,” Mark said with a smile. We assured him our shop was also cold and our living room often taken over by chairs in progress.
Having been reminded, I thought it might be therapeutic to revisit that aspect of my existence. Because if it hadn’t been for the chairmaking project, I would not be sitting here, on this mountain, I’d likely have had an altogether different life over the last few decades. But who can say. ‘Unknown unknowns’. Some of us, if not all, seem to have a destiny, fate or calling. It happens to others too.
Sometime right after being hired by Popular Woodworking magazine in 1996 I saw my first Welsh stick chair in the British magazine Good Woodworking. I can remember the exact article. Heck, I own the article. It showed John Brown standing next to one of his chairs. I was hooked, and there was nothing that could be done about it except to start building chairs.
In the comments to previous post, Ghostwheel wrote :
>>>>Here’s another riddle…
Instead of cracking my head open on that one, I’d rather wait until you write a general essay on it. If you do. It sounds like something that merits it.
Jewish mysticism? I’m down with all forms of mysticism, but as a philosopher, not a mystic myself. Although I have experience as a meditator, the only success I’ve had is in not getting attached to the results. Because there have been no results.
As you’ve been to “mystical spaces” and I haven’t, I’m guessing you’ll do better job drawing out that particular riddle than I ever could.
“Your mission, should you choose to accept it….”
Hmmm. What do I think about that ? Let’s see…
Most people one speaks to have opinions. They are mostly busy and stressed, so they don’t have a lot of time or mental space to think and learn stuff, but if you ask them a question, they don’t want to appear ignorant and uninformed, so they’ll supply an answer and hope that it gives the appearance of them being knowledgeable and serious.
And because they have not done a lot of serious hard thinking themselves, they’ll typically search their memory and repeat some handy convenient piece of information that they got from somewhere else. That’s essentially Richard Dawkins meme theory. Contagious mind viruses that pass from brain to brain.
One of the best examples I’ve witnessed was the then Prime Minister Tony Blair saying about Saddam Hussein in Iraq, ‘We know he’s got weapons of mass destruction’. This phrase – a meme – was then repeated ad nauseam in all the media, and by countless people.
NONE of the repeaters KNEW anything of the sort, from any direct personal experience, or even by studying sources. But they all had egos which like to appear aware of politics and events and news, so they repeated that handy convenient phrase. Just like budgerigars or parrots will learn and repeat a phrase without any intellectual understanding of what it actually means.
This is what the semi-intelligent partly-educated masses do. Everyone feels they should have a view. They feel slightly embarrassed to appear ignorant if they said ‘I do not know’ so they search their minds for some fragment of stored information which they then utter, to fill up the space with an impression of ‘being informed’.
I think that anyone can actually test this out in practice, and observe how it works.
The need or desire to ‘have an opinion’ so as not to feel stupid and out of touch is fed by the mass media, which supplies the memes ready made, like junk food, for the population to repeat and circulate. They stick in people’s heads, just like a catchy piece of a pop song that’s number one in the charts and people sing or hum as they go about their daily lives.
Once you become aware and fully conscious as to how this works, you can resist it. You can prevent your brain/mind being contaminated with these tailored pieces of information, and insist upon autonomy, take charge of your own mental space and what it accepts and rejects.
I noticed this long ago, way back when I was a kid, that I’d find myself humming or singing some catchy bit of melody, even from pop songs that I did not like, by performers whom I did not like. Similar to being infected with a cold or cough.
Anyway, it seems that we are all vulnerable to this mechanism, and it’s used by the advertising industry and propagandists to influence us all. It’s not tremendously difficult to get free, all you have to do is to become self-aware and notice how it works.
One of the best, most effective, ways of doing that is to learn one of the many available meditation techniques. They require introspection, so you are forced to observe and confront all the ideas, feelings and impulses that arise.
It’s hard to do, at first, because you have to stay still and concentrate your attention, rather then putting the TV on, going to the pub, or whatever other habitual patterns you’ve developed to fill up time and cope with everything.
But if you persist, it soon gets easier, and you might even get some startling breakthrough or insight which encourages you to stay with it. But it’s a bit like learning a musical instrument, it’s hard and unrewarding in the beginning and most people give up and soon turn to other attempts to satisfy their existential angst.
Ghostwheel wrote ‘….the only success I’ve had is in not getting attached to the results. Because there have been no results. ‘
I know precisely what you mean. But this is very probably because you are making some sort of mistake, like looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place.
When I first started to ‘meditate’, in my late teens or early twenties, I only had the vaguest notion as to what ‘meditation’ is and what I was supposed to be trying to do.
I won’t recount all the details, that probably won’t assist anyone much, but the main lesson I draw is that you have to keep on trying. Just do it for ten or fifteen minutes, every day.
Probably, nothing noticeable will happen. But then, what are you EXPECTING to happen ? Whatever expectation you have may be the main obstacle. Because you’ll be basing that expectation on stuff you already know from previous life experience. And that can be a blockage to having a new experience that’s UNLIKE anything you have had before.
So, imo, the best attitude or remedy is to have no expectations whatsoever, no desire or aim or purpose. Just do it. For no reason whatsoever. Concentrate hard, focus, observe everything that occurs closely and attentively. Then you’ll automatically learn. You’ll find some experience (like sore, uncomfortable legs, hahaha) that you notice, and recall that same thing happened last time. Don’t think about it or analyse or get discouraged, just notice what occurs by intense introspection. It may appear illogical to be doing something for no reason or purpose, but this is a sort of psychological trick, to avoid being bogged down in difficulties.
Become aware of your attention, where it rests and what it contains. Don’t try to alter or interfere, just observe, because you learn automatically, just by doing the watching. You’ll find yourself noticing something, and be aware that you noticed that same thing before, yesterday. If you need something definite to do, then observe and feel your breath as it enters the body and is then exhaled.
Eventually, you’ll have some sort of new insight, an ‘aha !’ moment, and feel that you made some progress.
All that is for complete beginners. Once you’ve established a routine and stayed with it for a few weeks or months, then it gets more interesting, because there’s very many things you can do, and sometimes the results can be very impressive, even spectacular. But it’s a long tough slog in the early days, and easy to lose interest and give up.
It’s a pity if people put in a lot of effort, find no results, become disappointed and disheartened, and give up. I mean, it’s even worse, if you take the more Christian route, and pray, and your prayers receive no answer of any kind.
In a sense, meditation is a kind of prayer (or vice versa), but there are some significant differences, in that meditation is more physical, you are connecting to your physical body, typically by attending to each breath. Whereas prayer can be more a matter of the intellect, like reading a book, or having an imagined conversation.
It’s like learning to swim, or to ride a bicycle, or to play an instrument, very hard at first, but if you persist and practice, eventually you’ll make a rewarding advance and begin to get the idea.
Probably, my favourite book on this topic is Paul Reps ‘Zen Flesh, Zen Bones’.