Sixteen tree species are grown commercially in the 74 hectare (180 acre) woodland. They include hardwoods like the area’s traditional beech as well as oak and cherry. Conifer plantations include Scots pine, Norway spruce, European larch and western hemlock.
The rich flora of the woods provides evidence of their long and chequered history. Ancient woodland flowers carpet parts of the woods in spring. The best displays are found near the old earthworks in Hockeridge Bottom. Primroses, bluebells, yellow archangel and tway- blade orchid can all be found here.
A centuries old bank and ditch which once kept out livestock surrounds the woods. The boundary between Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire can still be seen in Hockeridge Bottom. Medieval double banks topped with old hedgerow trees mark the line.
There are several reasons why Hockeridge and Pancake woods are special – not only are they excellent examples of Chiltern woodlands which are open to the public, but they also contain some 50 species of non-native trees, including giant sequoias and other redwoods. The history of the woods is long; the county boundary between Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire can still be seen in the form of medieval double banks topped with old hedgerow trees. The story of the woods’ ownership and management over the past 200 years shows how initiative and farsightedness have ensured that they can be enjoyed by us today.
Throughout the 19th century, the woods were owned by the Dorrien family, who managed the woods for timber production and, during this time, also became owners of the Ashlyns estate (simultaneously acquiring the double-barrel Smith-Dorrien, as well as the land). However, the last of the Dorrien’s, Horace, died in 1930 (see photo). At about the same time the Foundling Hospital was planning to move out of polluted London to a location in the countryside. The Hospital purchased and moved into Ashlyns in 1935, but the ownership and management of Hockeridge and Pancake woods immediately following Horace’s death is not clear. It is, however, evident that there was some risk of the area being brought up by developers and, in order to prevent this from happening, the governors of the Foundling Hospital purchased the woods in 1944.
However, this was not the end of the story. In 1950 the Hospital ceased its operations at Ashlyns and the woods were sold again in July 1952 to Miss Mary Wellesley, a great, great granddaughter of the Duke of Wellington. She was obviously an enthusiastic arborculturalist (as evidenced by letters to the Times) and found the woods in a state of neglect when she purchased them. Not only did she rescue the woods from their plight but she also planted the non-native species and employed a local agent to manage them. In 1986 Miss Wellesley handed the woods over to the Royal Forestry Society, the present owners.
Since 1986 the Royal Forestry Society has continued to manage the woods to a high standard, winning a Forestry Authority Centre of Excellence Award, and has opened them to the public with information boards and guided walks.
The special nature of Hockeridge and Pancake woods is doubtless very much due to the contributions of the Dorrien family, the Foundling Hospital, Miss Wellesley and the Royal Forestry Society over the past 200 years in ensuring that the woods have been managed and protected from development, and making them accessible to the public today.
If you have any more information about these woods, including photos, or think you know how they got their name, then please get in touch.
Facilities & accessibility
Information boards at 3 entrances with a map and guide. Picnic area.