The Wychwood, or Wychwood Forest, is an area now covering a small part of rural Oxfordshire. In past centuries the forest covered a much larger area, since cleared in favour of agriculture, villages and towns. However, the forest's area has fluctuated. Parts cleared for agriculture during Britain's centuries under Roman rule later reverted to forest. The existence of the ancient Wychwood is recognised by the authoritative Victoria County History, but the planned Volume XIX has yet to be completed.
Wychwood is derived from an Old English name Huiccewudu meaning 'wood of a tribe called the Hwicce. The Hwicce were the Anglo-Saxon people living in the area from some time in the 6th century until the assimilation of the Old English peoples into the wider Middle English society.
Three villages take part of their name from Wychwood Forest: Milton-under-Wychwood, Shipton-under-Wychwood and Ascott-under-Wychwood. These villages, commonly referred to as The Wychwoods, used to be part of the Royal Forest of Wychwood.
- Long barrows and later Bronze age round barrows show the area was settled from at least 3000 BC. 500BC to 40AD - increase in social organisation and construction of earthworks such as Knollbury Camp and Grim's Ditch.
- During Roman times, the region was within a road network with Akeman Street crossing it. Remains of Roman villas have been found at North Leigh and Stonesfield.
- After the decline of Roman control much of the open land reverted to woodland. Later Saxon settlements were restricted to the woodland edge or large clearings.
- In the reign of Ethelred II (978-1016) a royal hunting lodge was established at Woodstock.
- Wychwood was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The king had hunting rights over the whole area designated as Royal Forest, even though much of the land was held by various lords. Only the woodland at Woodstock (later Blenheim), Cornbury and a large area near Kingstanding Farm belonged directly to the king.
- By 1300 Wychwood was divided into 3 portions, centered on the parks of Woodstock, Cornbury and a part which included the Bishop of Winchester's Witney estate.
- In 1704 Woodstock Park was given by the Crown to the Duke of Marlborough. By then Cornbury was in private hands.
- In 1778 the navy procured 500 trees from Wychwood yet by 1792 a report by the Crown Commissioners found only 173 oaks of ship building quality, with fences down, coppices full of deer, cattle and swine, and the locals helping themselves to firewood.
- In 1857 the 10 sq. miles of Wychwood remaining as Royal Forest was taken out of Forest Law by a Parliamentary Act of Disafforestation. Ancient forest rights, granted to commoners, were ended and the commoners compensated. Within 2 years 2000 acres of woodland was converted to farmland and housing and 10 miles of new roads were built. Seven new farmsteads were built, including King's Standing Farm. The parish of Leafield and its church dates from this time. The remaining woodland was enclosed in 1867 and still exists.
Foresters of Wychwood
While Wychwood was a designated Royal Forest, royalty entrusted the management of the forest to loyal servants. The men in charge of the forest were called Foresters of Wychwood and, in later years, Keepers of Wychwood. Foresters were tasked with supplying the king with deer, wood, timber and charcoal. They were also charged with upholding the king's law by protecting the forest with the assistance of under-foresters, riding foresters and walking foresters. Foresters, together with verderers (judicial officers) could hold court and try offenders for both minor and major offences. The foresters of Wychwood were in the family of the de Langleys until 1361, followed by the Earls of Warwick until 1499. Management was then given by the kings as favors to courtiers for life, among them were Robert Dudley (Earl of Leicester), Sir John Fortescue (Chancellor), Lord Clarendon (Chancellor) and George Spencer, the 4th Duke of Marlborough.
Some of the land that had been cleared for agricultural use was purchased by the Woodland Trust, and re-planted with native English deciduous trees creating Shillbrook Wood, a 9-acre (3.6 ha) site near Bampton, and Eynsham Wood, a 13.37-acre (5.41 ha) site near Eynsham.
Since the late 1990s there has been a resurgence of interest in the history and identity of the Wychwood, exemplified by the founding of the Wychwood Project. Since 2000 'Forest Fairs' have been held at a variety of locations within the old Wychwood boundary. These are a better-behaved revival of traditional Fairs that were closed down in 1856 because of rowdy behaviour.
The modern Fairs are centred on rural communities and crafts. They attract a large number of visitors even in bad weather.
The Wychwood has also given its name to a set of three villages in Oxfordshire, Milton-under-Wychwood, Shipton-under-Wychwood and Ascott-under-Wychwood. The villages together are known by locals as "The Wychwoods".
Fragments of the ancient forest survive, one on the Cornbury Estate near Charlbury retaining the name 'Wychwood'. This, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, contains an eponymous national nature reserve.
Wychwood in art
- By Newell Plain, Wychwood Forest, Oxfordshire by William Bowley (1789-1861)
- Duck Shooting in Cornbury Park, Wychwood Forest, Oxfordshire by William Bowley (1789-1861
- Barking Timber in Wychwood Forest, Oxfordshire by Joshua Cristall (1768-1847)
- Wychwood Forest, Oxfordshire by William Turner (1789-1862). Written in ink on the back of the painting: A scene where a pleasure fair was formerly held in Wychwood Forest, Oxfordshire / William Turner Shipton on Cherwell / Oxon / 1809. Written on the back of the drawing in faded ink.
- In the Forest of Wychwood by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)
- Wychwood by E. V. Thompson
- Magic at Wychwood by Sally Watson
- Tales of Wychwood by Daniel Martin Eckhart
- Oxfordshire Folk Tales by Kevan Manwaring (Chapter Sixteen: The Highwaymen of Wychwood Forest)
- The Children of Men by P.D. James (Protagonist Theo Faren wants to use Wychwood Forest as a hiding place)
- Wychwood (2017) by George Mann is a novel using a legend of occult practices in this ancient forest as the basis for a modern crime story.
- Rackham 1976, p. 50.
- "Wychwood and Cornbury" (PDF). Victoria County History. University of London. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
- Mills, A. D. Oxford Dictionary of Place-names. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-852758-9.
- Miller, George (2000). "The forging of an English aristocracy". On fairness and efficiency : the privatisation of the public income during the past millennium. Bristol, UK: Policy Press. p. 201. ISBN 9781861342218.
- Discovering Wychwood - Management of the forest - pages 22-23
- "Shillbrook Wood". Directory of Woods. The Woodland Trust. Retrieved 2007-10-02.
- "Eynsham Wood". Directory of Woods. The Woodland Trust. Retrieved 2007-10-02.
- "The Wychwood Project". The Wychwood Project.
- "Wychwood Warriors". University of Oxford.
- "Cornbury Park - Forest School". Cornbury Park Estate.
- "Oxfordshire's National Nature Reserves". Natural England. 2014.
- ISBN 9781783294091
- Rackham, Oliver (1976). Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape. Archaeology in the Field Series. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. ISBN 0-460-04183-5.
- Taylor, Christopher (1982) . Fields in the English Landscape. Archaeology in the Field Series. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. ISBN 0-460-02232-6.
- Kibble, John. Wychwood Forest and its Border Places (first published 1928, second edition 1999 by The Wychwood Press, Jon Carpenter Publishing)
- Keighley, Charles. Discovering Wychwood (published 2000 by The Wychwood Press, Jon Carpenter Publishing)
- Copeland, Tim. Iron Age and Roman Wychwood (published 2002 by The Wychwood Press, Jon Carpenter Publishing)
- Tyzack, Charles. Wychwood and Cornbury (published 2003 by The Wychwood Press, Jon Carpenter Publishing. Based on Cornbury and the Forest of Wychwood by Vernon J. Watney, publishing 1910)
- Emery, Frank. The Oxfordshire Landscape - The Making of the English Landscape (published 1974 by Hodder & Stoughton
- Watney, Vernon J. Cornbury And The Forest Of Wychwood (published 1910 by Hatchards)