Desk Research: Dengie Woodland 2

A rainy Easter Monday, but Burnham & District Museum reopened Good Friday for its 2018 season so I went there to renew my membership and review their library. The good selection of books there allowed me to do some more work researching the history of woodland cover on the Dengie. The Domesday Book period of 1086 CE and thereabouts gets the most attention as it remains the first substantive account of England. Several people have attempted to turn the records of the Domesday Book‘s purely textual account into a visual cartographic form – and one of the map elements frequently reasoned inductively is woodland cover.

Map from A.C. Edward’s A History of Essex; with Maps and Pictures (1962)

A map of ‘Domesday Essex’ from A.C. Edward’s A History of Essex; with Maps and Pictures (1962) is one such example. A hatched red line indicates the ‘possible’ limits of the most heavily wooded areas of the county – but Edward notes in the accompanying text that ‘[i]t is difficult to estimate the extent of forest land in 1086, for woodland in any one place is merely recorded for a number of swine it could support’.

A more recent attempt to visualise Domesday records as cartography can be found in a map designed by Keith Mirams included in an Essex Record Office publication compiled by W. Raymond Powell: Essex; As Recorded in Domesday Book 1086 (1989), itself a revision of the map by J. Horace Round featured in the Victoria County History of Essex, Volume One (1903).

Keith Mirams’s map from W. Raymond Powell, Essex; As Recorded in Domesday Book 1086 (1989)

In the Mirams map, dense woodland (over 80% cover) is indicated by green colouration, so it presents a different sylvan story to the tale of edges in Edward’s book. Both however draw on the same source material and speculate from that. W. Raymond Powell does go into some greater detail about how woodland was calculated however in the book’s ‘Appendix II; Essex Woodland in 1086’. His starting point is a calculation devised by J. Horace Round for the Victoria County History of Essex:


In this equation ‘S’ is the number of swine that could be fed on the woodland in an ancient parish, ‘a’ is the acreage of the parish, ‘h’ is 100 and ‘w’ is the woodland density quotient for the parish (or amount of woodland cover). Domesday Book entries often give a parish’s swine capacity, and the census data provides the parish acreage. Thus the difficulty in estimating woodland cover noted by Edward because ‘woodland in any one place is merely recorded for a number of swine it could support’ becomes the tool of calculation. The appearance of mathematical equations lends a false veneer of accuracy to the educated guesswork however, and Powell’s appendix notes that ‘it is impossible to map the woodland with anything like accuracy, whatever method is used’.

One important suggestion about woodland in the Dengie made by Powell relates to woods held by the Manor of Lawling noted in the entry for Latchingdon, but which research he has consulted suggests were actually located in Runsell Green in Danbury parish. As a result, in the Mirams map Lawling’s woodland has been included in Danbury and Purleigh in appropriate proportions: ‘[t]his has had the effect of removing Latchingdon from the woodland area, while bring Danbury into it, as part of the belt running south from Hatfield Peverel’. This qualifies the idea of a spur of woodland  extending east into the Dengie through Purleigh into Latchingdon made in the Victoria County History and referred to in an earlier post.

dengie Domesday
Witbrictesherna (aka Dengie) peninsula in the Mirams map

In his 1972 book Domesday Geography of England, H. C. Darby remarks on other difficulties with swine calculations

It does not necessarily follow that these figures indicate the actual number of swine grazing in a wood; the swine were used merely as units of measurement. Conversely, swine were often entered for places in which there was no wood. Thus there were 15 swine on the demesne at Dunton (Barstable), 20 at South­minster (Dengie) and 30 at Tillingham (Dengie), but no wood was recorded for any of these places.

In Darby’s book he, nevertheless, attempts his own diagrammatic map of Essex woodland cover in 1086, about which he writes:

Whatever cartographical method be adopted, it is obvious that Essex was a very wooded county. The wood was widely spread over both Boulder and London Clay alike, but the greatest concentration was in the west of the county. Here were many villages with wood for over 1,000 swine, and some with sufficient even for 2,000. The eastern hun­dreds, on the other hand, were less wooded

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 22.22.50

The Dengie Hundred then appears more wooded in 1086 than some other like Tendring or Rochford, but the eastern extent seems already denuded of woodland cover by the Norman occupation.

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