Relics

The wood’s past is all around us in its neglected coppice. Every tree screams rural industry and heritage to those who can see the signs. But on an everyday basis, as we visit, work and play in the wood, thoughts of its role in times gone by fade into the background. It is only when we stumble across something physical, something left behind, that the wood’s history is brought back into focus.

These objects tend to be the little things, practical accoutrements of daily life. An enamel wash basin, half rusted away. The rim of a metal bucket, handle still attached, the rest oxidised and lost below ground. Who used them and for what? Did a mother wash her wriggling children clean with them? Or were these containers used for watering animals? Collecting water from the well maybe? Perhaps the enamel basin was used as a mixing bowl, not to hold water.

And the black leather upper from a Victorian style workman’s boot. Who lost their boot in the wood? Maybe it wasn’t mislaid, it could have been left behind in favour of a newer pair. What had the person wearing them been doing – charcoal burning, coppicing or were they a tanner? Or did they simply come here for the pannage? Or to catch rabbits in the many rabbit traps built into the stone walls of the wood?

Who cooked in the rusty, cast iron cooking pot with three legs that we found in the middle of the wood? Part of its side is now missing, and we stand it at an angle so it still holds water for the wildlife, but even when intact it wasn’t very big. It can’t have fed many – who did it feed?

The two old 19th century water troughs we found sunk into the ground must have been carried and positioned there to water animals. Whose animals were they? Were the animals horses or pigs – or something else?

The troughs are too new to have been for the horses that wore the medieval, handmade metal bridle-rings we found. Perhaps this bridle was broken as the monks, allowed passage through the wood by Orm-son-of-Thore’s great-grandson, travelled to their abbey along the coast.

Who was using the pitch fork of which only the metalwork is now left – did they leave it behind in their hurry to get home one night? Or perhaps it dropped off the back of a wagon as the itinerant workers moved on?

We have found pottery from containers, square-ended, handmade nails, and on larger scales charcoal platforms and quarry pits. There are chimneys from woodworker’s houses, old enough that in one, an immense, once-coppiced sycamore now grows in what would have been the main room. People have been here, but their presence is only recorded in tantalising wisps just discernible enough to serve as reminders that our wood has supported sustainable industry for centuries, that people have worked in, passed through and cared for this wood. Each little fragment of the past is a reminder of just how special this wood is, a reminder of how lucky our family is to be taking care of this wood for a tiny fraction of its long history.

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