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Whittlewood Research Group

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Leckhampstead Church (Bucks)

The Whittlewood project makes use of a variety of historical documents, both medieval and modern, in order to provide a context for the archaeological research. Studies have been made both of individual settlements and the project area as a whole.

An important feature of the project area was that it was subject to the king’s forest law. This was a Norman innovation, imposed soon after the Conquest, primarily in order to protect the king’s hunting. The law was unpopular with landowners, whose freedom of action, to hunt deer and to clear, enclose and farm their land, was curtailed by forest officials. Part of the project area was disafforested in about 1300. Further details.

Forest justices imposed fines for poaching the king’s deer. The manor known as Heybarne (located in a detached part of Lillingstone Dayrell) appears to have originated as an isolated farmstead from which poachers raided the king’s forest. In later centuries the destructive actions of the deer damaged the manor’s arable.

The land belonging to the manor of Heybarne was cleared of trees and underwood and converted to arable in a process known as assarting. This occurred frequently in Whittlewood Forest in the 12th and 13th centuries when the population was rising. Several examples of assarting leading to the creation and growth of settlements are well documented. These include Puxley (in Passenham parish) and Stockholt (in Akeley parish).

The study of Akeley parish is aided by the survival of a series of manorial court rolls, which reveal many aspects of everyday life in the village in the 14th and 15th centuries. Similar series of records also survive for the manors of Silverstone and Whittlebury, originally a single estate before the creation of separate parishes, the courts for which were held by Luffield Priory and Burnham Abbey in the later Middle Ages.

Evidence of the division of large estates to create smaller manors and parishes can be found in other parts of the project area. For example, the Lillingstones were probably a single estate before the Norman Conquest, of which Lillingstone Lovell appears to have been the primary settlement. The village of Akeley may also have been a relatively late development, its territory originally part of an estate centred on neighbouring Leckhampstead.

Most of the medieval settlements of the project area still survive today, either as living villages or as earthworks which can be surveyed and planned. The most notable exception is the village of Stowe, which was removed by the Temple family to make way for their landscape gardens in the 17th and 18th centuries. Almost no trace of the medieval village survives. The surviving documents, however, reveal something of the lives of its inhabitants in the Middle Ages.

In other cases, the documents reveal little about lost settlements which can be reconstructed by means of archaeological fieldwork. In the parish of Wicken, for example, two deserted medieval hamlets, known as Dagnall and Elm Green, have been surveyed. But there are few references to these places in the historical record.

December 2003