3.3.2 West Central England

West Central England is predominantly low-lying ground, drained by several major river systems. Although the volume of wetland is insignificant compared with areas of East Central England, such as Lincolnshire, there are many small bogs in Cheshire and North Shropshire, and some small marsh areas in westerly areas, especially Herefordshire (the Wigmore area) and Shropshire (the Weald Moors) (Gelling 1992, 5).

Using place-name evidence – notably the presence of lēah names – Gelling (1992, 7-16) has sought to identify areas of ancient woodland. There are none of consequence in the Wirral but there is a large number of lēah names in Cheshire, particularly in the Forest of Delamere (itself a modern name), and a straggle of lēah names from here to the edge of the Pennines, south of Cheadle, and in the area known as the 'Royal Forest of Macclesfield'. In Staffordshire there is little known ancient woodland. The south-west region was a treeless upland, and there is a lack of lēah names along the Trent and its tributaries in the south-east. In Warwickshire there is a division that runs approximately north-south between the wooded Arden and the cleared Feldon district. In Shropshire there is a dense concentration of lēah names along the Severn and its tributaries, and another belt running east-west across central Shropshire. In Herefordshire lēah names are infrequent, possibly implying less ancient woodland. Indeed Domesday suggests that Herefordshire was less wooded than the neighbouring counties of Shropshire, Gloucestershire and Cheshire. A small cluster is seen on the River Wye 20-25 km north-west of Hereford. To the south of Lugg place-names more commonly have the element tun, indicating an open landscape.

The region known as 'The Arden' (roughly equating to North Warwickshire, north of the Avon) was also probably wooded. Charter evidence and Domesday suggests it supported a thin, unevenly distributed population, with the period c. 400-1000 likely to have been heavily wooded. The low intensity of exploitation resulted in large parishes and a small hidage assessment in Domesday (Dyer 1995, 119-21). The area was characterised by steep valleys for rivers feeding the Avon (Ford 1995, 60). Dyer (1995, 121) argues that the 'Wolds' (comprising the Gloucestershire Cotswolds and Warwickshire north of Rugby and between Shuckburgh and Warmington) were also wooded areas, but exploited for wood and as pasture, with increasing arable cultivation throughout the medieval period. The Forest of Dean in South Gloucestershire was also extensively wooded and contains few place names representing early settlement, although much of it may have been woodland pasture rather than dense woodland (Heighway 1987, 66).

Early medieval settlement: archaeological and historical background
Patterns of early medieval portable antiquities


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