Ancient Trees and Wood Pasture

Kimberley OaksVeteran Oak pollards at Kimberley Park, Norfolk

On Saturday UEA was the venue for the annual conference of the Society f0r Landscape Studies. The theme this year was ancient trees and wood pastures, and the papers covered a great deal of ground.

Dr Robert Liddiard kicked things off with a detailed paper on the nature of the medieval deer park, suggesting that our understanding of the ‘classic’ medieval deer park needs to be revised to take account of variations in the date, location and uses of parks. He also drew attention to the important, but often neglected, theme of disparkment from the sixteenth-century onwards, and the problems of interpretation this can cause.

Some of these themes are explored in the volume on Medieval Deer Parks: New Perspectives, edited by Rob in 2007.

Dr Robert Liddiard giving his paper ‘What is a Deer Park?’

Patsy Dallas, currently finishing her thesis at UEA, spoke about the use of commons as wood pasture in Norfolk and their survival (or not) after enclosure in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Patsy brought to light several examples of wooded commons on contemporary maps, including the ‘Plantings’ in the parish of Gressenhall as shown on Thomas Waterman’s highly detailed map of 1624 (now in the Norfolk Record Office).

Dr Della Hooke (Honorary Fellow at the University of Birmingham) discussed wood pasture in Anglo Saxon England, particularly in relation to the distribution of place names and the grazing links between heavily exploited agricultural areas and more marginal areas of wood pasture, using examples drawn from the Weald and the Malvern Hills.

Many of the themes covered in Della’s wide-ranging paper are explored further in her recent book Trees in Anglo Saxon England: Literature, Law and Landscape (2010).

Prof. Tom Williamson talking about ancient trees in Norfolk.

Professor Tom Williamson from the University of East Anglia talked about the problems of dating trees, drawing on a study of over 5,000 veteran trees in Norfolk. This detailed study shows that it is virtually impossible to accurately date trees by measuring their girth, using examples of trees which can be confidently dated from documentary sources or their archaeological context. Tom also showed how the modern pattern of the survival of ancient trees is dictated by social, cultural and economic factors, rather than just environmental ones.

The project is the subject of a forthcoming book, Ancient Trees in the Landscape: Norfolk’s Aboreal Heritage, which will be published this autumn.

Nicola Whyte from the University of Exeter gave a paper which emphasised the cultural importance of ancient trees in the landscape during the early modern period. Drawing on examples of trees used as boundary markers in parish perambulations, she showed that it is possible to map topographies of custom and memory in the early modern landscape.

Nicola’s book on Inhabiting the Landscape: Place, Custom and Memory 1500-1800, explores more aspects of this cultural landscape.

Delegates at the annual Society for Landscape Studies conference.

The last paper was from Professor Andrew Fleming (University of Wales) who discussed the evidence for areas of wood pasture in both Swaledale, in Yorkshire, and Powys, demonstrating the variety of different types of wood pasture, ranging from large intercommons to individual wood pastures, and the complexity of their post-medieval histories. He emphasised that large, very old pollards have a greater capacity for resistance than other trees, which may partly explain their survival, and noted the high number of very high, so-called ‘giraffe’ pollards in Powys.

Andrew’s work on the landscape of Swaledale has been published as Swaledale: Valley of the Wild River by Oxbow Books.

Taken as a whole, the papers presented a broad cross section of regions and chronologies though with some common themes – most notably the difficulty of pinning down defintions and reconstructing patterns of use when it comes to ancient trees and woodpastures. Clearly there is much valuable research still to be done in this fascinating and important area of landscape studies.

Thank you to all those who contributed to such an enjoyable and thought-provoking day.

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Author: UEA Landscape History

Landscape historians based in the School of History at the University of East Anglia.

4 thoughts on “Ancient Trees and Wood Pasture”

  1. Is Prof. Tom Williamson related to the many Williamsons buried at Briston in North Norfolk? Norfolk farmers originating from Gunthorpe in the 1600’s?

    1. I have read your website with much interest. I have ancestors on my late mother’s side, Irene Muriel Webb, nee Gay, whose mother was Violet May Gay, nee Williamson, who lived originally with her parents and siblings as farmers in Yaxham, Norfolk. My Gt. Grandfather would have been Robert Williamson who married Anne/Anna Stimpson (Smith). My grandmother, Violet, married Reginald Sparke Gay (farmer) and they lived with their children at Malthouse Farm in Mattishall, Norfolk.

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