Monday, 16 March 2015

A history of Old Copse

Many thanks and congratulations to Hilary Hinks, who on behalf of the Woodland Trust has written a detailed history of Old Copse.  Here is a link to her research which I recommend reading. Hilary drew some of her research from Margaret M Weir-Wilson’s  DPhil thesis published by the University of Sussex in September 2013 in which she  examines the wider socio-economic  background of St. Leonard’s Forest.  This too makes for fascinating reading. Her thesis is available online here.

Hawkins Pond from the South (by Hilary Hinks) 
I decided to trace the Chain of Title of Old Copse from the earliest records when it was a tiny wood in the middle of the thousands of acres of St Leonard’s Forest. I’ve tried to piece together information gleaned from both Hilary and Margaret’s research, plus a very little of my own, to make a more or less cohesive whole. However, there still remain gaps in chronology , and quite a few unanswered questions. The period of the English Civil War and the Commonwealth is particularly confusing, with parcels and tracts of St Leonard’s Forest being leased to various people, giving rise to numerous disputes.


Striking, though not surprising, is that this vast area remained for hundreds of years in the hands of the Howards, Dukes of Norfolk. They owned the land, losing it and then gaining it back several times, from the 11c to the 16c when the 4th Duke of Norfolk was executed for treason. There are many more details to fill in, but to follow their fortunes via ownership and loss of St Leonard’s Forest ,  gives a tantalizing glimpse of how dangerous it was to play the political game during many of these years. The Howard family and the Dukes of Norfolk are still going strong in Sussex at Arundel Castle and elsewhere, but have long since relinquished any claim to St Leonard’s  Forest (I think!)

The Aldridge family also held St Leonard’s for many generations. Starting as a gift from the newly restored King Charles II to his physician in 1660 it passes down the family until 1906, although the  Aldridges started the process of selling off parcels of it in the last quarter of the 19th century.

It is not until the late 20th century  that Old Copse appears in the records as a discrete section of woodland on the southernmost point of St Leonard’s Forest, and is bought and sold as such.

Chain of title of St Leonard’s Forest  of which Old Copse is a part


1066 (or thereabouts) the Forest passed from the defeated Saxons to conquering Normans who give it to the de Braoise (or de Braose)  family.

It passes to the (related) de Mowbray family and then to:

The 1st Duke of Norfolk of the (related) Howard family, friend and supporter of Richard III.  They both die at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and the Norfolk  titles are forfeited after the victory of  Henry VII, the first Tudor Monarch.

1485  Accession of Henry VII. He gifts the forfeited Norfolk Lordship and lands to Thomas, Lord de la Warr.

1495 De la Warr sells St Leonard’s Forest back to the 2nd Duke of Norfolk

1546 The 3rd Duke of Norfolk loses it to a Bill of Attainder, and it is granted by the Crown to:
Thomas Seymour of Wolf Hall.  Seymour  was brother to Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s 3rd wife, and after Henry’s death married his widow Katherine Parr. Seymour was executed for treason in 1549.
Detail showing paled area of St. Leonard’s Forest from John Speed’s map of 1610,
 based on that of John Norden of 1595. Annotations by Margaret Weir-Wilson

1550  Elizabeth I buys St. Leonard’s Forest from the Howard family in exchange for their extensive debts.

1553 The Crown grants the Forest to Sir Thomas Wrothe.

1561 Sir Thomas sells it back to the 4th Duke of Norfolk.

1572 The 4th Duke of Norfolk is executed for treason and the Forest returns to the ownership of the Crown.

1572 The Crown issues 21 year leases to John Blennerhasser and William Dix (both retainers in the Duke of Norfolk’s household) for iron mills and forges in St Leonard’s Forest.  The forest’s resources are severely exploited by the lessees; the forges are derelict by 1649 and the Forest stripped of timber by 1740. During the Civil War and the Commonwealth, ownership becomes complex, with many leases granted, and numerous disputes.

Old Copse and surrounding area 1813
1660 The Restoration:  Charles II confers St Leonard’s Forest onto his physician Sir Edward Greaves.

1680 The Forest passes via Greave’s daughter Mary Calfe to:

1740  his cousin John Aldridge

1746   her nephew Captain Powlet

1746  his brother Abel Aldridge

St Leonard’s Estate, a part of St Leonard’s Forest, remains in the Aldridge family until 1906.

Mid 18th c - 1914 St Leonard’s Forest gradually changes from devalued heath and woodland. Afforestation makes it a desirable area for small mansions and estates. The Forest begins to be broken up, developed and sold. Old Copse was part of what was called the St Leonard’s Forest estate by the 19th century, owned by the Aldridge family, and the estate was sold off in lots in 1878, 1881 and 1896 by Colonel John Aldridge. The sporting opportunities were emphasised, such as in Lot 5 which included 900 acres surrounding Hammer and Hawkins Ponds and other ‘ornamental sheets of water of great extent, affording capital fishing, boating and water fowl shooting’.


1896  Edward Molyneux  purchased the eastern part of St Leonard’s Estate which was divided into 4 Lots. He established a golf course at Mannings Heath to the south east of the estate, (which still exists today)   ‘for those fond of the now fashionable game of golf  the park offers a natural golf links’.

1911 - 1952  Jack McGaw owns St.Leonard’s Forest Estate which was  part of St.Leonard’s Forest and included Old Copse.

1952  Land including Old Copse's 60 acres sold to  timber Company JH & FW Green of Chesterfield.

1956   The Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (latterly the Forestry Commission) requisitioned 543 acres of woodland including Old Copse from JH & FW Green as part of an ongoing nationwide scheme to create a strategic timber reserve to replace timber stocks depleted by industry and war over the previous century. Greens were given two years to harvest timber, and the clear fell took place in 1957, followed by the creation of the present Scots Pine plantation.

1987 The storm blew down half of the Old Copse pine plantation. This made it an uneconomic proposition as there was no longer a need for this type of low value timber, and the Forestry Commission’s remit changed from creating timber reserves, to more ecologically based responsibilities. The fallen Scots Pine was cleared and this piece of uneconomic woodland was sold.

1989 Old Copse sold to  R Huckstep who lived nearby in Grouse Road.

2005 - R.Huckstep transferred the title to his 4 adult children, divided into 15 acres each.
No management of the 60 acres of Old Copse was carried out between 1987 and 2009, and the wood became increasingly dark , with the southern part colonized by birch.

2009 - C. Huckstep sells his 15 acres to Axon/ Holter

2012  M.Huckstep sells his 15 acres to Axon/Davis

The southern 30 acres (12 ha) of Old Copse, have a Management Plan in place, and restoration is  underway.  The northern 2 x 15 acre blocks  await restoration.

No comments:

Post a Comment