Hazeland History

Pewsham and Blakemore Forest

The royal forests of Chippenham and Melksham, like other forests, appear in the records under various names, which display no apparent consistency even during the same period of time. The whole forest district was administered as a unit by a single warden, and was described in 1228 by a single series of bounds: it is referred to in the 12th-century Pipe Rolls as ‘the Forest of Chippenham’.

But by the 13th century the northern and southern wards, each kept by a subordinate forester, were often distinguished as ‘the Forest of Chippenham’ and ‘the Forest of Melksham’ respectively. In the second half of the century, ‘the wood of Pewsham’ in Chippenham Forest began to be described as ‘the Forest of Pewsham’, which name was later frequently applied to the whole northern ward. By the beginning of the 17th century, this area was sometimes called ‘the Forest of Pewsham and Bowood’. 

The bounds of Chippenham and Melksham Forests, which were declared in 1228,  held good during the next hundred years. They were the rivers Avon and Marden on the west and north, Summerham and Semington Brooks on the south, and ‘the king’s highway between Calne and Rowde’ on the east. These bounds enclose an area of about 33 square miles.

Like all the other forests, Chippenham and Melksham supplied large numbers of fallow deer to provide the court with venison; in 1285, for example, the warden was ordered to assist a royal huntsman to take 100 does.  Timber and firewood were regularly ordered for the king’s purposes. The king also had the profits of itinerant forges for the smelting of iron in these forests. In 1294 Edward I granted a licence to the abbot and monks of Stanley Abbey to smelt ore on their lands within the forest. 

The kings of England from Edward I to Henry VIII assigned to their queens in dower the forests of Chippenham and Melksham, with all their revenues, together with the castle and town of Devizes and the manor of Rowde. 

A survey made in 1653 reported that Bowood Park, ‘late parcel of the possessions of Charles Stewart, late king of England’, was 958 acres in extent, and contained 10,921 trees. It was leased by Charles II in 1661 to the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Orlando Bridgman, at an annual rent of £30.

There were elected for Chippenham and Melksham Forests in the 13th and 14th centuries four verderers, twelve regarders, and an agister. The regarders continued to make presentments about cutting browsewood and felling trees until the final disafforestment.

The disafforestment of Chippenham and Melksham and the leasing and inclosure of the forest wastes brought about the usual hardships by depriving the poor of their common rights. John Aubrey quotes this on the subject—

When Chipnam stood in Pewsham’s wood, Before it was destroyed, A cow might have gone for a groat a year, But now it is denyed.

Stanley Abbey

Stanley Abbey was a medieval Cistercian abbey, located between Chippenham and Calne, on the banks of the River Marden, which flourished between 1151 and 1536.

In 1149 land was given by Empress Matilda to monks from Quarr Abbey, on the Isle of Wight.  This was initially at Loxwell, to the east of Chippenham, but the Cistercian community moved to nearby Stanley in 1154.

The abbey church was dedicated in 1266. The abbey grew in size throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, reaching a size of 450 acres at its largest. Its influence also grew with Abbot Nicholas entertaining King John at Stanley Abbey in October 1200.

In 1280 King Edward I gave stone to the abbey for a chamber to be built for his own use, and according to the abbey chronicle he used this chamber in the spring of 1282. Princess Mary, the Bishop of Salisbury and Edward II were all reported to have stayed at the abbey during the first years of the fourteenth century.

Its operation finally ceased as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries. The last Abbot was Thomas Calne (also called Morley), and the abbey was dissolved in February 1536.

The site of the abbey is less than half a mile away from Hazeland Wood.