Woods aren't just interesting to Natural Historians; they can have a lot to tell human historians, too.
Within Neals Wood, there is a large bank and ditch system. This may have marked a historic boundary between Neal's Farm and Thame Abbey, as the two estates used to meet in these woods. In bank-and-ditch boundaries, the bank is generally within the land being enclosed, whilst the ditch marks the actual boundary. Here, the bank seems to be running around the property of Neals Farm, so the ditch marks the end-point of the adjacent woodland owned by the Abbey.
The wood also has another interesting archeological feature; the remains of an old gas-meter house. In the 1870s, it was fashionable for large stately homes to have their own gasworks attached, which would be used for lighting the house, as gas streetlights did in towns at that time. This was before gas was piped to homes, so if you wanted gas lighting, a gasworks was the only way to do it.
See this old poster which is advertising the merits of homemade gas and shows an illustration of a gas works in Sulhamstead just south of Reading. We can presume that the gas works in Neals Wood was similar.
It is very uncommon for such structures to have remained standing over the last century, and most have been partially or totally demolished, so the section of floor that can be seen here is quite a rare slice of history. There are also indications of other buildings associated with the gas works nearby, and volunteers Tim Southern and Sue Gibson are still investigating the area, to see if they can get a more detailed picture of how the gasworks functioned.
This woodland is private so please ensure you keep to the public paths.
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