A History of Sherwood 6

After an interval of nearly fifty years, the forest pleas for Sherwood were again held at Nottingham in the spring of 1334, before Ralph de Nevill, Richard de Aldborough, and Peter de Middleton. (1) There were 119 presentments of venison at this eyre, a small amount considering the long period since the last court. In several cases there was no definite charge of deer-slaying, or even of being found with dogs or bows, but simply of trespass. One of the malefactors was Henry Curson of Breadsall, who killed a hind in Clipston Wood. The roll of amercements of persons convicted of vert trespass at the attachment courts at more than 4d., and who could only be amerced at the eyre, was presented to the justices. This roll contained about 750 trespasses, varying in value from 6d. to 2s.

Religious houses had special rights granted to them for fuel and other wood, of pannage or agistment, and sometimes of venison. Sherwood is a striking example. Surrounded on all sides by the forest stretches there were the Cistercian monks of Rufford and the Austin canons of Newstead. On its northern edge were the white canons of Welbeck, the most famous Premonstratensian house in England, and a little further afield the Austin canons of Worksop, the Benedictine monks of Blyth, and the Benedictine nuns of Wallingwell. On its western margin were the Carthusian monks of Beau Vale, and the Austin canons of Felley; on the south-eastern flank were the two other small Austin houses of Thurgarton and Shelford, and at the southern extremity was the powerful house of the Cluniac monks of Lenton. Every one of these monasteries had Sherwood Forest privileges, such as collecting windfallen wood and the right to a tithe of the whole of the venison killed throughout the forest.

In 1531 Henry VIII appointed a commission, consisting of the abbot of Welbeck, Sir Richard  Sacheverell, Sir Brian Stapleton and Sir John Villers, knights, and John Hersey and Roger Greenhaghe, esquires, to view and certify the number and state of the deer in the forest and park of Sherwood. The returns show that there were at that time 4,280 red deer, and 1,131 fallow deer. The fallow deer were within the parks of Bestwood, Nottingham, Clipston, and Thorney Wood. The red deer ranged throughout the forest, save for 214 in Bestwood Park. A return at the Public Record Office that was made in 1538 of all the deer in the king’s forests and parks north of the Trent, gives the number of red deer in Sherwood Forest as about 1,000; in Bestwood Park, there were 700 fallow, and 140 red; in Clipston Park, 60 fallow, and 20 red; and in Grynley park, 150 fallow. A perambulation of the forest was made on 9 September, 1539, beginning at the castle of Nottingham, and returning to Nottingham. (2)

The earliest known comprehensive analysis of land holdings in Sherwood is found in the Crown survey prepared by Richard Bankes in 1609. (3) This survey is one of a large number commissioned by the Crown during the first decade of the reign of King James I as part of an attempt to increase the revenue yielded by royal estates, rights and privileges. It lists the owners, occupiers and acreage of each plot of freehold land within the forest, and is entitled ‘A book of the survey of the Forest of Sherwood in the county of Nottingham, taken and made in AD 1609, which Forest is divided into three parts: the North Part, the South Part and the Middle [Part]’. The manuscript of this text forms part of a composite volume of surveys which is now preserved in the Public Record Office (PRO, LR 2/201). At least one map (signed by Richard Bankes) is known to have been created to accompany this survey. This large manuscript map is entitled ‘The south part of the plot of Sherwood Forest in the county of Nottingham, taken and made in 1609’ (PRO, MR 1142, ex LRRO 1/1112). (4)

The survey of Sherwood Forest in 1609 gave the following estimate of the acreage:

Inclosures   44,839       Clipston Park 1,583
Woods     9,486 .       Bestwood Park 3,672
Unenclosed   35,080 .       Bulwell Park    326
  89,405 .       Nottingham park    129


1. For. Proc. Tr. of Rec. No. 132.

2. It is set forth at length in Bailey, Annals (ii, 405-7).

3. There are two maps of Sherwood forest which pre-date Richard Bankes work of 1609. The first (in the archives of the Duke of Rutland, at Belvoir Castle) was created in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth centuries, possibly about 1437 when Ralph Cromwell was appointed Warden of the Forest and Constable of Nottingham Castle. There is also a sketch map of the forest which seems to have been drawn up in the late sixteenth, or early seventeenth century, also in the Duke of Rutland’s archives. This could be the map of the forest commissioned by the Earls of Rutland from John Babtist Beotio (Boazio) in 1603 at a cost of forty shillings. The only other contemporary cartographic representations of the whole of the forest are found in the early county maps of Christopher Saxton (1576, and John Speed (1610).

4. See Sherwood Forest in 1609, A Crown survey by Richard Bankes, Stephanos Mastoris and Sue Groves, Thoroton Society Record Series Vol. XL.