Charles Watkins – Sherwood Forest and Dukes Wood

Sherwood Forest and Dukes Wood

Nottinghamshire is well known for Sherwood Forest largely because of Sir Walter Scott who almost single-handedly created the most famous imaginative historical forest in the world in 1820. He did this by setting a crucial meeting between King Richard I and Robin Hood within Sherwood Forest in his historical romance Ivanhoe. This novel was a runaway success in Britain, the United States and around the globe and by evoking a medieval world of friars, maidens and battling monarchs Scott unwittingly unleashed a desire by many to visit Sherwood Forest. The forest was not without literary connections before Ivanhoe. William Shield’s comic opera Robin Hood: Or, Sherwood Forest opened at Covent Garden on 17 April 1784 and was frequently performed throughout the late eighteenth century. But it was Ivanhoe which catapulted Sherwood Forest into the international popular imagination of the early nineteenth century.


Daniel Maclise (1839) Robin Hood and His Merry Men Entertaining Richard the Lionheart in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham City Museums and Galleries. Photo © The National Gallery, London

Most of Nottinghamshire north of the River Trent was once part of the Royal Forest of Sherwood. Like other medieval royal forests, Sherwood had come into being to protect monarchical hunting rights. Most forests contained some woodland, but they also included villages, heaths, arable land and pasture and Sherwood Forest consisted of settled agricultural land, large areas of heath and the town of Nottingham. The core of the forest was to be found on the sandy soils of western Nottinghamshire. The power of the medieval monarchs over their Royal Forests was moderated following the Charter of the Forest of 1217 and after the 1220s, most of the land in eastern Nottinghamshire on the heavy clay soils, was no longer subject to Forest law. Medieval forests, although strongly associated with dense, woody vegetation and historical continuity, in practice usually included large areas of open land and frequently had their boundaries changed.

Today, the eastern part of Nottinghamshire has many surviving ancient woods, that is, woods which have existed for at least 400 years or so. These woods are particularly valuable for wildlife and several have become nature reserves managed by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust in recent years, such as Treswell Wood and Eaton and Gamston Woods. Dukes Wood, on the borders of the parishes of Eakring and Winkburn, is also a nature reserve. These woods have characteristic trees such as oaks, ash, elm, hazel and birch with a rich ground flora of bluebells, primroses, wood anemone and yellow archangel. The woods have been managed for centuries largely under the system known as coppice with standards.

These coppice woods were known in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as spring woods, and if you look at George Sanderson’s Map of the Country Twenty Miles Round Mansfield of 1835, you can see that woods in Eakring and Winkburn are named ‘Redgate Spring’ and ‘Orchard Wood and Nut Wood Spring.’ In the 1790s the Winkburn Woods were coppiced every twenty years and were being replanted with ash; in Kirklington the coppice was cut every fourteen or fifteen years.[1] Many of the poles cut were used as hop poles and this was a lucrative market as hop growing was one of the leading agricultural activities in east Nottinghamshire in that period.


George Sanderson Map of the Country Twenty Miles Round Mansfield, 1835

A close look at the map, however, shows that the name Dukes Wood does not appear. The adjoining Dilliner Wood is marked, and Dukes Wood is shown, just to the west of Dilliner Wood, but not given a name. The map also shows that Dilliner Wood was much larger in the 1830s and part has been cleared and converted to agricultural land since then. Moreover, much of the land which now forms Pudding Poke Wood was not woodland in the 1830s. Woods, just as medieval forests at a much larger scale, frequently change shape and size, sometimes disappearing entirely and sometimes growing in area. Woods are often seen as stable elements in the landscape, but in practice are constantly changing.


Charles Watkins

School of Geography, University of Nottingham, March 2013

[1] Robert Lowe, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Nottingham, London, 1798


One thought on “Charles Watkins – Sherwood Forest and Dukes Wood

  1. Pingback: Open access article and update on coming events | Write off the map

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