WOODGREEN: A POTTED HISTORY

Until relatively recently, Woodgreen was seen as the “odd man out” among the neighbourhood villages and hamlets, particularly because of its historical beginnings. Not recorded in the Domesday Book (even Fordingbridge only had 12 families and yet is shown), Woodgreen was a latecomer, populated by some of the poorest of society and was essentially an illegal settlement for much of its early history.

The area had long been inhabited; witness the very important archaeological find of Palaeolithic flint implements in a gravel pit in the village. However it was not until the late 17th century that there are any written records and, even then, you have to go to Breamore or Hale to see references to a marriage, birth or death related to someone from Woodgreen. Not being a Parish in its own right, Woodgreen has no early records of its own.

Cockfighting on Woodgreen by Joe Chamberlin (c1920?)

It is unlikely that early Woodgreen folk were from the local area but from further afield, driven here by shortages of food and work. Here they found somewhere to settle and scrape a poor living.

Resourceful incomers set up their dwellings, often overnight under the noses of the local officials. They assumed Forest rights, turning out animals to graze, grew vegetables to feed their families and took on any casual jobs going in the local area. They were “encroachers”, hiding away as best they could from the local authorities, who were often corrupt and neglectful of their duties.

Encroachment could be achieved by a determined family and friends; with sufficient land fenced, a simple house erected, a fire lit in the hearth and evidence of continuous living, should any official pass by looking for wrong doing. Thus Woodgreen grew into an unofficial village on the edge of the Forest and organised society.

The first serious attempt to regularise this situation was made in the late 18th century, when the whole of the New Forest was mapped in great detail, and individual land claims were investigated. Happily most survived unscathed.

Woodgreeners continued to live on the edge, suspicious of outsiders but content to rely on Hale and Breamore for poor relief as necessary, much to the chagrin of their reluctantly generous neighbours. Smuggling and poaching became a way of life for many, in between spells of casual labouring work. Disorder and general lawlessness were not unknown across the whole of the New Forest.

The 20th century witnessed much change in Woodgreen, as the tumult of two World Wars and accelerating social change greatly affected even this small corner of New Forest society. St. Boniface Church was built in 1914, and the Village Hall murals were painted to record villagers and village life in the 1930s. Townspeople moved to the countryside, tourism took hold, tracks became roads, the age of the motor and personalised transport arrived and the rest is, as they say, history.

Thus Woodgreen was founded and thrived on the determination, ingenuity and cussedness of its people.

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