The Medieval Mortimer Forest – Introduction

“I hope I may encourage readers to work on the many districts and counties that are still unexplored. Time is running out. The  historical flow of change in the countryside – an erratic trickle with spates now and then – has turned since 1950 into a devouring flood, from which little,… is safe” To plan for the future we need to know about the origin and past maintenance of the details we now prize… Even if they fail in their objects, if they do their work properly, they will have the satisfaction of ensuring that the achievements of our past civilisation have not been allowed to perish unrecorded.” Oliver Rackham (1976)[1]



Sunset taken towards Ludlow at Stanton Lacy Church. Author’s own. 

This study aims to discover the medieval history of an area straddling the Herefordshire – Shropshire borders now known as the Mortimer Forest, 1086 and the accession of Henry Tudor in July 1483. This small pocket of woodland was once part of a complex landscape comprising woodland, wood pasture and farmland, some of which was reserved for farming and hunting deer.

Uncovering the medieval history of an area has its challenges. Records are scattered through a plethora of primary sources, some are lost and others incomplete. The Domesday Book, provides details of landholders, tenants and land use in 1086. From this point onwards all the chief Lords of England held their lands of the king, so central records were developed to aid the king in collection taxes, confiscating and allocating lands. The chief lords reserved demesne lands for themselves and rented the rest to minor nobles or knights, in return for knight’s service. Freemen and peasants would rent smaller parcels and have access to common pastures, in exchange for Lord’s service. Many tenants also paid rent either in cash or by token[2].

The Mortimer Forest and its immediate environs were not part of Royal Forest,  uncultivated or heavily wooded districts with poor soil taken by the king as  his private hunting grounds, until the accession of Edward IV in 1461[3]. Although the legal system for implementing Forest Law, was much diminished by then.[4]. However the king forbade private landholders to hunt wild deer, boar, and game or take raptors on their lands, without specific licences, as he had deemed these birds and beasts his property[5]. Forest Law was independent of common and ecclesiastical law, its implementation solely depended on the will of the king and the Justice of the Forests. A network of often corrupt forest officials managed the woodlands and identified miscreants who were presented to the triennial Forest Eyres[6]. Despite the issue of the Charter of the Forest in 1217, and promises of reform made by Henry III and his descendants, medieval kings continued to apply it according to their whims until its slow demise from the mid-14th century onwards.

The Wigmore Surveys of 1325 and 1325, translated by Lovelace, provide an insight into the design and uses of medieval deer parks in the locality[7]. These parks provided wood pasture, common grazing, and oaks, for timber[8]. It is likely that equivalent parks at Burford, Wooferton and Richard’s Castle[9] were similar in design and use. This survey also explored the use of the Chases, Bringewood, Mocktree and Deerfold, private hunting forests with arbitrary borders. It therefore provides valuable information about the relationships between neighbouring Lords and between Lords and their tenants.

The study will be organised on the following themes:

  • Changes to Land Use Over Time
  • The People of the Area and Their Relationships to Each Other
  • Private Deer Parks, Chases, Warrens and Hays
  • The Management of Woodland and Wood Pasture for the Nobility and Wider Community
  • Forest, Ecclesiastical and Common Law and their Application to Private Medieval Woodland, Fauna and Flora
  • Outside Influences


The Study Plan

  • Identify and use appropriate primary and secondary sources including the body of research conducted since the 17th century into the history of Royal Forests, private woodlands and wood pastures including the Forests and Chases of England and Wales c.1000 to c.1850 database[10] and Mapping the Medieval Countryside: Places, People and Properties in the Inquisitions Post Mortem[11]
  • Use Domesday, the Inquisitions Post Mortem and other relevant records, to identify principle landholders and tenants owing knight service and lord’s service. Consult the Books of Knights Fees for additional information.
  • Use the data to plot a map of the proposed study area
  • Examine the royal and national records from William I to Richard III to identify significant land grants and confiscations, licences of free chase and free warren during their respective reigns[12].
  • Use Catalogue of Ancient Letters, Catalogue of Ancient Documents, Foedera, Catalogue of Ancient Deeds, Court of Common Pleas, Inquisitions Miscellaneous, Testamenta Vestusa, Gazetteer of Markets and Fairs, Local Plea Rolls, Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England and relevant chronicles to elicit further relevant information.
  • Explore Feet of Fines and relevant local and manorial records to uncover the details of the ordinary citizens of the area and their lives.

Full bibliography and glossary will be available at the end of the study period as PDF documents.


Identifying the Study Area

Using Lovelace’s study[13]  the Domesday Book and Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, an area was identified of the communities closely associated with the modern Mortimer Forest and the remains of the adjacent woodlands of Mocktree, Richard’s Castle, Wigmore Park, Gateley Park and Deerfold. (see fig 1).

 Map 1

The Chief Lords

The majority of lands within the study area were held by the Lords of Wigmore, Richard’s Castle and Stanton Lacy. The Church also held lands, the largest holding belonging to Bromfield Priory. Landholders were identified from Domesday, Calendars of Inquisitions Post Mortem, the Charter Rolls, Inquisitions Miscellaneous, extant cartularies and Dugdale’s Monasticon.


  1. The Mortimers of Wigmore, also held Downton Castle which was tenanted from Domesday[14]
  2. The de Lacys of Stanton Lacy
  3. The de Genvilles of Stanton Lacy and Ludlow
  4. The FitzOsberns of Richard’s Castle, also known as FitzRichard and de Scrob[15]
  5. The de Says of Richard’s Castle
  6. The Mortimers of Richard’s Castle[16]
  7. The de Cornwailes of Richard’s Castle[17]
  8. The Talebots of Richard’s Castle[18]


The Mortimers of Wigmore, held their lands from Domesday to the death of Richard III, a direct descendant of Anne, the last Mortimer heiress who died in 1411.  The Mortimers of Wigmore gained lands by marrying significant heiresses such as Joan de Genville. She was the eldest of three girls. To improve her marriage prospects, her sisters were veiled at Aconbury Priory[19].  Joan brought the Mortimers lands and castles extending across Herefordshire and Shropshire.

Richard’s Castle passed through 4 or 5 families via female inheritances. Hugh Mortimer died in 1304 leaving two under age daughters, Margaret and Joan. His lands were divided equally between them[20]. However Rickard notes that the Talebots then held the Castle, but the IPMs for the de Cornwailes suggest they also held it.[21].

Monastic Lands

  1. Bromfield Priory, pre conquest house, joined with St Peter’s Abbey Gloucester in 1155[22].
  2. The Hospital of St John, Ludford, founded in c1220’s by a local burgess, Peter Undergod[23]
  3. Wigmore Abbey, founded by the Mortimers of Wigmore in 1179, having been moved from Shobdon and then Aymestry[24]
  4. A Nunnery at Lymbroke, 2 miles from Wigmore, founded during the reign of Richard I[25].


Significant Subtenants

The chief lords were supported by a complex web of tenants and sub-tenants, minor nobles, knights and the merchant elite. The extents of IPMs and Feet of Fines are currently being consulted to identify these men. It was common for them to hold lands and owe knight’s service to more than one chief lord. Some eventually were granted their lands in their own right, whilst others purchased land from neighbours and landlords when they fell on hard times.

Identification of Local Peasant and Mercantile Families

The IPMs, Feet of Fines, Muster Rolls and Manorial records will be used to identify significant families who did not have rank. These records will be used to gain an understanding of how these families interacted with their over lords and made use of the land and its resources.

 Please Note: – At the end of the study a paper, with bibliography and glossary will be be made available in PDF format.

Next Post: Will identify communities and landholders at Domesday



[1] Rackham O (1976) Trees and Woodlands in the British Landscape. J.M. Dent and Sons. London p13

[2] Feet of Fines, Shropshire record CP 25/1/194/8, number 8. AND CP 25/2/294/9, number 41 [online]

[3] Lovelace D (2005, 2017) Bringewood Chase and Surrounding Countryside [online] Accessed 1.4.2018

[4] Grant (1991) The Royal Forests of England. Alan Sutton, Stroud P169-171

[5] Grant op cit p31-32. Manwood, J (1665) Manwood’s Treatise of the Forest Laws pp 49-50

[6] Grant op cit .p 4-5

[7] Lovelace op cit

[8] Rackham O (1981) Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London. P18-23_

[9] Morris S (2015) Shropshire Deer Parks C1500 – C1914, Recreation, Status and Husbandry. PhD Thesis University of East Anglia

[10]  Forests and Chases of England and Wales, c1000 to c.1850. [Online] accessed 25.6.2018


[12] Includes the Red and Black Books of the Exchequer, Charter, Chancery, Close and Fine Rolls, and  Letters Patent

[13]Lovelace op cit p9.

[14] Palmer JJN. Open Domesday [Online] Accessed 25.6.2018

[15] Palmer JJN. Open Domesday [Online] 25.6.2018

[16] Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem Volume I, Henry III. HMSO 1904. No 439

[17] Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem Volume V, Edward II. HMSO 1908. No 57.

[18]The Talebots held Richard’s Castle from 1305, although in what capacity is unclear.

[19] Cawley, Charles (2010). Medieval Lands, Champagne Nobility, Seigneurs de Joinville. Sourced from Dugdale Monasticon V, Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire V, In Chronicis Abbatiae Tynterne in Wallia. p.270

[20] The Calendar of Close Rolls of Edward I volume V, Mackie & Co Ltd pp 285-6

[21] Rickard J (2002) The Castle Community: The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles 1272 – 1422. Boydell Press. Woodbridge. Pp 249 – 250

[22] M J Angold, G C Baugh, Marjorie M Chibnall, D C Cox, D T W Price, Margaret Tomlinson and B S Trinder. “Houses of Benedictine monks: Priory of Bromfield,” in A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 2, ed. A T Gaydon and R B Pugh (London: Victoria County History, 1973), 27-29. British History Online, accessed June 25, 2018,

[23] Angold et al op cit pp 102-4

[24] Wright T (1852) The History of Ludlow and Its Neighbourhood, Forming a Popular Sketch of the History of the Welsh Border. Longman. p96

[25] Wright op cit p95 – 96

The Medieval Mortimer Forest – Introduction

Why We Should Care About The Mortimer Forest

This is the first in a series of posts about the Mortimer Forest. It is the only post of the series where I will be expressing my personal opinions and explaining why I think this beautiful, historic place deserves to be preserved. Then its back to business as usual, gathering the wool that is our medieval past together, preparing it and weaving it into a narrative that tells the story of the people who lived there.

High Vinnals to Juniper Hill
View from High Vinnals to Juniper Hill


The Mortimer Forest covers an area of approximately 16km2 across the borders of Herefordshire and Shropshire. The remaining land comprises the medieval hunting parks of Bringewood Chase and Norbache Park. In the medieval period, these parks were part of a network of woodlands, other hunting parks and shoots, narrow passages for moving deer. Much of the medieval forest was held by an important March family, the Mortimers of Wigmore. They had a hand in some of the most tumultuous episodes of English history. Yet the history of the Forest which now bears their name appears under explored. David Lovelace, has written an excellent paper focusing on Bringewood Chase[1], which covers the post medieval period in detail. Therefore I plan to investigate and draw on the surviving medieval records to construct a picture of the forest, its people and its communities.

My reasons for embarking on this project are many. I have an interest in Forest Law and had been undertaking related research for a colleague. I was also looking for information about the area in the early 15th century to expand my research into the Poynings family. Finally I had discovered that despite being pretty much undeveloped since Domesday, Juniper Hill within the Mortimer Forest, is threatened with development. Any additional information I could find, may prove useful.

Mortimer Forest is known to be ecologically sensitive and valuable, supporting many rare and endangered species[2]. A recent short research trip to explore the forest and its environs, really helped me to understand the impact of the proposed development of “high end” holiday cabins with hot tubs, by Forest Holidays, a company part owned by the Forestry Commission[3], a government body which manages woodlands throughout the country. To their credit they have been restoring much of the ancient woodland within Bringewood Chase and working hard to conserve the rare and endangered fauna and flora.

From the Mortimer Forest towards Wigmore

The area surrounding Mortimer Forest is a patchwork of fields, some growing crops and others supporting livestock. The hedgerows were in full bloom, with May blossoms, cow parsley and bluebells. Dotted amongst the greenery are small communities full of black and white houses and ancient churches. Mortimer Forest, lying at its heart is the jewel in the crown. Beautiful ancient woodland and pine plantations, are criss-crossed by lanes and pathways that have been present for centuries. Sitting beneath the trees, the only sounds, I heard were a rich mixture of birdsong. The atmosphere is like an ancient church, conveying a depth of history, a sense of all that has gone before, overlaid with a deep peace. Although in truth, the peacefulness belies much of its story.

Mortimer Forest does not fulfill Natural England’s criteria for ancient woodland (8). A complex assessment involving the study of old maps, information about the wood’s name,  shape, internal boundaries, location relative to other features, ground and aerial surveys, shows changes in land use since the 17th century, which are mainly agricultural. Leaving only the  western fringes and a small area in the parish of Richard’s Castle which meet the UK government definition:

“Any area that has been wooded since 1600AD, and includes any ancient semi-natural woodland mainly made up of trees and shrubs native to the site, usually arising from natural regeneration. Any plantations on ancient woodland sites – replanted with conifer and broadleaved trees that retain ancient woodland features, such as undisturbed soil, ground flora and fungi”.[4] *

However the National Planning Framework states that “when designating conservation areas, local planning committees should ensure that an area justifies such status because of its special architectural or historic interest”[5].

I would argue that the complex history and ecology of the area now known as The Mortimer Forest and Juniper Hill is of special interest. Its sensitive ecosystem is protected by laws supporting the conservation of the rare and endangered species found there. The surviving medieval buildings, earth works and ruins in its immediate environment are protected by strict laws, which prevent their destruction.

The changes in the landscape tell an important story. Not just of the immediate area but of England and Wales. Of historic struggles between the peoples of both nations and the complex relationships between them.  The story of the people who lived through  complex and troublesome times. Who knew both security and fear. Plenty and famine. Life and death. People who adapted an ever changing world. The surviving medieval documents allow us to know some of their names. To glimpse the complex social hierarchy many of them navigated on a daily basis. To construct an impression of their families and their lives.

The proposed development will undoubtedly impact on the environment and ecology of the forest and its environs. Juniper Hill, currently a conifer plantation is said to have little conservation value in its own right. However it is a rutting ground for a rare subspecies of fallow deer exclusive to this forest. It is also part of the lands held by the Mortimers of Wigmore, which became Royal Forest by the mid-fifteenth century, with the accession of Edward IV, giving it historical worth.

In addition to the cabins, Forest Holidays, want to create tarmac hard standings for cars, which will impact on land drainage. Locally, there are many homes displaying large red placards calling for the proposed development to be halted. Their objections are not due to NIMBY-ism. They understand the land, their community and its infrastructure. Viewing the area which will be affected by the proposal, an area of high ground overshadowing the ancient woodland of High Vinnals has given me a better insight into its potential problems. The presence of the cabins will affect the rutting deer. The local infrastructure is not designed to support the extra traffic. The only road to the site is a single carriageway A road. Heavily congested in the summer, it is the main route to the nearby historic town of Ludlow.

Developing green spaces also affects quality of life and sense of wellbeing[6]. Many successful mental health programmes include the opportunity to access nature, work on the land and grow things[7]. Exercise is also known to improve physical health and aid weight-loss. As a nation we are facing a health crisis, where demand for services across the board outstrips availability. We should be jealously guarding all beautiful green space that encourages Britons to get outdoors, especially unique areas like the Mortimer Forest. We need its special combination of green space, birdsong, serenity, closeness to the natural world, and history. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to fight for these places. These special wild spaces are our legacy, in a way holiday cabins will never be.

The benefits of preservation significantly outweigh the risk of damaging the forest with development. Once damaged can it truly be restored wholly to its former glory? Can we revive the ancient species its destruction will make extinct? Essentially no. We need to reframe the questions we ask when planning such significant changes. Since the Industrial Revolution reached its zenith, we have expected nature to bend to our will. Progress and new technology are seen as the way forward. Now we are reaping the results and as outlined above, they aren’t great for us as a species.

We have a responsibility to protect a complex environment, that includes ancient woodland, wood pasture, chase, parks, common land and enclosed farmland. This does not make the area any less historically valuable than if it was wholly ancient woodland. On a positive note, the campaign to save Juniper Hill from development has really awakened interest in the history, archaeology, biodiversity, and ecology of this complex landscape, that is still to reveal many secrets. (With thanks to David Lovelace for the additional information and guidance)

 We can build the cabins, that’s a given. But it is better to ask whether we should.

Asking “Should”… provides the opportunity to ask deeper questions and arrive at a more considered response to the idea. Should… encourages us to consider the impact of damaging our environment further. It challenges us to leave a better planet for our descendants. Allows us to learn how this land benefits the local community, the nation and the world at large. Arrives at answers which put both land and communities at the heart of the decision making process.


High Vinnals, Coppicing

All images (c)Bev Newman 2018 unless otherwise stated


[1] Lovelace D (2005, 2017) Bringewood Chase and Surrounding Countryside.

[2] Walling J (ed) (2015) The Life and Times of Mortimer Forest in a Nutshell. West Midlands Butterfly Conservation. accessed 18.5.2018

[3] Forest Holidays (2018) Forest Holidays and the Forestry Commission – A deep rooted partnership. [Online] accessed 25/5/2018

[4] Department of Planning and Development (2018) Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees: Protecting Them From Development [online] Accessed 16.5.2018

[5] Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (2012) National Planning Policy Framework 12 – Conserving and Enhancing the Historic Environment [online] Accessed 16.5.2018

[6] The James Hutton Institute et al (2014) Green Health Information Note 7 – Contribution of Green and Open Space in Public Health and Wellbeing [online] accessed 25/5/2018

[7] Natural England (2016) Green Space and Health [online]  file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/POST-PN-0538.pdf  Accessed 25.5.2018

(8) Natural England (2018) Natural Woodland Inventory

(9) Walling J (ed) (2015) The Life and Times of Mortimer Forest in a Nutshell. West Midlands Butterfly Conservation. accessed 30.5.2018




file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/POST-PN-0538.pdf Accessed 25.5.2018

Why We Should Care About The Mortimer Forest

Two Kings, A Sheriff and Ninety-Seven Pounds

Three-Men-before-a-Judge- MS Ludwig XIV 6 fol 135v
Three Men and a Judge. Ludwig MS XIV 6, fol, 135v

The Lancashire Pipe Rolls give a snapshot of some of the consequences of falling foul of medieval law or Kings, the creative approaches some Kings used to raise money, and the tricks employed by their subjects trying  to recoup their losses. A particularly interesting set of records cover 1194 – 1196, the two years following the payment of the 100,000 pounds of silver, required to ransom Richard I. England having paid two-thirds, he was freed in February 1194. He then returned to England, put down a rebellion by his brother John, paid the outstanding balance and had set off to campaign in Normandy by mid May. So how did he raise the outstanding 33,333 pounds of silver if England had been bled dry by his ransom as is often claimed?

Richard’s justices travelled England imposing fines for rebellion, imposing fines for seisin of property and infringments of Common and Forest Law. His sheriffs were equally busy collecting them along with a new tax, the carucage, the replacement for the cumbersome Danegeld. A payment of one mark for each carucate or hide of land a man held was levied, each carucate being approximately 120 acres,,the area a plough team of eight oxen could work in a season. Variations in soil type and climate across the country, were taken into account, with smaller plots being located in areas of heavy soil or high rainfall. Richard also removed sheriffs from their posts, and then sold the position to the highest bidder, a risk considering their important role. Sheriffs maintained the peace in their county, disseminated the King’s orders, called up men for the Royal army and provisioned them, collected fines and taxes, tried minor criminal and civil cases, and imprisoned felons awaiting trial by the King’s Justices. At the end of a year he had to give an account of himself to the Exchequer, paying in monies or tally sticks owing to the Crown.

Theobald Walter purchased the role of Sheriff of Lancaster at Easter 1194, a county particularly lucrative for Richard, as his rebellious brother had been Lord in Chief, compelling those who owed him knight’s service to rebel with him or forfeit their property. Now these men faced fines, forfeiture or outlawry, depending on their value to the King or the best approach to guarantee payment of a large fine, to regain seisin or to return within the protection of the law. Theobald fell foul of another of Richard’s schemes, the granting of Royal lands in return for payment, whilst not permitting the Sheriff to claim relief on the half year’s rent of the fee farm, thus placing him in debt to the Exchequer1. However it is possible that Theobald came up with his own scheme to recoup his losses, appealing to the King for a grant of £97 to restock the Royal demense, as Count John had requisitioned most of the livestock prior his rebellion to provide food in case of a siege and increase the supply of horses to his men.

A breakdown in the Pipe Roll gives the overall costs and number of animals required, and the commentary provides the cost per head, as summarised:

5 plough teams to till 15 carucates of the Royal Estate, each ox costs 4s,as does a harrow and 40 oxen and 5 harrows were needed2                                                                                                                                 £15

Annual produce from 15 vaccaries, each requiring 16 cows and 1 bull, for a total of 140 cows, 16 bulls at 4s a beast                                                                                                                                                                     £15

Annual produce of 4 score (80) brood mares, at 4s per head                                                                            £4

Annual produce of a long hundred (120) of breeding ewes, at 6d per head2                                                        £1

However there is no evidence that Theobald spent this money on livestock, or anything else for the benefit of the King’s demense. When John became King, he removed Theobald from office and the Lancashire Pipe Roll for the third year of his reign records that John had ensured he had repaid the £97:

“Theobaldus Walteri reddit compotum de quater xx et xvijl quas ipse recepit ad instaurandas terras in honore de Lancastra quando habuit balliam sicut annotatur in Rotulo Regis Ricardi viij. In thesauro liberavit. Et quietus est.”

Theobald Walter gives account of four lots of £20 and £17 (£97) which was received to restore the lands of the Honour of Lancaster, when he had office as noted in the Roll of 8 King Richard. He had paid it. He is discharged. (my translation).


1. An annual rent payable to property owner, but without an obligation for feudal service

2. Oxen were bred on special farms called vaccaries, each vaccary had 16 cows and 1 bull, the aim was to keep a plentiful supply of fit animals to replace any that were worn out, old or sick, to maintain the efficiency of plough teams, each comprising 8 oxen. A village was valued on the number of plough teams it supported, and if there were insufficent teams or lack of supply to meet demand, its prosperity and value to its Lord declined  or ceased. Each plough team yielded a profit of 20s

3. It is difficult to determine the value of wool produced in 1189 due to lack of extant records, so the prices quoted below are a century later, but give an idea of the profitability of sheep farming. By 1194, English wool was in high demand as damp English pastures produce sheep with a long, strong, soft, fine and springy wool. Flemish merchants were paying in advance, exporting the raw wool for processing and weaving in Flanders, the finished cloth then being exported across Europe. Each sack comprised of 240 fleece, weighing approximately 364lb. In 1299 30 adult sheep produced 20s of wool, so a flock of 120 would yield 80s.  (Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages, Christopher Dyer, Cambridge University Press, 1989 )

References and Bibliography

Farrer W (1902) The Lancashire Pipe Rolls and the Early Lancashire Charters Henry Young and Sons Liverpool. [online]



Two Kings, A Sheriff and Ninety-Seven Pounds