History of the New Forest

May, 2017

There are only a few other places in England where the ancient landscape has remained unchanged by the modern day. In 1079, William The Conqueror named the area his ‘new hunting forest’ and nearly 1000 years later his ‘Nova Foresta’ still remains.

William The Conqueror established the ancient system to protect and manage the woodlands and wilderness heaths and this system is still in place today through the efforts of Verderers, Agisters and Commoners – Otherwise known as the judges, stockmen and land users of the forest.

During the First World War wounded soldiers were brought to Brockenhurst to be treated in the make-shift hospitals set up by local residents who owned some of the larger properties in the village. The New Forest’s strategic location on the south coast means that it was crucial in a range of operations both for British, Commonwealth and US and Canadian troops in World War Two. Ashley Walk near Godshill was a bombing range used to test the ‘bouncing bomb’ and there were 12 airfields across the area – Some of which can still be visited today.

Across the New Forest there are historic attractions and villages you can visit where original artefacts remain, including:

Buckler’s Hard will take you back in time on the banks of Beaulieu River. Here you’ll discover what it was like to live and work in an 18th century shipbuilding village; home to the ships built for Nelson’s fleet at Trafalgar using the mighty oaks from the forest.

Today the village continues to thrive, unspoilt by the passage of time; as you take a stroll along the nearby Woodland Walk you will discover the local timber at Buckler’s Hard was used in the 18th and 19th centuries to construct ships for the British Navy.

Here you can also visit the Maritime Museum which tells the story of the unique village, the SS Persia exhibition that tells the remarkable story of this P&O liner, and its links with Rolls Royce and the Montagu family. Finally, learn about the Beaulieu River’s important role during the war.

Another example of how man has harnessed nature is at Britain’s only surviving tidal mill, Eling Tide Mill. Situated on the edge of Southampton Water beside the New Forest, there has been a mill for over 900 years. It was abandoned during the 1940s, but had the good fortune to survive until it was restored between 1975 and 1980, at which time it re-opened as both a working mill and a museum to this part of our industrial heritage.

If you’re a lover of literature then there are many hidden treasures for you to discover. Alice Liddell, Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for Alice In Wonderland, is buried in the churchyard in Lyndhurst. You’ll find the grave of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the churchyard in Minstead. And, Sway village is the location of the book ‘The Children of The New Forest’, written by Captain Marryat.

To start your historical journey of the New Forest head to the New Forest Museum & Visitor Centre in Lyndhurst with its exhibition depicting the history and heritage of the forest.


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