Not castles nor villas..

11th October 2009, Sunday

…not the history of kings and battles but that of everyday labour in the Wealden forest told in banks and ditches, was the history illuminated by Dr Nicola Banister, landscape archaeologist, in a walk at the Woodland Trust’s Brede High Woods on Saturday.

This map from c1800 shows that today’s forest was at that time a mosaic of woods and farmland.

During a detailed study she had traced back names, boundaries and settlements on old maps then searched out evidence on the ground in the form of woodbanks, old lanes, vanished hedgerows, marker trees, and house platforms. Tell-tale changes in ground flora confirmed the location of ancient woodland, distinguishing it from secondary growth following the creation of the reservoir about 1930.

This old hornbeam stub has for centuries been retained as a marker at the junction of a hedge-bank and a huge wood-bank on a parish boundary.

At that time too the five farms of the Great Sanders estate were demolished to safeguard the water supply. Though some were many hundreds of years old, no attempt was made to preserve these historic structures and all that remains are a litter of tiles and straggly privet.

Then there are the many pits created during the extraction of iron ore, sand, clay (for brick-making and for sealing the old hammer ponds) and building stone as well as numerous saw-pits for cutting up logs.

Having been fascinated for many years by the tangle of old tracks sleeping beneath the forest canopy, I was eager to see them placed in a new context. I was very pleased too, to learn a useful new term: braided hollow-ways. This from has arisen through the creation of multiple by-passes to busy lanes which became impassable in winter. I already knew two such but, now armed with a name for them, noticed another on my way back to the car.

A measure of local interest and support for the reserve was the large number of people – about 50 – attending this informative event.
A booklet summarising Dr Banister’s reasearch is in preparation.