Thursday 29th January 2015
Ytene: The Forest -New Forest.
The New Forest is old, it is in fact ancient. The beech and oak woodland is typical of how much of England’s landscape would have been in pre-medieval times.
However, an ancient meaning of the word ‘forest’ is open hunting ground, not just woodland, and this very much applies to the New Forest because it contains great stretches of heathland and bogland – some of which, like Cranes Moor, are the same today as they would have been after the last glaciation. This is highly unusual in the intensely managed landscape of England.
Much of the Forest, (as the New forest is commonly called locally) looks quite unlike the rest of the county.
The landscape has become a saleable commodity, it would cost an absolute fortune to buy as much as a shed in the Forest, but the thing that has made the Forest such a place for stories is it’s marginality , it’s thin soil and lack of agricultural fertility: it’s wildness. These are the qualities that make it a refuge and lurking place for people on margins: outcasts, dissenters gypsies, vagabonds – those without means or money.
There are the people that seem to have been in the Forest forever-the people who may have resented the Saxons and the Danes as much as they resented the Normans. And it was with the Normans that the name ‘New Forest’ arrived. The old name for the Forest was ‘Ytene’, and it only took on the banal name ‘New Forest’ because it was William the Conqueror’s new forest, where, as William of Gloucester put it: ‘Gane of hondes he loved y nou, and of the wilde beste. And his forest and hys wodes, and most ye nywe forest.’
William made the Forest Crown property, and imposed forest law. Forest law operated outside common law and protected the ‘vert’ (the vegetation of the Forest) and the game there: the boar, the hare, the coney, the pheasant, the partridge, the wolf, the fox, the marten, the roe deer – but most of all, the red deer. It was due to this royal ownership that the Forest survived.
Stories have developed through the years, suggesting that William cleared the Forest of its inhabitants, destroyed villages and churches, and drove people from their land – but there is no archaeological evidence to support this. The lack of agricultural fertility indicates there would not have been a large farming population anyway. I write this but in my personal experience there is a large farming community, many farms ranging from cattle and milk and crops. I went to school with many kids from farmsteads. This would be modern day rather than in William the Conqueror’s time.
But still the laws were harsh, and hungry people were banned from hunting deer. This must have created such resentment, and hence poaching became rife. And how this would have created stories and from different times and merging creating and affecting what we read today. Stories passed down and from families and diaries and of course what little of written records. This will lead us onto King Rufus, of whom I have already done a post about.
Gerry A/C 2015 Jan.