Friday, 13 January 2012

A journey through Sherwood Forest: Newstead Priory to King John's Palace

Newstead Priory (modern day Newstead Abbey) is situated 10 miles to the north of Nottingham (see the Monks and Friars of Sherwood Forest  , and Gadding about in the forest entry).

Newstead Priory (now Newstead Abbey) Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire

 In the Medieval Period it was on the western side of the 'High Forest' area of Sherwood, halfway along the western highway from Nottingham in the south to the Royal Manor of Mansfield to the north and was a favoured stop over for travellers.

Most travellers staying at Newstead priory and taking advantage of the hospitality of the Augustinian Canons of Sherwood, who lived there, would have been travelling north or south along the western highway.

However many people in the area would have been undertaking a journey as part of their everyday business in the forest.

The following describes a journey through the medieval landscape of Sherwood Forest, from Newstead Priory to the Kings royal hunting palace at Clipstone 7 1/2  miles to the north east as the crow flies (see King John's Palace  Geophysical Survey of King John's Palace and Time Team at king John's Palace entries for more details).

Leaving the confines of the priory the traveller would head up the western highway of the forest, still in the grounds of Newstead heading north. To the left the 'Swynisti (pigsty) dale' (not a comment on its cleanliness) rose to the east running up that way from the valley of the Leen where the priory nestled. 

Keeping 'Swynisti dale' to the left hand side the traveller would head further north into the 'Dedde Quene Dale' and head up through the wood that clung to is sides- 'Dedde Quendale wode'. After a short while the path swung east and emerged out of woodland after about a mile, onto the open heath land in the parish of Blidworth.

The well informed traveller would be aware that this lordship was under the ownership of the Archbishop of York, and had been since Domesday. It would be well not to get caught breaking the Forest law here as the penalty could include Excommunication on top of all the other forms of punishment that could be on the menu (see Mutilation and Damnation entry)

The road to Blidworth climbed up onto a higher ridge of land and followed the route of the current Ricket lane. It might have been possible to see the herds of the village grazing on the heath as it stretched for 3 miles to the southeast across a number of hills and valleys.

After a further mile across the heath of Blidworth the arable fields of the village were crossed by the track way. In the valley to the south lay the 'Blyworth fyspole' (the fish pond of the village) at the source of the Doverbeck River which was a boundary of Sherwood Forest further to the south east.

In the valley to the north was Rainworth Water with a moated enclosure- home to the Keeper of Lyndhurst wood, which covered the hills to the north (see Lyndhurst Wood the Chief Wood of Sherwood entry).

Men would have dotted the great arable fields tilling the land, and the church of St Mary of the Purification would be visible in the distance.

Having passed through Blidworth the road to Clipstone ran north west towards Oxweydale the (Ox way), before striking north into Blidworth Wode. This large wood stretched for miles to the east and merged with 'Hay Wode' (modern day Haywood Oaks), 'Balkhaw', 'Syre Birkes', 'Lerche haw', 'ye Byschopes Wode' and the 'Burne Abotote wood' (the Brown Abbots Wood- belonging to the Abbot of Rufford) to form a great wood that covered much of the area.

The road crossed the 'Reinwarth Forthe' (modern day Rainworth (forthe- ford)) and left the woodland canopy to once again cross a great swathe of heath land- this time the south-western end of the heath of Mansfield.

It then travelled further north skirting the sides of the hill of 'Kynggus (King's) Ymmislow' and again entering woodland. Here the wood belonged to the crown and was known as 'Nomannes Wode' (the wood belonging to no man). This wood merged into another large area of woodland which included 'Wodhous Wode' (Mansfield Woodhouse Wood).

The track way passed the head of a valley known as 'Falous dale', before crossing Vicar Water river at 'ye Blake Forthe (ford)'.

The road then ran alongside the southern edge of the great Park of Clipstone- a Royal hunting park which was enclosed within a three metre high park fence or Pale to prevent the highly prized deer within from escaping.

The traveller would not fail to be impressed by this status symbol of the Crown and would have been well aware that entry was not a wise option. The road then headed down the valley into Fliskerhaw wood, and out onto the 'launds' (deer lawns) of Clipstone Lordship.

It would be at this moment that the magnificent Royal Hunting Palace of Clipstone loomed into view. Beautiful, dazzling white in the sun, and set gracefully on a spur of land between the valleys of the River Maun and Vicar Water. This Palace was impressive and dominated the landscape.

Picture: King John's Palace set in its landscape from the south west (reconstruction by the author). Based on historic mapping map for University MA.

The King's Houses at Clipstone- now known as King John's Palace were white-washed and set against a landscape of woodland and deer lawns, encircled on the far side by a great pond, and separated from the approach of a traveller from the east by a large ditch and possibly a palisade.

Picture: A reconstruction of king John's Palace from the south (by the author) based on historic mapping for University MA.

It should have been possible for a traveller to find accommodation in the village (provided the King wasn't in town with his retinue- or even worse holding parliament (more soon)- which would cause all accommodation in the surrounding villages to be filled, let alone in Clipstone).

An important visitor might find accommodation in one of the many halls and dormitories within the royal complex, and enjoy hunting at the king's pleasure in his park. 

But for all travellers, of high and low status, the arrival in this sylvan retreat would have been greatly welcomed, as the forest had been safely navigated for another day.

(More on King John's Palace, parliaments on the forest, and the forest landscape in general soon)


  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this post and the journey through Sherwood. Any idea when the Time Team episode at Clipstone will be broadcast?

  2. hi clement,

    got a letter in the post from them yesterday, it will be aired on April Fools Day! 1st April...