Stoke Park Wood

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HCC Site ID. 1180 Parish: Bishopstoke
Designations: AHBR Park lug, SINC Area: 91 ha
Access: Public Access Ownership: Forestry Commission

Location and site

Stoke Park Wood lies north east of Eastleigh, to the north of the B3037 road to Fair Oak, and to the west of the B3354 road to Fisher’s Pond. It is a substantial area of the Bishopstoke Parish and nestles between housing on its western and eastern boundaries with a narrow band of housing between the wood and the B3037 to the south. Open fields are to the north. The Forestry Commission states that the ‘wood lies in the Hampshire basin on a low plateau above the River Itchen. The underlying geology is of sand and clay at higher elevations, part of the Bracklesham beds, with Bagshot sands at lower elevations in the southern part of the wood.’

Historical Development

In 1242, a licence was granted for the Bishop of Winchester to enclose land at Bishopstoke – Stoke Park. Roberts shows the probable extent of the park, which included Stoke Park Wood. He notes it occupied a site of about 600 acres (c243 ha) where there were various forms of parkland management other than, or in conjunction with, having deer on the site, and mentions that: there was a field of oats at Bishopstoke Park in 1246-47; rabbits from the ‘coney garth’ at Cunniger Hill the area north west of the wood; and a vineyard on the site in 1477-78. This last date saw extensive work on the park lodge at Bishopstoke. In 1540, the Wood was formally disemparked by Bishop Stephen Gardiner.
1734 is the first date that has been found of lease agreements between the Bishopric and St Mary’s College, Winchester. These agreements, of a house, The Lodge, woods comprising ‘oaks, elms, beaches and ashes’, continued at seven yearly intervals until 1839 when Winchester College surrendered the lease to the Winchester Bishopric Estate. This was the period when the tithe survey was set up to assess land values on which the payment of tithes for church income was based. The following year, Thos Twynam, who lived at Stoke Park Farm, became the tenant of the wood. Again the wood became under the leasehold of Winchester College. Access from the farm to the wood was probably the reason why the park lug was breached at the northern boundary, as shown on the 1840 tithe map.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Rector of Bishopstoke, with ratepayers from the surrounding parishes, claimed that they had ancient rights to take ‘fern and snapwood’ from the wood. In 1906, in a letter between the Bishopric, now the Ecclesiastical Commission, and Winchester College stated that their investigations did not support the claim. However, in 1910 the local Cooper was allowed to take wood for making barrels. It is unclear when the Winchester College surrendered their leasehold. However, in 1947 the Commission made arrangements for the sale of standing timber, valued at £5,573, to Messrs P M Coombes Ltd, Timber Merchants of Eastleigh. The sale was prior to the Forestry Commission taking over the freehold of Stoke Park Wood with the understanding that they would carry out afforestation. In 1948, the report compiled by the new owners refers to it as ‘Bishopstoke, 200 acres under plantation and 99 acres as plantable’. A few years later the local inhabitants still believed that common rights existed. These were dispelled by an investigation by the Town Clerk of Eastleigh Council in 1952. The following year, the Law, Parliamentary and General Purposes Committee met the State Forest Officer about the re-afforestation of Stoke Park Wood where a request was also made for the ‘long-standing residents of Bishopstoke be permitted to gather snap-wood and nuts and flowers.’ Subsequently, the Forestry Commission agreed to this.
In 2014, the Forestry Commission carried out a detailed review of Stoke Park Wood that showed 3 broad types of woodland, native broadleaved, mixed and conifer, with minor intrusions of Riverine habitat and wet woodland. Future plans include Habitat Restoration and Felling and a Timeline for Intended Future Habitats. The wood is a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC).
Eastleigh’s Borough Local Plan for 2016 to 2036 included a new road and future housing that would have had a significant impact on the wood. This has since been rejected by the Planning Inspector.

Current Description

Over recent years the Forestry Commission has: added information boards; proposed various walks depending on the time of the year; provided cycle tracks, seats, and added play areas for younger children, as well as a fine climbing wall made of wood. The western path, adjacent to the village of Bishopstoke is sunken, and it appears that the boundary still has the remains of the park lug. In 2019, along the southern section there was a fenced area to protect the growth of young trees from roe deer, that are apparently prevalent in the wood. Again, along this boundary there are remains of the park lug. The trees are mainly beech, larch, hazel, ash, oak, yew and sweet chestnut with a few scatterings of horse chestnut and conifers. An ancient yew was observed in the north where there are steps down to a deep valley. Nearby was an area where the sweet chestnut had been coppiced. The northern boundary is on a ridge, that provides a clear separation from the farmland beyond. The wood is popular with dog walkers as well as families and has a fine display of native bluebells in spring.

Summary and Significance

Stoke Park Wood was a deer park owned by the Bishops of Winchester for almost 300 years before being disemparked in 1540. It continued to be owned by the Ecclesiastical Commission, who leased it for most of the period to Winchester College. It remained a fairly enclosed area for much of the leasehold although there were various disputes for commoners rights, that were not upheld. In 1947, the Commission sold the timber to a local timber merchant before the Forestry Commission took over the freehold. The Forestry Commission has provided a range of facilities and open access to the woodland.

A significant area of ancient woodland open to the public is surrounded by a densely built-up area. This wood has changed little in size since medieval times. It is managed by the Forestry Commission, who has given open access and provided a range of facilities.

HGT Research:February 2021

Sources

Cantor, L., 1982, English Medieval Landscape, London.
Roberts, E., 1988, The Bishop of Winchester’s Deer Parks in Hampshire, 1200-1400, Proc. Hampshire Field Club Archaeology Soc. 44, pp. 67-86.
Thompson, E P, 1977, The Origin of the Black Act, Peregrine Books, Norwich
HRO 69M72/DDC234 File 12/11/2 relating to Stoke Park Wood, Bishopstoke and issue of ancient rights claimed by inhabitants of the area.
HRO 11M59/D1/various pages relating to Surrender documents
Tithe map & award HRO 21M65/F7F21/1&2 1840
Forestry Commission -https://www.forestryengland.uk/sites/default/files/documents/Forest%20of%20Bere%20Forest%20Plan%20Stoke%20Park%20Wood.pdf [accessed 10/9/19]
Rejection of local plan for the link road by the Planning Inspector. https://add-eastleigh.org/2020/04/06/eastleigh-local-plan-inspector-demolishes-councils-evidence/ [accessed Feb 2021]


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