Much of the central area of this 90 hectare woodland is of ancient origin, with records of its existence dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. Surrounding this ancient core, secondary semi-natural woodland of the 18th, 19th and 20th century has developed. The wide range of soil types and its mixed history has resulted in Hodgemoor possessing an extensive variety of woodland trees and shrubs, making it an excellent site for wildlife and an interesting place to visit.
Hodgemoor Woods is a place of fond memories for many people. Project volunteer Paula’s earliest memory of the wood is of running through dry beech leaves in some mysterious dells in the middle of the wood. Other children would ride their bicycles up and down the slopes of the dells or swing over them from ropes slung from branches of trees. At the time, the area seemed like a natural children’s playground but perhaps it was the remnants of diggings for clay to be used in the local brick kilns. Most people think of Hodgemoor Woods as a pleasant place to walk or ride their horses. Among these, the Hodgemoor Riding Association has been extremely important in improving the riding trails and still actively maintains them.
What many people may not realise is that Hodgemoor is an ancient woodland which was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1992. It is one of the largest tracts of semi-natural woodlands remaining in the Buckinghamshire Chilterns. Due to its age and varied soils Hodgemoor Wood is an excellent site for wildlife. In recent years more than 700 species of fungi have been identified and due to the wood’s history of low intensity management there are a very wide range of trees and shrubs, considered typical of Chiltern woodlands before beech trees were planted on a wide scale. Oak and beech coppices are also to be found and there is a marked Coppice Trail which people can follow around the wood. The area supports a wide range of woodland vegetation as well as many flowering plants. This also is typical of ancient woodland and traditional management. As well as plants characteristic of the Chilterns, others which are uncommon in Buckinghamshire have been recorded. Not surprisingly, important populations of insects, including the rare jewel beetle, can be found in the woods.
In 1946 Buckinghamshire County Council built and managed a reception and billeting camp for Polish soldiers and there are many Polish families who remember Hodgemoor as providing a safe home after the war. From 1947 until 1962, the area was full of temporary buildings, barracks buildings and Nissen huts and was home to 156 Polish families. These were mainly the families of Polish servicemen from the Third Carpathian division in Italy who could not safely return to Poland. Conditions in the camp were basic but all necessary amenities were provided and it was a proper community with a Church, an infant school, a post office, a shop and an entertainment hall. It was later used for refugees during the Cold War who, with the passing of Poland from German to Russian hands at the conclusion of the war, had no home to return to. The camp was eventually demolished in 1961, but is still remembered with a commemorative plaque.
The earliest record of the woods dates back to the 13th century but there has been considerable fluctuation in the extent of the wood, so that the ancient core is surrounded by semi-natural woodland dating from the 18th century and more recently.
We know that the woods’ heavy clay soil was unsuitable for agriculture and it was used for timber for 200 years up to 1850. In 1939, Buckinghamshire County Council bought a parcel of 156.7 acres of the land for £6,269; title deeds show that it came from three separate sources. One of these pieces of land was the south-east corner that was not originally part of the woods. It had been part of New Barn Farm and belonged to the glebe lands in Seer Green, paying a tithe to the church in the parish of Farnham Royal. The second piece of land was a small area in the top north-east corner. This included four small houses of which one – Masies Cottage, still exists and is inhabited. Older inhabitants remember the ruins of another of these dwellings, Pest House, as where sufferers of the plague were sent
Hodgemoor Wood itself is the third piece of land mentioned in the deed. The Domesday Book shows that, in 1086, Bertram of Verdun, lord of the manor of Farnham Royal, had an area of woodland in Amersham where he kept 600 pigs. Perhaps this was the area that is now Hodgemoor. Sometime around the beginning of the 17th century, the wood was granted to a William Waad Esq by Queen Elizabeth I. At that time, it was known as Hoggemoor. It then seems to have become part of the estate of the Godolphin family for some time until, in 1899, it was sold by George Godolphin, 10th Duke of Leeds. It is not clear how the land was used but ‘hogge’ is an old variation of the word ‘hog. Perhaps the area was kept as grazing for these animals and this would explain why the core of ancient woodland has been preserved.
Facilities & accessibility
Information, picnic area, paths, horse riding. Events. There are promoted walks passing through the woods, click here for details.