Robin Shaw’s next installment in the Drawn from the Wood series is about the veteran trees of Hanbury Woods. You can read the first installment on our previous blog post.
I wrote on the 31 March about drawing the trees of Hanbury Woods in Worcestershire. The woods lie near the village of Hanbury and the National Trust’s Hanbury Hall, south of Bromsgrove and west of Droitwich. There is confusion about their name. Three names exist both on maps and in local practice and as is so fascinating with the English landscape the names are indicators of long history. As the late W.G Hoskins said, “One cannot understand the English landscape and enjoy it to the full, without going back to the history that lies behind it.”
The first name is Piper’s Hill. In Worcestershire the River Severn and its tributaries run through a plain, fringed to the north-east by small hills which command impressive views to the south. Piper’s Hill is one of these. It stretches, a long hump, next to Hanbury Hill which was once topped by an Iron Age fort and then a Roman one. These hills are gravelly and contrast with the heavy clay of the river valley and were left for grazing when Anglo Saxons settled and cultivated the land. One of these settlers probably gave the name to Piper’s Hill and that name persists for the hill and the woods today.
The second name is Dodderhill Common. From medieval times the hilly land was designated as common land where villagers had the right graze their livestock and to cut wood. The common stretched over a much larger area than just Piper’s Hill and it was divided so that three ecclesiastical parishes had a share of it. The Piper’s Hill share belonged to a church at Droitwich four miles away on another small hill, Dodderhill. People speculate on the origin of the name Dodder but ‘dodder’ is an ancient name for an old pollarded tree and that seems to be the most likely.
Go back a hundred years and the woods in question were not woods at all The common land was wood pasture, open grazing land with a scatter of trees, either pollarded for delivering a supply of wood or allowed to stand for future timber needs. Then came the enclosures and a gradual end to grazing by livestock. Beech trees colonised the space and now there is thick woodland, Hanbury Woods.
There are many veteran trees embedded in the wood are which once stood in the open common. While the woodland was taking over in the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, the common became a focus for pleasure outings. People came to enjoy the views, the fresh air and the joys of the countryside and saw the area as a real beauty spot. They still come though the woodland experience is different.
I enjoy going there to draw – especially the veteran trees. I’ll write more about that next time.
‘And full of shade the pillared forest
Would murmur and be mine’
A E Housman
Blog and drawings by Robin Shaw.