Feckenham Forest was a royal forest, centred around the town of Feckenham, covering large parts of west Worcestershire and Warwickshire. As such, it was not entirely wooded, nor entirely the property of the King. Rather, the King had legal rights over game, wood and grazing within the forest, and special courts imposed harsh penalties when rights were violated. Courts and the forest gaol were located at Feckenham and executions took place at Gallows Green near Hanbury.
The legal origins are not recorded, but it was a royal forest in the time of Edward the Confessor and his predecessors. Forest law itself was established under King Canute in 1016. The forest boundaries were extended greatly during the reign of Henry II, expanding from 34 to 184 square miles. The forest boundaries were reduced back in 1301.
The wood was encroached to produce salt in Droitwich, and was quite reduced by the time it was disafforested during the reign of King Charles I in 1629. The process of disafforestation created considerable social unrest and riots. A few areas of ancient forest still remain near Dodford and Chaddesley Corbett.
At its greatest extent, the forest covered an area including Bromsgrove, Redditch, and Evesham, reaching to the gates of Worcester. It extended across the Warwickshire boundary as far as the river Arrow, where it adjoined the Forest of Arden.
It was extended along with many other forests during Henry II's reign to encompass about 184 square miles. This stretched from Evesham in the south, close to Worcester, up to Droitwich and Wychbold in the west, to Stone, Chaddesley Corbett and Alvechurch in the north, and Redditch, Studley and Alcester to in the east. These boundaries are described in an official Great Perambulation made for Edward I in 1300-1, which also sets out the then extent of the forest.
The Perambulation also recommended the reduction of the royal forest to its earlier size. This reduced the size of the forest to be the Parish of Feckenham, Bradley, the western part of Hanbury, parts of Stoke Prior and Bentley Pauncefoot. Foxlydiate and Headless Cross were on the northeastern boundary.
Flora and fauna
The wooded areas were home to numerous species of animals including badgers, foxes, martens, otters, wild boars, wild cats and wolves. The main animals that were hunted as game were hare, red and fallow deer.
Wolves were a considerable problem in medieval period. Hunters were paid kill wolves in Worcestershire, at 3/- in the reign of Henry III, and Edward I made a specific order to his new chief forester Peter Corbet of Chaddesley to destroy wolves in 1280:
to take and destroy in all forests and parks and other places within our counties of Glocester, Worcester, Hereford, Salop and Stafford, in which wolves are found, the wolves, with men, dogs and his own devices in every way he thinks proper.
However, for a long time wolf populations were managed, rather than destroyed, as they were hunted for sport.
Wolves were eventually eliminated in England in the reign of Henry VII.
Ownership and rights
The sporting rights pertaining to the forest belonged to the king. He had rights over hunting game, feeding pigs on acorns and beech nuts; and timber and ‘underwood’. Rights of warren were granted to Grimbald Pauncefoote in the manor of Bentley Pauncefoot in 1281 for rabbits.
Some of the manors within the forest area were owned by the Bishop of Worcester, and a few were owned by the King, such as Feckenham, Inkberrow, Bromsgrove and Chaddesley Corbett. Inkberrow had a royal deer park.
Forest law was especially harsh and a cause of considerable grievance. Governance centred on Feckenham at which the courthouse and gaol were located. Executions took place at Gallows Green, between Hanbury and Droitwich on the Salt Way.
Officials and appointments
Appointments could be of considerable prestige. The forests’ titular head was the keeper, whose role was essentially honorary. Prominent appointments included Geoffrey Chaucer (1389) and Gilbert Talbot of Grafton (1492). Under the keeper were verderers who were the main enforcers of forest law, investigating infractions and trespasses. Their official symbol was an axe. Woodwards guarded royal timber rights and venison.
Poaching and disputes
Poaching and encroachment on royal rights was not simply a matter of the poor taking game and, when caught, being executed. Many of the documented offences involved either noblemen or churchmen and were punished by heavy fines. The Bishop of Worcester was fined 500 marks in 1290 for “trespasses of vert and venison” and a further 200 li in 1291. Under Henry III, however, the Church of St Mary, that is Worcester Cathedral, was granted rights to hunt in their own forests, so that “no forester, verderer or other bailiffs of the King’s shall in future intermeddle in the woods saving in matters touching the King’s venison”.
Land disputes are also recorded with the Abbotts of Evesham, who enclosed a large part of the forest, when it was at its greater extent, arguing they had he right under old charters. Their wood at Sambourne was seized in 1280 as compensation.
Records of inquisitions and the Forest Eyre in the 13th century survive in The National Archives, together with one inquisition from 1377. Some rolls of the Swanimote court of the forest from the time of Henry VII also survive.
Disafforestation and popular riots
Considerable pressure on the wooded areas as the result of the use of timber to fuel salt pans in Droitwich, a practice that had been recorded as far back as the Domesday Book. Demand for salt increased as the population grew. Much of the forest had therefore been cut was being farmed by the time the forest was abolished in 1629. The woodland can be seen on maps produced in this period, including by Christopher Saxton and on the Sheldon Tapestry.
Indeed a great deal of the land in the forest had long been cultivated. The covert of the forest consisted of the walks of Walkwood and Berrow Wood (at Berrow Hill in Feckenham), but there were few deer, because of the great flock of sheep, grazed in the forest. No less than 732 acres had been assarted out of these by 1591. In 1609, the crown raised £1100 from the sale of 1600 trees; and in 1612 £821 from the sale of assart lands. Over the following years, more wood was cut down.
In June 1629, the disforestation of the forest was decreed, so that the 2100 acres of woodland and waste in the forest parishes of Hanbury, Feckenham and Bradley could be partitioned between the crown, the manorial lords and the commoners. Sir Miles Fleetwood was charged with surveying the lands before the disafforestation. The response of the inhanbitants was to refuse to accept their allocation of common land, on the grounds that they had only agreed to them by 'for fear and by terrible threats' and that their allocations did not compensate them for the loss of common rights. Ultimately 155 of them complained to the Court of Exchequer.
A further commission in November 1630 reduced the crown's allocation in Hanbury from 550 to 460 acres, but this was still not accepted locally. The new owners were ordered to enclose their lands by 1 March 1631, but on 28 March, a riot took place in which three miles of fencing were thrown down. Certain historians regard the disforestation riots in the Feckenham as part of the Western Rising. Ultimately, the crown and manorial lords were successful in inclosing their lands. The crown allocation in Hanbury was rapidly sold off. It is now known as Forest Farm. The Lord of Hanbury and Feckenham manors, Sir Edward Leighton gained around 80 acres in Monkwood and 360 acres around Feckenham, including the Queen’s Coppice, Ranger’s Coppice, Timber Coppice, Fearful Coppice and Red Slough Coppice.
The largest remaining woodland was Feckenham Park, described in early 1600s by Thomas Habingdon:
The king had a large Parke abuttinge on Feckenham thoughe in the Paryshe of Hanbury. Neither wanted theare (in Hanbury) for the recreation our Kynges a fayre Parke sortinge in name with the Kinges vast forest, reachinge in former ages far and wide.
A large walk for savage beastes, but now more commodyously chaunged into the civill habitations of many gentellmen, the freeholds of wealthy yeomen, and dwellings of industryous husbandmen. Feckenham Parke cominge by attainder to the Crown, Queen Elizabeth bestowed it on Sir Thomas Leighton, who married her neere Kynswoman Mistris Elizabeth Knolles in which family continuing towe descentes, it is devolved (by purchase) to the honourable house of the Lord Baron Coventree, Lord Keeper of the greate seale.
Very little of the original woodlands are left. The most substantial areas are in the north west area extended under Henry II, rather than the woodlands around Feckenham. Remnants of the wooded parts of the forest include:
- Grafton Wood
- Chaddesley Woods
- Pepper Wood (from the Forest of Pyperode and Fenny Rough)
- Cutpursey Coppice, which may record the name of a hamlet, Cutbaldesey, absorbed in the expansion of the forest
- Hewell Grange
Most of these are in fact beyond the final (legal) extent of the forest. Pepper Wood and Chaddesley Woods are now designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Cutpursey Coppice, just south of these woods, is also documented as being an areas of “Ancient semi-natural woodland”.
Placenames which record the presence of the forest may include:
- Huntingdrop Farm
- Foxlydiate, from “Foxhuntlidgate ”on the foxhunt way”
- Headless Cross, from Smeethehedley
- Gallow's Green, near Hanbury
- Forest Farm, Hanbury
- Deer Pen, Hanbury “where stags were penned ... to ensure sport for the monarch”.
- Humphreys FSA, John (1920). "Forest of Feckenham". Transactions and proceedings (Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeology Society). 44-45: 115–132.
- V.C.H. Worcs. ii, 319., quoted in Parishes: Feckenham, A History of the County of Worcester: volume 3 (1913), pp. 111-120.
- Buchanan Sharp (1980), In contempt of all authority, Berkeley: University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-03681-6, 0520036816
- Humphreys p120
- 'Perambulation of the forest of Feckenham, 30 May 1300' Jean Birrell (ed.), Records of Feckenham Forest, Worcesterhire, c.1236-1377 (Worcestershire Historical Society, n.s. 21).
- Royal Forests, JC Cox, quoted by Humphreys, p116
- Humphreys, p117
- Inquisitions Post Mortem for the County of Worcester, pt ii p1; pt ii p8 ed. JW Willis Bund; quoted in Humphreys p122
- Humphreys, p123
- Humphreys, p125-127
- Charter Rolls of Henry III, 16 August 40 Hen III, quoted by Humphreys, p127
- 'Parishes: Sambourne', A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 3: Barlichway hundred (1945), pp. 86-88. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=56986 Date accessed: 13 February 2011.
- Printed in Birrell.
- R.H. Hilton (ed.), 'Swanimote rolls of Feckenham Forest' in Miscellany I (Worcestershire Historical Society, n.s. 1), 37-52.
- Humphreys, p128
- P. Large, 'From Swanimote to disafforestation: Feckenham Forest in the early 17th century' in R. Hoyle (ed.), The estates of the English Crown, 1558-1640 (Cambridge University Press, 1992), 392.
- Large, 396.
- Large, 399.
- Large, 404-6.
- Large, 407-8.
- Large, 409.
- Large, 410.
- Large, 412-3.
- Large, 416.
- Deeds in Worcesterhire Record Office.
- Worcestershire Relics, Noake, quoted by Humphreys, p129
- Thomas Habingdon, quoted by Humphreys, p128
- Grafton Wood Nature Reserve - Visitors Guide
- Natural England, Chaddesley Woods
- Humphreys p121
- The Woodland Trust page on Pepper Wood. The Woodland Trust is the current owner of the wood.
- SSSI units for Feckenham Forest, English nature
- Nature on the Map: Map of Feckenham Forest SSSI
- Outline Environmental Constraints Study for the South Worcestershire Joint Advisory Panel, January 2008
- Humpheys, p123
- Humpheys, p121 and 123