A History of Sherwood 7

During the Commonwealth there was disorder and aggression throughout Sherwood. Many of the rights and privileges, especially of those who took the king’s side, were abolished, and the vert and venison were ravaged by the people of the adjoining districts. At the Restoration, Charles II showed interest in replenishing with game the forest and parks that had been wasted during the Civil War and Commonwealth. A warrant was signed in November, 1661, for the payment of one thousand pound to Sir William St. Ravy, for the expenses in transporting red and fallow deer from Germany to help restock the forests of Sherwood and Windsor. In the following year an order was made to repair the destruction of the deer in Thorney Wood and Sherwood Forest, that no fee deer of any kind were to be taken until further warrant. Early in 1662, Charles II issued the necessary authority under letters patent (to investigate the Sherwood claims) to his friend William earl of Mansfield and marquis of Newcastle, appointing him to act as lord chief justice in eyre. The business was so complicated and required so much legal investigation that William Cavendish presided over this forest court, either in person or by commission, for upwards of twelve years. The court opened at Mansfield on 6 February, 1662-3; repeated adjournments carried on the proceedings until 1676. There were claims of ancient chartered privileges from the days of Richard I onwards. Eminent men such as the archbishop of York (who appeared by proxy in the person of John Rolleston) and Sir George Savile, bart., of Rufford also appeared by proxy, claiming the privileges formerly held by the Cistercian Abbey. There were also a vast number of minor claimants, who came from all parts of the forest and its surroundings; these claimants appeared in person, or through an attorney.

Under the Commonwealth and subsequently, a large number of Sherwood oaks were felled for the navy; but various grants were made for exceptional purposes during that period and immediately after the Restoration In about 1680, the people of Edwinstowe petitioned the crown for permission to fell 200 oaks to the value of two hundred pound, out of the hays of Birkland and Bilhagh for the repair of their parish church. The largest of the beams used by Sir Christopher Wren in the construction of St. Paul’s came from Sherwood Forest. In the eighteenth century the open forests were decreasing, and this was partly due to the grants in the northern part for parks, but more substantially by the enclosure acts of the latter part of the century. In 1793 the Commissioners of Woods and Forests and Land Revenues of the Crown issued their fourteenth report which dealt exclusively with Sherwood. They describe it as the only forest remaining under the superintendence of the chief justice in eyre north of Trent, or belonging to the crown in that part of England. The chief officials were the lord-warden, the duke of Newcastle, by letters patent; the bowbearer or ranger, Lord Byron, by the lord-warden; four verderers, elected by the freeholders; and steward, John Gladwin, appointed during pleasure by lord chief justice. There were also nine keepers of nine walks, appointed by the verderers, each receiving a salary of 20s. from the lord-warden. Two woodwards were annually sworn for Sutton and Carlton.

Although large amounts of timber had been taken from Sherwood in the seventeenth century and beyond, there has been some compensation. In the report on the county of Nottingham issued by the Board of Agriculture in 1794, it is stated that a spirit of planting had prevailed throughout much of the old Sherwood district for the last forty years, however the glories of Sherwood as a royal open forest had long since passed. In the early twentieth century there were five deer parks in Nottingham, all were in the old Sherwood Forest district. The two most ancient parks of Sherwood, those of Clipston and Bestwood, have disappeared, and the hays of Birkland and Bilhagh, the last remaining portion of the crown lands in Sherwood, were sold to the duke of Portland in about 1800. In the early twentieth century, Lord Savile’s Rufford Abbey estates had 1,700 acres of woods and plantations, an increase of about 700 acres since the beginning of the nineteenth century. The returns estimated in June 1905, show that Nottinghamshire woodland consisted of coppice 489 acres, plantations 1,404, and other woods 28, 540, giving a total under woodland of 30,433 acres.

The purposes and administration of the ancient forests of England has changed fundamentally. By The Forestry (Transfer of Woods) Act of 1923, the property in them was transferred to the Forestry Commissioners, who were made responsible for their care and management. Since that time they have not been royal forests, but state forests. The end of the old forest system was written in the Wild Creatures and Forest Laws Act of 1971, which abolished the sovereign’s prerogative right to wild creatures, (except royal fish and swans). The Sherwood Forest Country Park was established in 1969 when it was designated under the 1968 Countryside Act. The country park is part of the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve, which was designated in 2002 by Natural England, the Government agency responsible for preserving the natural environment. The area was developed and managed by the Nottinghamshire City Council, and a new visitor centre opened in May 1976.  By 1978, the extra land incorporated into the park gave a total area of 448 acres. The Sherwood Forest Country Park lies just north of Edwinstowe, two miles from Ollerton and 17 miles north of Nottingham. The area is maintained by the country park rangers, and contains around 900 oak trees, including the famous Major Oak, estimated to be about 800 years old. The Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre attracts around 350,000 visitors each year, and the five day Robin Hood Festival is held in August. The Sherwood Pines Forest Park lies to the north of Edwinstowe, the largest forest open to the public in the East Midlands with over 3,300 acres. It provides a wide range of outdoor activites and the cycle network connects to the broader regon, including Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve and Clumber Park near Worksop. In medieval times Sherwood covered an area of about 100,000 acres, and like other royal forests it was reserved for the pleasure of the aristocracy, but the remenants of this once great area is now preserved for the enjoyment of the people.

This section contains information found in The Victoria History of the County of Nottingham, William Page, London, 1906; Sherwood Forest in 1609 A Crown survey by Richard Bankes, Thoroton Society Record Series, Vol. XL, Stephanos Mastoris & Sue Groves, Nottingham, 1997; The Sherwood Forest Book, Thoroton Society Record Series, Vol. XXIII, Helen E. Boulton, Nottingham, 1965; The Royal Forests of England, Raymond Grant, Gloucestershire, 1991; Nottinghamshire County Council.