History of Sherwood
Some of Sherwood’s characteristic features can be found from manmade intervention dating back to Roman times. It’s heathland is believed to be the result of woodland clearances and this more open landscape included grasses and low growing shrubs like heather.
After the Romans, the forest was again a largely depopulated, with soil exhaustion and erosion taking their toll on the land. The Sherwood countryside was probably a mix of oak and birch woodland punctuated by heathland with heather, gorse and rough grassland and was a landscape that Robin Hood would have seen.
On the invasion of William the Conqueror, Sherwood was designated a Royal Hunting Forest following England's invasion in 1066.
Eventually, much original woodland disappeared as timber was felled to build new villages and towns and cleared for use as common grazing pastureland. Given oak’s durable nature, many trees were also stripped to be used to build ships. Large scale land enclosure and clearance continued as the old laws which had protected the forest fell into disuse.
Dissolution and the Dukeries
But it was Henry VIII dissolution of the monasteries from 1536 that was the greatest catalyst for economic growth and landscape change in Sherwood. The monastic estates (Newstead and Rufford in particular) were granted or sold to the aristocracy and gentry, placing great power and influence in the hands of a privileged few.
Powerful new landowners rebuilt or replaced the former abbeys and priories. They created large estates of landscaped parkland for their own pleasure into what became known as The Dukeries – Clumber, Rufford, Welbeck, Thoresby, and Worksop (now not in existence).
Georgian Sherwood to Present Day
Further modernisation took place through the Georgian period as water powered cotton mills were built by the River Maun and Rufford's lake was created to power its corn mill by damming the north end of the estate stream. Concerned about local unemployment, Welbeck Abbey's 4th Duke of Portland developed King’s Mill reservoir to serve the seven water mills of Mansfield.
It was in Victorian times that Romantic writers, like Sir Walter Scott, sparked a new interest in Robin Hood’s Sherwood and tourists were attracted to the forest. As a result, tourism related business took off reflecting in the local developments around the landscape that we see today.
Overall Sherwood Forest is a phenomenal landscape and its history reflects the unique position it holds in the centre of the UK and the fantastic natural resources that it provides. The Sherwood Forest Trust and the rangers at the different parks do an amazing job in maintaining and restoring this truly great place.