BUCKDEN'S LOCAL HISTORIC WOODLANDS
Buckden’s woodland would, at one time, have been very extensive, covering much of the village as we now know it and including Buckden Wood and beyond. While the Ordnance Survey map of today identifies Buckden Wood as north of the Perry Road just before Grafham Water there is, however, no woodland. Over the centuries bit by bit the old woodland was destroyed as communities settled and enlarged. Today the only woods of any significance local to Buckden are Diddington and Brampton Woods.
Ordnance Survey map of 2022 showing Brampton Wood to the north, Diddington Wood to the south and what was Buckden Wood in the centre.
Evidence from old names indicates that wood clearing around Buckden began even before the Norman Conquest. An area south of the Brampton Road just before it intersects the Great North Road called Stocking Field is an old English term meaning cleared ground. The hamlet of Hardwick originated in Saxon times and is derived from ‘heorde’ meaning herd or flock and ‘wic’ meaning dwelling. By 1086 the Domesday Book recorded that the bishop of Lincoln held, as part of his manor in Buckden, a wood pasture approximately 1.5 miles square. As wood pasture is not technically woodland it must be assumed that some of Buckden Wood had also been cleared for his use.
On his accession to the throne in 1154, Henry II claimed the whole county of Huntingdonshire as his exclusive hunting ground and local woods would have been part of the wider ‘royal forest’. Under Norman law villagers lost access to the local woodlands, which would have provided them with their food and fuel. The villagers of Houghton were one such community; forced to move out the villagers probably relocated to nearby Brampton. At the same time, however, Henry granted Bishop Robert and the Church of St Mary in Lincoln 53 acres of land in Buckden and Spaldwick. In 1190 Richard granted the bishops a further 50 acres of land at Buckden. By 1215 Buckden and Brampton woods were now 2 separate woods as John gave the bishops permission to divert a road from Kimbolton to Huntingdon so that it ran between them to avoid travelling through Buckden wood. The current Road from Grafham to Brampton still follows this diverted road. The original road is probably a continuation of the present Taylors Lane and footpath that leads to Grafham, which would have run straight through the old Buckden Wood.
In the 13th century Henry III gave permission to Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln to own a deer park in Buckden, adding a further 200 acres to it the next century. By Tudor times the park was being run on more of a commercial basis and there are records for the sale of wood, rent from grazing rights and payment for land management. However, by 1600 the park was in steep decline with too much of the land used for agricultural purposes. The then bishop, John Williams, in 1625 reversed the situation by planting more trees and fencing in the deer and by 1647 the park was a thriving concern with a wide variety of trees, game birds and deer. Things came to a head when the park and the bishops’ estates passed into the hands of Christopher Packe, Lord Mayor of London, who razed all the buildings and destroyed the park. Fortunately for Buckden at least 30 of the felled oaks were put to good use with the restoration of St Mary's church roof.
High in the wooden roof, opposite the main door, is an inscription inserted by the then churchwardens, John Jackson and Cadwalader Powell (II & CP), commemorating the restoration of the roof in 1649, probably following damage caused during the Commonwealth.
The land was returned to the bishops of Lincoln in 1660 but by 1699 the entire park had been turned into a patchwork of fields.
William Whitworth's map of 1699.
Three small woods were all that was left of Buckden Wood and by the middle of the 19th century these had gone too.
All the land owned by the bishops at Buckden was passed to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England in 1858.
Enclosure map of 1813.
Outside the parish boundary are 2 woods of importance: Diddington Wood and Brampton Wood.
Diddington Wood is split into various woods: at the eastern end are Coronation Wood and Jubilee Copse. In the centre is Home Wood, with the Gamekeeper’s cottage on the south-eastern corner. In the north-western corner of the wood, towards Shooter’s Hollow was an area called the Oaks, a large plantation of oak trees planted at the end of the 19th century. Diddington Wood is famous for its shooting and, in the 20th century, until the 1950s and 60s, the Oaks was a favourite stopping-off point for migrating Woodcock. Further up the hill towards Highfields Farm is a plantation that was always known as America, because it was the most westerly and distant point of the wood from Diddington Hall.
When Peter Thornhill inherited the estate in the 1960s, he harvested all the hardwoods of Home Wood, the Oaks and America and replanted with firs and fast-growing conifers in place of the ancient Oak, Ash and Sycamore. However, wood management was not as it should have been and, initially, the wood became a thicket of brambles. Over a number of years and after a lot of hard work the ground was cleared and the new young trees were able to grow through.
The Three Shires Way bridleway passes through Diddington Wood and Shooter’s Hollow, and links up with the circuit around Grafham Water. By taking the route from Shooters Hollow in a southerly direction, then south-westerly past America to Highfields, it carries on towards Midloe and Great Staughton, or Southoe and Little Paxton. On the latter route, the Three Shires Way passes by Paxton Wood – another ancient and protected woodland extending to 100 acres.
The first records of Brampton Wood go back to the Domesday Book of 1086 AD. A boundary was created around the 324 acre wood and is marked by the construction of a ditch and large earth mound to protect the woodland from wandering livestock.
For centuries the woodland has been managed for timber, hay and hazel poles, and provided pasture for livestock. The first map of the wood was created for the 5th Earl of Sandwich, in 1757. The Earl lived at Hinchingbrooke House; he was a rural landowner and held other farming interests. His map showed 3 principal rides, Main Ride, Cross Ride and West Ride, which can still be seen today on maps. It is highly likely that these rides are very much older than the Earl’s map and were ancient highways of the woodland to allow the movement of timber produce. As time passed and other industries developed new uses were found for timber products. In the 1860s bark was stripped from large oaks for use in the tanning industry.
Over the years Brampton Wood has been managed by various bodies. In 1956 the wood was purchased from the timber merchants by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods, mainly to act as a safety zone from the Grafham firing range. Ironically, the butts of a small but now disused firing range within the wood itself is the home of the local badgers! The wood was subsequently purchased by the Forestry Commission who replanted a fifth of the woodland with conifers which were grown for use as pit props in the mining industry. The Ministry of Defence then took over the management of the wood until the early 1990s when the range closed.
Brampton Wood today.
The future of the wood was now uncertain but following a campaign from environmentalists an appeal was launched which was successful and the Wildlife Trust took over in 1992. The Trust proudly celebrates its 30th anniversary of owning the wood.
Press report from 29 October1992
With thanks to:
Susan Edgington, The Disappearance of Buckden’s Woodland.
Records of Huntingdonshire, Volume 2, Number 10, 1991.
Barry Jobling and his quote and picture from his guide of St Mary’s Church, 2022 and reviewing the article.
Richard Furbank with his memories of Diddington Wood.
The Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust for use of their map and paper cutting.