The changing face of forests and woods in Huntingdonshire

Karl Webb, mayor of Huntingdon, has an interest in local history.

Karl Webb is the mayor of Huntingdon and he has an interest in local history. - Credit: KARL WEBB

A fascinating insight into our woods and forests possibly  goes back to the Palaeolithic years more than 70,000 years ago when the landscape of Huntingdon would have been totally unrecognisable by today’s residential standards.

Huge forests and woods covered our county. Some of the naming of our villages also dates back as far as the 5th Century. People in pre- Roman times lead a nomadic lifestyle and used clearing the woods for fossil fuel and natural settlements.

Roman times also offered the introduction of the first major road routes and clearing forests and woods introduced arable land and irrigation. 

Also we noticed in our interesting fact findings that there were outlaws in the woods and forests of Huntingdonshire. Interestingly, Archers wood near Sawtry is meant to have taken its name from the outlaws who made it their home. In days gone by, our woods and forests offered sanctuary to many a popular visitor. As well as the less common criminal.  The Earl of Worcester, a Yorkist commander in the War of the Roses is supposed to have been dragged out of the woods of Weybridge.  This wood apparently stretched across Alconbury/ Ellington to Brampton. We believe remnants of the wood still survive near Brampton.  Buckden woods has also seen various changes over the centuries. Originally gifted to the Bishops of Lincoln whose palace was Buckden Towers in circa  1155.  We also believe permission was granted to divert Huntingdon Road around the woods in 1215. The Crown took over the woods as they did in many areas around the 1400s.  Sometimes due to the forest keepers that were supposedly driving away the King's deer from the Royal woods.  In Sapley, the Lordship was leased and we believe around 1542 the lease was held by Sir Richard Williams alias Cromwell.  The Saxons changed some of the boundaries and woods were given names. Yaxley , Raveleys , Pidley, Upwood and many more were given the name from Ley or derived from Leah which translates as meaning clearing. Saxon settlers named as forest dwellers and on some old maps you can still see highlighted areas of old Saxon settlements.  Some are still in wooded and forest areas in Huntingdonshire. You maybe walking over these on a day out and not even be aware of the situation or the history beneath your feet.  Sapley had some amazing history and it is worth noting that there used to be a small mount and Bailey castle but they are not very well documented.