Saturday, 29 December 2012

the Medusa Oak: Icon of Medieval Sherwood Forest

Picture: Medusa Oak in Birklands Wood, Sherwood Forest national Nature Reserve.

Named 'Medusa' by the Rangers at the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve... 

This beautiful ancient oak has survived an attempt to fell her in the not too distant past- and has sprung back to life with serpent-like branches reclaiming her former crown. She sits proud; shrouded in a skirt of moss and lichen surrounded by young oak saplings and slender Silver Birch...

Due north of the Major Oak, Medusa sits at the norteast boundary of Birklands wood (A crown wood in the heart of Medieval Sherwood Forest). A number of Medieval perambulations of the wood mention a boundary 'mere point' or marker known as 'Musmere' ( the mossy boundary mark)... one perambulation goes further and mentions 'A bound called Musmere Oake'. This location is at the northeast of Birklands wood... 

Could this moss and lichen covered oak tree with its reborn crown of serpents be the Musmere Oak of Medieval tradition?

Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

Happy Christmas from Medieval Sherwood Forest to all our friends and followers!!! 

Enjoy the festive season and all the feasting and merriment!

Picture: Robin Hood and his Merry Men entertain Richard the Lionheart in Sherwood Forest, 1839 by Daniel Maclise.
To stay up to date with Medieval Sherwood Forest its archaeology, history, landscape, people, the dreaded forest law, Robin Hood and Outlaws and Villians... 

Please follow us on facebook/sherwoodforesthistory for regular posts, photographs stories, and links to groups undertaking work in the historic forest...

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Daily life in Medieval Sherwood Forest- Peasant Rights

Medieval society and the medieval landscape were for the common person predominantly rural and agricultural in nature.

Very little of the landscape was not utilised, and in some areas such as the ‘Champion’ (from the French champ- for field) landscapes of the Midlands, almost every inch was turned over to arable- especially in the boom years of population expanse during the 13th century.

In Sherwood Forest it was similar, in that almost every resource was used.

Every village had its great open fields, where crops were rotated through the season, and the people farmed strips of land spread throughout them. Each year one field stood fallow to recover for the following years crops.

This fallow field was fertilized by the animals of the village. Pigs and sheep would be concentrated at night into temporary pens to ‘focus’ their fertilization efforts.

Between these times it was necessary to graze animals away from the open fields.

No matter how much an animal fertilizes a field it will always take more nutrients than it returns, if it grazes exclusively from the same field that it fertilizes, as it requires nutrients to grow.

An external source of nutrients and energy was therefore required, and in Sherwood Forest this came from the great heaths and Lyngges ( Old Scandinavian for heather- see There’s Vikings in the Heather entry).

Shepherds and swineherds would tend their flocks and herds on these vast swathes of lowland heath around Sherwood Forest that stretched for mile after mile across the open countryside. Vast areas such as ‘Basforde Lyngges’, the heaths of Rufford Abbey Lordship, ‘Budby Oute Fieldes’ and the ‘Moor of Kirby’, would be dotted with these herds, and the sight of flocks and shepherds would have been common to the traveller passing through the forest.

Each parish had their own areas of woodland, usually at their edges.

In the more populated southern ‘Thorneywood’ area they occupied the high ground between parishes, such as on the ridges between the villages of Lambley, Woodborough and Calverton.

These woods often joined together to form giant woods that could cover miles, but they each had names reflecting to whom they belonged. Carleton Wode, Gedling Wode, Basforde Wode (named after villages) Kettulbarne Haw, Fox Swaht, Prior Stobyn, Samson Wode (after landscape features or owners past and present).

In the ‘High Forest’, (the northern part of Sherwood Forest) these woods were sometimes vast such as the great Maunsfelde (Mansfield) Wode, Sutton Wode, Blidworth Wood and Hay Wode, as well as the great crown woods of the Hay of Birklands, Bilhaugh and Lyndhurst Wood (see Lyndhurst Wood- the chief wood of Sherwood entry).

It is worth reminding that nobody could actually cut down the tress in these woods for timber because it was forbidden by Forest Law (see Forest Law page). However the rights to the woods were heavily guarded by the people, because they had other kinds of rights within them.

As well as the rights to pasture on the great heaths and commons peasants had the right to graze their animals in woodland at certain times of the year. One such time was the ‘Pannage’ season (just after the acorns fell) when peasant could graze their pigs on acorns in the woods of the forest.

Picutre: A peasant beating acorns from the tree for his pigs

These rights to access woods were strictly controlled under Forest Law with ‘Agisters’ acting as tax collectors to control quotas and extract fines (see Forest Law Page)

Peasants also had the right to take some smaller timber from the woods for ‘Haybote’ (hedge repair) and ‘Husbote’ (house repair).

These rights were often jealously guarded!

An Inquisition Post Mortem into the rights of the people of Clipstone Manor, dated 20th April 1327 early in the reign of Edward III shows some of the rights of the peasant to the resources of their land.

The Inquisition was presented in front of John De Crombwell Keeper of the Kings Forest beyond Trent, by the oath of John de Annesley; Philip de Caltoft, knight; Thomas Whaton; Richard Russell; Richard Ingam; John de Holm; Richard de Bestewod (Bestwood); Thomas de Lyndeby; Simon de Lameley; John le Warde of Crathethopre; William Basage; and john Moigne of Carleton…

‘The King’s tenants of his manor of Clypston in Shirwod (Sherwood), which is of ancient demesne of the crown of England, and their ancestors, tenants of the same manor, from time immemorial have been accustomed to have all ferns growing in a place which is now called the park of Clypston, for thirteen shillings and six pence, to be rendered yearly to the King’s ancestors by the hands of the justice of the Forest; and to collect the leaves fallen from the trees in the same place for manuring their lands, without rendering anything therefor; and to have pasture for all kinds of beasts in the same, doing in return the custody of the vert and venison in the same place by two of the tenants’.

This shows how the peasants had customary rights to access the ‘park’ for livestock grazing, and to gather ferns and leaves for fertilizer, (in exchange for looking after the deer and timber for the King)

It also shows that they were empowered enough to appeal through the court system to protect those rights.

The reason for the inquest is that Edward II had closed off access to the park, preventing them from their customary rights. The newly crowned Edward III was being petitioned by the men of Clipstone to have their rights returned. They also informed the King that he was losing the money they would normally pay for their rights!!!

Presumably he would be more likely to listen if his wallet was affected.

The men also pointed out that they could not get sufficient pasture outside of the park for their needs- as stated earlier nutrients for flocks and open fields needed to come from somewhere other than the fields themselves.

So as can be seen the landscape of Sherwood Forest provided opportunities for people to make their living from agriculture and from accessing the resources that the Forest provided around them. It was also the case that people would guard these rights vigorously, petitioning through the courts and to the legal system.

The laws of the land prevented many people from having many things, but they also enshrined rights over generations and the law could be called upon to protect those rights if they were threatened.

(More on farming practices in Medieval Sherwood Forest including the ‘Breck System’, and more on the courts and laws of everyday medieval life coming soon).

Friday, 19 October 2012

Magna Carta, the Forest Charter, King John and Sherwood Forest

In 1215 the Barons of England forced King John to sign the Magna Carta - the Great Charter.

Picture: Magna Carta
This great charter was an important document which aimed to limit the powers of the king and protect the rights of the aristocracy.

Magna Carta has been influential on many constitutions written since and forms the basis of the United States Constitution.

Magna Carta contained clauses relating to Forest issues, and was followed in 1217 by a seperate 'Carta de Foresta' - the Charter of the Forest.

The Angevin Kings (Henry I, Richard the Lionheart and King John) had been very powerful since they came to power in 1154; and they had expanded royal jurisdiction across all aspects of their realm. 

Their thirst for power was manifested in their expansion of Forest law over many new areas of the country. In Nottinghamshire the Forest Law was spread across all of Nottinghamshire north and west of the River Trent (see Boundaries page).

Much to the displeasure of the local ruling classes.

The expansion of Forest law - especially in the north of England was one of the catalysts of the Baronial uprising that led to Magna Carta (Holt 1992).

In 1215 the barons had (as said) forced King John to sign Magna Carta; at Runneymead on the 10th June. 

The King signed the document, but he had little intention of yielding to its demands. He had the support of the pope who agreed that the document was improper as it had been extracted under duress. 

The pope anulled Magna Carta; and the King turned on his enemies- England was plunged into a civil war known as the First Barons' War. 

During this conflict King John is believed to have lost the crown Jewels on the coast of the 'Wash' in eastern England, before dying in the gate house at Newark Castle, Nottinghamshire in 1216.

Picture: Newark Castle gatehouse where King John died in 1216.

The Barons had replaced John with King Louis - the son of the King of France, during the conflict.

Following John's death the great general and tournament champion William Marshall persuaded the Barons to accept John's son Henry III who was crowned King in 1216.

Louis was defeated- and for all intents and purposes his reign is overlooked and even over-written in history.

There is no King Louis in the list of English and British Monarchs.

Picture: Defeat of the French at the Battle of Sandwich 1217

Magna Carta was reissued in 1216/17 this time with a seperate Charter of the Forest.

This charter was signed under William Marshall who was acting as regent to the 9 year old Henry III.

Magna Carta had contained an number of forest clauses designed to limit forest law.

These litmits on forest law were further extended in 1217 when a seperate Charter of the Forest was proclaimed.
Picture: Part of the Charter of the Forest
There were 17 proclamations in the charter. Including those related to removing the claws of dogs, which persons could hunt with hawks, and those allowing Bishops and other high powered folk to take a deer whilst passing through the forest.

Perhaps the most important elements were limitations on the extents of the forest, and the banning of execution and mutilation as punishments against people who killed deer in the forest.

The removal of execution, torture and maiming had a great effect on the implementation of forest law.

Over time it became more about extracting fines and levies- than removing limbs and other parts- more of a financial cash cow- valued for its contribution to the royal coffers.

Perhaps the most important impact for Sherwood Forest was the restriction it placed on the bounds of the forest.

Under Henry II and his sons Richard and John all of Nottinghamshire north and west of the Trent were forest.

The Forest Charter plunged the officials and local landowners into nearly a century of disputes over the boundaries of Sherwood Forest, that would eventually see it confined within boundaries that would then remain throughout the Medieval period (see Boundaries page).

These boundaries may well have been those of the original forest, a question still being investigated by Archaeologists and Historians to this day.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Goose Fair

Fairs were an important part of medieval life.

They were essentially large markets.

Their size, and the fact that they were less frequent; enabled goods to be traded from further afield.

As a result they were worth a lot of money to their owners and carried great prestige.

Competition often occurred with towns folk who held stalls at the local markets.

One of the largest fairs in medieval Sherwood Forest was held annually at Lenton Priory- the largest and wealthiest religious house in Nottinghamshire.

Lenton fair had stalls for 'bedders', 'fishers', 'skinners', 'mercers', 'drapers', and 'cookeries' (food stalls) amongst others, and there were silks and spices from across the known world...

The weekday market (at weekday cross in the current Lace Maket, Nottingham) and the saturday market (held in the market square in the centre of town) were closed down for such events.

To appease the locals; compensation was paid to the marketeers, who were also granted the first choice of stalls at the fair.

The oldest surviving fair with Medieval origins in Sherwood Forest is 'Goose Fair'.

It is believed that the name comes from the droving of Geese to the market by traders.

Goose was traditionally consumed at the feast of Michaelmas which falls on the 29th of September.

The first reference to what would become 'Goose Fair' comes from a charter of 1284 in the reign of Edward I- permiting an 8 day fair in the town of Nottingham around the feast of St Matthew in September.

As a result the fair was originally known as 'St Matthew's Fair' and although it became known as 'Goose fair'- there is no historical account of a specialisation in geese- in the 17th century it was predominantly a horse fair and by the 18th century it was famous for cheese!
Goose Fair was originally held in the market square in the centre of Nottingham, but moved to the 'Forest recreation ground' in the early 20th century following centuries of fun, boozing, debauchery, and the odd riot or two.

Alongside the clammer, mayhem and noise; the bright silks and smoke from fires; the air would have been thick with the smell of fish, animal hides and flesh, spices and fruits. Stall holders would have rubbed shoulders in the market square with booze sellers, cut-purses, ne'er-do-wells, outlaws, friars and clergymen, bear-baters, mummers, dancers, performers, musicians, and entertainers.

Later accounts show how the focus shifted more and more from the trading event to a travelling show, but they also give an insight into the life and vibrancy of the event.

An 18th century account shows: 'caravan after caravan, cart after cart... peculiar looking people, that are as necessary to a fair as flowers are to May... all kinds of strollers, beggars, gipsies, singers, dances, players on harps... and similar wandering artists and professors' (Beckett and Tolley 2006 in Beckett (ed.) 2006).

The Medieval fair must also have been home to similar entertainments...

By Victorian times Goose Fair had evolved essentially into a funfair.

Goose fair is still held annually in Nottingham in the first week in October- and is now one of the largest and most popular travelling fair grounds in Europe...
...sadly little resembling the original Medieval trading fair currently survives, but maybe that will change in the years to come?..

Picture: Modern day goose fair

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Parliament Oak, Clipstone: Icon of Medieval Sherwood Forest

In the heart of Medieval Sherwood Forest stands an ancient tree named the 'Parliament Oak'.

Picture: Parliament Oak- Clipstone, Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire.

This tree once stood at over 25 feet in diameter (Dukery Records) and is perhaps the oldest surviving tree in Sherwood Forest.

The tree that survives today is sadly a shadow of its former self, having lived out a thousand year life-cycle.

Despite being aged the tree has had a resurgence in recent years and has re-grown pheonix-like to stand proud once again.

The tree stands on the south side of the road from Edwinstowe to Mansfield and can be visited at SK5765.

It was originally a boundary marker tree on the Royal Deer Park of Clipstone. Occupying the entrance to the deer park known as 'Warsope Gate' on the 1609 William Senior map of Clipstone.

The deer park occupied the northeastern third of the lordship of Clipstone, and provided timber, deer and hunting for the King.

The Parliament Oak was situated on the northern boundary of the deer park- with the park fence- or 'Pale' passing either side of the tree. 

But where did the name for this magnificent oak tree come from?

Clipstone Park and its associated Royal Hunting Palace was the Royal Heart of Medieval Sherwood Forest- and was visited by all 8 monarchs from Henry II to Richard II.

Clipstone was so important that a number of monarchs are reputed to have held Parliaments there including King John:

'It has been stated, with some probability of truth, that King John, while hunting in the forest, was informed by a messenger of a revolt of the Welsh, and of an insurrection in the north of England; that he hastily summoned a parliament to meet under this tree, and that it owes its name to that incident' (Joseph Rodgers, The Scenery of Sherwood Forest with an Account of some Eminent People there, 1908).

It is more likely that the tree was named after the more famous and important parliament of Edward I in 1290.

The Parliament was a massive undertaking- with accomodation at the palace being stretched beyond capacity- the Chancery and its Clerks had to stay at the nearby village of Warsop (Crook 1976). 

The Paliament Oak may well have been named after this event- perhaps it was named so because the Clerks and Chancery had to pass under its mighty boughs on the way to attend the Parliament from their quarters at Warsop...

The parliament of Edward I is linked to a national event of great romance. 

Edward I was at Clipstone from the 19th- 23rd of September, and 12th of October- 11th November 1290 to attended his parliament (Dukery Records).

During this time his wife Eleanor of Castile took ill with a recurring fever. She was staying at the nearby Cistercian Abbey of Rufford.  

The couple eventually attempted to travel to Lincoln perhaps for religious as well as medicinal reasons.

Eleanor died on the way- at Harby in Nottinghamshire having crossed the River Trent- some miles short of Lincoln.

Her entrails were buried in the high altar at Lincoln Catherderal- and her body was transported to London.

As Eleanor's funeral courtage travelled from Lincoln to London, a heart broken and devasted Edward erected wooden crosses at every one of the 12 stopping points on her journey- these were later rebuilt in stone as a permanent memorial to his wife.

They were known as the Eleanor Crosses.

A statue of Eleanor can be seen at Harby Church in Nottinghamshire- where she died.

Picture: Statue of Eleanor of Castile at Harby Church on Nottinghamshire.

A tragic and romantic story- which shows that even Edward Longshanks had a soft side!

It can be seen then that Parliament Oak symbolises the importance of the Royal Hunting Palace, and deer park at Clipstone, and the importance of Sherwood Forest in medieval times- through the Parliaments that were carried out there and the national events that unfolded there.

Like all the veteran Oaks of Medieval Sherwood Forest- this wonderous and mighty tree continues to inspire to this day- and can tell us stories of our past- if we choose to ask...

Saturday, 18 August 2012

the Major Oak: Icon of Medieval Sherwood Forest

The Major Oak is an icon of Medieval Sherwood Forest.

Reputedly the hide away of Robin Hood, and said to be up to 1000 years old! 

This ancient and magnificent oak tree is at the heart of Birklands and Bilhaugh woods- crown woods situated in the 'High Forest' area of Sherwood in Medieval times.

The tree stands on the eastern boundary of Birklands wood, at the western edge of Gleadthopre open- an area of heath that separates Birklands from Bilhaugh wood.

It may well have been a 'boundary oak' of Birklands wood in Medieval times.

These two woods now form the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve near Edwinstowe in Nottinghamshire.

It was named after Major Hayman Rooke a local antiquarian who recorded the ancient oaks of Sherwood Forest in the late 18th century.

Map regression and investigation by the author of this site: Archaeologist Andy Gaunt (Gaunt & Gillott 2011) has turned up an interesting fact worthy of note regarding Major Rooke and the Major Oak. 

A plan of the hays of Birkland and Bilhagh within the Forest of Sherwood in the County of Nottingham belonging to the crown’. Surveyed in the year 1791 by John Renshaw following an Act of Parliament in the 26th year of George III shows ‘a tree called Major Rooke’ (Nichols 1987). 

The map is preserved at the Nottingham Archives as NRO ED 4 L.

It is possible that this is the earliest reference to the Major Oak bearing that name. 

Rooke’s publication ’Remarkable Oaks’ was not published until 1790.

It was Rooke’s association with this tree and the fame it gathered following his publications that helped the link to become established. 

Previously the tree had been known by a number of names. 

It should also be noted that on the slightly later map of Birklands and Bilhaugh surveyed by James Dowland for inclusion in Rookes own 1799 publication ‘A Sketch of the Ancient and Present State of Sherwood Forest in the County of Nottingham’ the tree is unnamed (Rooke 1799). (Gaunt & Gillott 2011). 

See the Archaeology of Birklands and Bilhaugh: Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve for more details and for information on the archaeology of the woods

Before it was known as the Major Oak it was called the 'cockpen tree' because it was reputedly used to house fighting cocks. 

It has also gone by the name the 'Queen's Oak'.

The tree now forms the main tourist attraction at the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve and is visted by millions of people.

Having stood for nearly a thousand years, it has seen its fair share of history and certainly deserves the title of iconic.

(More to come on the other ancient named an famous oak trees of Medieval Sherwood Forest soon).

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Lyndhurst Wood- the 'chief wood of Sherwood'

Medieval Sherwood Forest was not one giant wood, but had a mixed landscape of villages with their arable fields, pasture and meadows. The forest however was chosen because it had a large amount of woodland and heath.

There were many different woods across the forest- most had names of their own.

A huge area of woodland stretched north-eastwards from Nottingham along the clay ridge now known as Mapperley tops. This wood was divided into many separately named woods belonging to all the different villages nearby (more of that later).

In the northern High forest there were also many woods such as the mighty Mansfield Wood, Kirkby wood, Haywood Oaks, and the woods of Clipstone and Edwinstowe. (these will be discussed in turn at some point).

The crown also held the two great woods of Birklands and Bilhaugh (now the Sherwood Forest National nature Reserve).

Alongside all of these was a wood described as the ‘chief wood of Sherwood’ in the Forest Book; Lyndhurst Wood (spelt Lindhurst in modern times).

Lyndhurst means ‘lime-tree wood’ suggesting that species was dominant at one time. In the medieval period it was mainly oak- used for the upkeep of Nottingham castle.
‘During the extensive works that took place at the castle between 1358 and 1368, when Stephen Romylowe was constable, a great deal of timber was taken from Lindhurst. The surviving accounts give details of the employment of carpenters and sawyers there and of the expenses of carting the timber to Nottingham.’ (Crook 1981 in bibliography). 

Lyndhurst was originally all the 'wode growing on the eesh parte (east part) of the grete (great) way that leedeth betwxyt Notynhham (Nottingham), and Maunsfeild (Mansfield) unto Sothwell rode (Southwell road) in lengith (length), and the syke (stream) of Rayewath (Rainworth Water) on the southe parte, and the valey where a syke called oulde Idle (foulevil brook- see below) hathe the course of the northe parte in lengith, is called the chieffe wode of the foresh of Shirewood (the chief Wood of Sherwood Forest)'  
As stated above the wood was defined by Rainworth Water (a tributary of the River Maun) to the south, and on its northeastern side by a stream called ‘foulevil brook’ (a tributary of Rainworth Water)- the name does not suggest it formed a natural beauty spot at the time.

The Wood was positioned to the south of the manor of Mansfield and to the north of the manor of Blidworth. The Manor of Mansfield belonged to the King, and Blidworth to the Arch-Bishop of York.

Lyndhurst was a jealously guarded property of the crown and was separate to the Manor of Mansfield.

It had its own keeper: in the 13th and early 14th century its keeper was Ralph Clere who lived in a lodge called the ‘new repair’ on its south side.

A rectangular moated site survives – sometimes called ‘Friar Tuck’s Island’ (where Robin Hood was reputedly thrown in the river in the 'Curtal Friar) at this location known as Fountain Dale, Lyndhurst. It is on the opposite side of Rainworth Water to the spring known as Friar Tuck's Well.
The site can be visited from the A60 near Harlow Wood and Thieves Wood on the road to Mansfield. 

This keeper of Lyndhurst as well as looking after the wood had the job of collecting the tax of Cheminage, a toll on carts passing through the forest, payable to his master the Keeper of Sherwood Forest (see Road Tax entry) Robert D'Everingham.


Monday, 16 July 2012

Geophysical Survey of King John's Palace

In the heart of medieval Sherwood Forest lies King John's Palace, a royal hunting palace.

A Geophysical Resistance survey of King John's Palace , Clipstone, Nottinghamshire was undertaken in 2010 by the author Andy Gaunt now of Mercian Archaeological Services CIC.

As part of a Masters Degree at the University of Birmingham.

This subsurface survey of the Medieval royal hunting palace in the heart of Sherwood Forest discovered many buried features- most notably the medieval boundary of the royal hunting lodge.

This survey and the work undertaken alongside it led to Channel Four's Time Team excavating at the site in Spring 2011.

It also led to an archaeological excavation in July 2012.

The Project design is discussed on the King John's Palace wikipedia page, authored by Archaeologist James Wright:

2012 archaeological evaluation

'Another archaeological evaluation is scheduled to take place at King John's Palace during July 2012.

The purpose of this work is summarised from:

• Gaunt, A. & Wright, J., (2012) King John's Palace, Clipstone, Nottinghamshire - Written Scheme of Investigation for an archaeological evaluation

A feature was identified by Gaunt (Gaunt 2011) as a geophysical anomaly of approximately 180m in length by 3-11m width running south-east to north-west through the centre of Castlefield from its boundary with the Vicar Water.

This feature was sectioned during April 2011 as part of the 19th series of Channel 4’s Time Team (Wessex 2011) and was found to be a substantial ditch approximately 2.4m in depth.

No corresponding bank was identified.

Despite excavation during the 2011 evaluation the interpretation of this feature is still unclear.

Gaunt states that: “The large high resistance linear anomaly is interpreted as probably a ditch filled with rubble or the remains of a wall. It lines up with the edge of the enclosure marked ‘Manor Garth’ on the 1630 William Senior map, and probably represents the edge of the manorial complex” (Gaunt 2011).

John Gater’s magnetometry survey interpreted the anomaly as a modern field boundary on site, and as “an old field boundary seen on first edition OS mapping” in the subsequent report (Gater 2011, 3).

This attribution of a modern date for the ditch was also asserted by Professor Mick Aston in his interview with the Western Daily Press (9 February 2012).

The archaeological report from Wessex Archaeology uses the same definition as John Gater for the ditch (Wessex 2011, 7) and also as a substantial ditch containing medieval pottery (Wessex 2011, 13).

Finally the programme as aired stated that this was the medieval boundary ditch to the site.

Given the confusion that has arisen over the attribution of this feature the evaluation in 2012 will seek to answer the following questions:

• What is morphology of the feature?
• What period(s) does the feature date from?
• What was the function of the feature?
• Does the feature represent a limit or boundary related to the medieval royal palace on the site?

Agreement has already been made with Keith Challis as editor of the Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire to produce a published summary on the findings of the evaluation as part of a wider article or monograph on the archaeology of medieval King’s Clipstone.

A “grey literature” site report will also be produced and lodged with the landowners, site archive, Nottinghamshire HER and English Heritage NMR'.

The results from this excavation will be discussed on this site soon.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Hanging and execution in Sherwood forest

The Forest Law in England is reknowned- even famous as being brutal:

The forest Assizes of 1184 (Henry II) and 1189 (Richard I) prescribe blinding and castration as a punishment for those who take deer or boar in the forest.

They also both state that this was the case in the time of Henry I (1100-1135)

Hanging was also considered a suitable punishment.

It can be assumed that the reputation for brutality is not unfounded; indeed the very fame of harsh forest law enforcment helped to generate and sustain the legends of Robin Hood.

However in 1215 the Barons forced King John to sign Magna Carta.

Some of the clauses of Magna Carta banned hanging and mutilation as punishment for forest offences.

The main source of records from the forest courts for Sherwood come from the Forest Eyres of 1287 and 1334 (see 1287 Sherwood Forest Eyre Court and 1334 Sherwood Forest Eyre Court entries for more details).

Both of which were a considerable time after Magna Carta.

As a result- no accounts of hangings directly related to Forest Law offences survive for Medieval Sherwood Forest.

There are a number of accounts of imprisonment, and of people being outlawed- for poaching deer (see Poaching in Clipstone Park in 1279 and Forest Law Outlaws entries for more details).

Despite this, hanging did occur in Sherwood Forest throughout the medieval period for other offences:

Namely theft of property- and these were infringments against the common law.

The Borough Records for Nottingham show that in 1315-16 Gervase Aubrey, of Wilford, was captured in the town of Nottingham with a cow stolen from Henry de Gedling... 

...not exactly something you could hide up your coat!

He was brought before the jury and found guilty, and therefore 'Ideo suspendatur- (let him be hung)!'

Also, this time on the 2nd June 1316: Walter le Shepherd, of Sallow, was taken at Nottingham with 11 sheep stolen in the field of Nottingham, from a Henry de Wollaton...

Amazing... presumably a larger coat would be needed to conceal 11 sheep!

Walter was unsuprisingly found guilty and therefore again 'Ideo suspendatur- (let him be hanged!)...

These hangings presumably took place on the town gallows for Nottingham.

These were situated on a sandstone ridge on the side of the King's Highway to York, north of the town walls and its great open fields. 

They Loomed large over the town as a symbol of power and justice.

It was not just in Nottingham that hangings occured in the forest:

They also took place in the King's Manor of Mansfield to the north.

'On Thursday 10th June 1316... Geoffrey son of Roger of Walesby was arrested in Mansfield with a green surcoat worth 4s. He would not say how he came by it, but Maud daughter of Henry le Thacker of Mansfield said that it was hers and that it had been stolen at the house of Richard Alche of Mansfield. Geoffrey denied it and put himself on a jury of twelve local men who found him guilty. He was sentenced to be hanged...

...Another criminal, guilty of a similar offence a few years later, was more fortunate. In 1319-20 Richard son of Richard of Ireland of Mansfield admitted he was guilty of stealing a horse worth 10s. in the fields of Mansfield, but he did not do so until he was safely in the sanctuary of St. Peter's Church. He abjured the realm, thus leaving the country for good in order to save his life' (Crook 1985).

The gallows for the Crown Manor of Mansfield stood on the side of the road from Nottingham to Mansfield, south of the town. (Interestingly in modern day 'Thieves Wood').

Again this was a very potent sign of royal justice and power to anyone entering the manor.

The hill on which they stood is listed as 'galow tre hyl' on a medieval map of Sherwood Forest (see Gallows in the forest? entry)

Abjuring the realm was a common way of avoiding the gallows and many criminals convicted of theft in Nottingham were given the sentence of 'abjuring the town' when their crimes did not quite warrant hanging.

As well as these sentences of hanging for theft a more curious entry in the Chamberlains Accounts for 1485-6 lists the hanging of 3 monks of Lenton Priory on the gallows of Nottingham although nothing of their crime is listed (Records of the Borough of Nottingham Vol III 1485-1547, page xix).

Perhaps the most notorious hanging in Nottingham in the Medieval period is that of the last Prior of Lenton.

As part of the attempt by Henry VIII to seize monastic land, the prior of Lenton was arrested for treason and thrown into prison in 1538.

In March 1538, Prior Nicholas Heath was hanged, drawn and quartered in Nottingham- his mulitalted body was displayed as a warning to other religious houses, at the gate of the priory.

This violent act brought to an end the priory of Lenton and its spiritual domination of the town.

This execution must have had a massive impact in the town. The priory had been at the heart of life in Nottingham, its annual fair was famous around the land, and the great towers of the Priory could be seen for miles across the floodplain of the River Trent.

So momentous was this act that it could be argued it was one of the moments, along with the dissolution of the monasteries at Rufford and Newstead that signalled the end of the Middle Ages in Nottingham and Sherwood Forest.

The gallows can be seen then, to have had an impact over peoples lives throughout the medieval period- and although no records survive for their use  in Forest Adminstration- their use and their presence clearly had a significant role in the administration and life of medieval Sherwood Forest.

More to come on the courts, crimes and punishments in medieval Sherwood Forest soon).

Sunday, 29 April 2012

A Journey through Sherwood Forest: Rufford Abbey to Nottingham

Picture: The Undercroft at Rufford Abbey, Sherwood  Forest, Nottinghamshire.
Rufford Abbey was a monastery of Cistercian monks in the heart of medieval Sherwood Forest (see the monks and friars of Sherwood Forest).

It was situated in the high forest area to the south of the village of Ollerton, and to the west of the Royal Palace and Deer Park of Clipstone.

Nestled amongst it's domestic buildings and accomodation, the church of St. Mary the Virgin would have been a glorious landmark, standing in the heathland of the high forest.

The abbey would have been a welcome sight to the traveller passing throught the forest.

A traveller heading south from York might have spent the previous night in the inland medieval port town of Bawtry on the Yorkshire border, or maybe in the castle town of Tickhill, or at the monastery in Blyth.

The Idle marshes would have been negotiated along with the heather-clad fields of the district of Hatfield; before the traveller crossed the River Meden at Cunningswath Ford into Sherwood Forest (see the King's Wade entry for more details). 

Having found accomodation in the Abbey at Rufford- the traveller could enjoy a restful night in the dormitories of the abbey.

Restful that is, if they could sleep through the chanting, bell-ringing and hymns that sounded for and in the church services that ran at intervals through the night.

The life of the medieval monk didn't seem to involve much sleeping!

Sleeping on a straw-filled matress may not bee too restful either (many hundreds of people may have slept on it before)- but at least the stop over included breakfast!

It was part of the duty of medieval monks to provide accomodation and food to travellers (of course the level of comfort depended on wealth- and more importantly social position). 

The poor might receive the left-overs from the kitchen and be offered a communal dormitory above the stables- whereas the rich would dine well and even be hosted in the abbots quarters.

Having woken, eaten and departed the traveller would head east to meet the road to Nottingham.

The trackway from the monastery might have been shared by some of the Cistercian 'Lay Brothers' heading to till the fields of Cratley (a village taken over by the abbey in the 12th century) to the east.

Cistercian monks were not permitted to work- so they employed a group of 'Lay brothers' who could do their work for them. 

The meadows of the abbey covered the shallow valley of Rainworth water to the south of the road, and the woods of 'Welley (Wellow) Beskall' and 'In Beskall' hugged the north side of the road and extended into the distance.

On reaching the Kings Highway the road was rejoined and the journey south continued following the higher ground of the Mercia Mudstones ridge overlooking the meadows of the abbey wich lay on the western side. These meadows would provide fodder for the abbey's animals, and may have had the occasional Lay Brother tending flocks in the months when grazing was permitted.

Having crossed Rainworth Water at the 'Derun Forthe' (ford); the road began to cross the heathland of the lands of the Lordship of Rufford- one of the homes of the great flocks of sheep grazing for the profit of the abbey.

The road from the Kings Manor of Mansfield in the west to the Archbishop of York's great manor and collegiate church at Southwell (see the Archbishop of York and Sherwood Forest entry) in the east- crossed the King's Highway 3 1/2 miles to the south of the abbey

The heathland covered the area up to the Southwell road and was up to 2 miles wide.

Just before reaching the Southwell road the Abbey's wood known as the 'Burne Abotote wode' (the brown wood of the Abbot) and the wood of 'Leytle Hawe' dominated the road to the western side, with the lands of the vill of Farnsfield stretching down the valley of the River Greet to the east.

The Abbot of Rufford had a ditch dug around his woods 50 ft across to keep out animals and presumably people, but also to help seperate it from 'ye Byshope wode' (the wood of the Archbishop of York that joined on to it on its southern edge). It would not be wise to be caught damaging or stealing anything in either of these woods as the punishment could include eternal damnation (see mutilation and damnation entry).

These woods formed an area of woodland that the road passed alonside for 2 miles.

This woodland was also 2 miles wide and could well have sheltered many oulaws in its shadowy depths. 

The traveller would be well advised to stick to the road. 

Little time could be spared anyway to explore these deep woods- if Nottingham was to be reached safley before nightfall. 

These woods were divided into 'Blidworth Wood', 'Lerche Haw', 'Balkhaw', 'Seyre Birkes' and 'Hay Wode'. 

Haywood Oaks is still a popular tourist destination today with many veteran oak trees in its woodland.

Continuing up and down over the undulating Sherwood Sandstones the road crossed the Doverbeck River which headed to the southeast forming the boundary of the forest from this point; and the road continued south over Salterford Waste.

The great Common of Calverton village stretched of to the southeast and the King's Highway passed into and through a small area of woodland known as 'Samson Wode' (A plantation of pines now carries the name).

Upon leaving the shadowy bows of Samson Wode the road now headed across the heather clad 'Arhall (Arnold) Common' which stretched for nearly 3 miles to the south; here again great herds of swine and sheep grazed on the land, tended by shepherds and swineherds.

After crossing this great heathland two roads converged with the King's Highway- a 'Packman's Way' (see road tax entry) which headed northeast towards the King's Manor of Mansfield; and the road which ran northeast towards Calverton. 

They met at a standing cross on the road known as 'Xpian Cross'. The road from here then climbed steeply to pass through a deep holloway cut by traffic and footfall through the Mercia Mudstones. 

This cutting exposed red clay deposits of the Mercia Mudstones and Sneinton Shale deposits, and was therefore known as 'ye rede (red) royde (road) hil' (The ridge is still known as 'Redhill' to this day).

Nowadays this cutting marks the entry into the 'Greater Nottingham Conurbation' from the surrounding countryside; and in medieval times it would have also been a mark of having left the great wilderness of the 'High Forest' region of Sherwood. 

The traveller was now entering the gentler 'Thorney Wood' area of the forest.

The King's manor of Arnold nestled to the east of the road beneath the surrounding highland, where the woods of 'Arnold Common Wood', 'Swine Howse' and 'Basforde wode' occupied the clay ridge. 

To the west the road was now overlookd by the 3 metre high deer fence of the Royal Park of Bestwood (see Bestwood Park and Trespass in Bestwood Park in 1440 entry for more details).

The arable field of Arnold to the side of Bestwood park was known as 'Parke Field' and this was crossed by the road from north to south.

At its southern end the road forded the Depe Broke (modern Daybrook). 

The road then crossed the 'South field' of Arnold before climbing the ridge of sandstone known as 'Brymisdale Knoll' in medieval times, and descending into 'Brymmsdale' to the south.

This area was 'Basforde Lyngges' another vast expanse of heather clad heathland (see there's Vikings in the Heather). 

This wasteland was crossed for two miles, but stretched 3 miles wide; as far as the eye could see. It would have been grazed by the flocks of Basforde but also by those of Nottingham. 

Having crossed the heath from the northeast to southwest the road turned to the south to climb the Mount Hooton escarpment across 'Nottingham Linges' (modern day Forest Fields). At the top of this ridge (modern day Forest Road) stood the medieval town gallows. 

After nearly 15 miles on uneven and un-surfaced roads- the site of the town walls of Nottingham at the foot of the sloping fields of the town- about half a mile to the south would be very welcome.

Here accomodation and ale could be found a-plenty, as well as foods and shopping galore at the weekday and saturday markets.

If the saturday market was being held- then spices, fish, meat and any kind of consumable could be purchased- although care had to be taken that it was fresh (more to come soon). 

The traveller had made it across the forest, hopefully with time to find a bed and a table at an alehouse or inn, to exchange stories around the fire place with other travellers, and to prepare plans for the journey across the arduous Midland Clays on the London road to the south.

For now though at least, Sherwood Forest had been safely navigated once more.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Guest Blog entry: Promoting Sherwood Forest

Guest blogger Dale Twigger the Web/SEO Marketing Officer for Experience Nottinghamshire shares how they promote the world famous Sherwood Forest:

From a tourism perspective, promoting the history of Sherwood Forest is an essential part of enabling visitors to the area to get the most value from their experience.

One of the main things that we try and do on our website is present Sherwood Forest as several major country parks, including Clumber Park, Thoresby Park, Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve and Sherwood Pines. Whilst the history of Sherwood has meant a fragmented forest in some ways, we are still very fortunate to have such excellent open spaces available to the public.

Many visitors associate Sherwood Forest as the home of Robin Hood too, so it’s important to relate the forest and its ancient history to potential visitors. Recently, we have re-launched the Robin Hood audio trail online, which takes visitors around 15 countywide locations.

On the trail, you’ll obviously find Nottingham Castle and the National Nature Reserve but we also include King John’s Palace in King’s Clipstone as a former royal hunting lodge. The lodge was the recent subject of a Channel 4 Time Team investigation.

On the trail, we also acknowledge some of the woodland areas that add value and enable visitors to get off the beaten track a little. Places like Thieves Wood and Fountaindale are included and reference is also made to Haywood Oaks near Blidworth.

More recent history also plays a part in adding depth to the marketing of Sherwood Forest. The Dukeries area which is a unique area of the estates of English nobility include Thoresby Hall, Clumber Park, Welbeck Abbey, Rufford Abbey and Worksop Manor.

Whilst Worksop Manor no longer exists, we are able to work with the other four estates. In particular, the Welbeck Estate has recently expanded its visitor experience with the addition of the School of Artisan Food and in summer 2012 the No Direction Home Festival will take place in the estate grounds.

All in all, we try to use the history of Sherwood Forest as much as possible to be able to offer depth to the visitor experience. As the forest has fragmented over time, it sometimes can be difficult to present but overall we’re excited about the future.

Nottinghamshire County Council are currently investigating options for a new visitor centre at the National Nature Reserve and remain committed to the long term aim of developing regional park status for the forest. Hopefully the new visitor centre can act as a central reference point for wider Sherwood Forest which takes in the areas I’ve mentioned and more.

If we continue to promote the broader area through our website and social media, and with exciting new developments under consideration, we’re enthusiastic that visitors to the region will be able to engage more with the wonderful depth of offer that Sherwood Forest provides.

Dale Twigger
Web/SEO Marketing Officer
Experience Nottinghamshire