Needwood Forest


There is evidence of Celtic people having lived in the forest. A fabulous gold torque, known as ‘The Needwood Torque’, was discovered in Greaves Wood on Duchy of Lancaster land just north of the Duchy saw mill near Six Lane Ends on the A 515 prior to 1849. It was found at the mouth of a fox hole. Being found on Crown property, it is on permanent loan to the Romano-British Department of the British Museum in London. Although this particular site is in the Marchington Ward of the forest, it is fair to assume that more sites may exist in other parts of the forest as well.

It is interesting to note the existence of straight roads in the area of the former forest. Indeed, the Barton Gate to Needwood road was absolutely straight before it was diverted to make room for Rangemore Hall. By comparison, roads outside the forest area are far from straight, with the exception of the “Roman” Ryknield Street (A 38).

Mention has already been made of the Forest Gates. It should be made clear that these gates were not toll gates. This fact has been confirmed by the legal department of the Duchy of Lancaster in London. The only forest gates levying tolls were those where the turnpike road (A 515) entered and left the forest as it ran north from Yoxall to Draycott in the Clay, and they did not lie within Barton Manor. The other forest gates were beast gates, or cattle gates, to allow those with forest grazing rights to move their animals in and out as desired.

From 1399 the forest was under the control of the Duchy of Lancaster and administered locally by a Steward based at Tutbury Castle. Courts were held at Byrkley Lodge and at Tutbury Castle. There was an elaborate organisation involving the Woodmaster, Lieutenant, Ranger and Surveyor for the whole forest and the Keepers and Collectors (of fines and rents) over each Ward. Although James I and Charles I both hunted in the forest, by the year 1609 it had been felt that its distance from London meant that it was not often visited by royalty and that it might prove more useful if the land was enclosed. Nothing came of the idea and enclosure had to wait another two hundred years.

Of particular interest to Barton is a letter from Sir Thomas Heneage, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to Sir Humphrey Ferrers, Surveyor of Needwood Forest, written on the 23rd.February, 1594, asking for timber to be supplied for the building of Thomas Russell’s Free School. It is recorded that, later that year, twelve timber trees and twenty four loads of cropped wood were delivered for the building which was completed in 1595.

After the Norman conquest Forest Parks were created. Three such parks were Highlands Park (1263), Barton Park (1297) and Sherholt Park (1374), all of which lay within the Manor of Barton. It is interesting to note that, by the time of the 1609 survey, the forest had shrunk so much that the first two parks lay outside the boundary of the forest.

The area of Barton Manor was so large that minor manors, such as those of Newbold and Blakenhall, lay within its boundary.