THE HISTORY OF WOODLANDS
Woodlands lies on the north eastern border of the Mendip Hills and the ancient Selwood Forest and the counties of Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire in south west England. In Anglo-Saxon times it was a far more substantial forest and covered a much greater area forming a natural barrier between the Anglo-Saxon of Wessex and the Britons of Dumnonia and the Severn Valley.
The name Selwood is first recorded in Old English around 894 as Seluudu which some etymologists consider to derive from Sealhwudu or Sallow Wood ‘Wood where sallow trees grow’ and Sallow is from Salix…Willow.
Selwood may have been the location of the Battle of Peonnum in 658. At this battle King Cenwalh of Wessex defeated the Britons and annexed Somerset as far west as the River Parret. Selwood is the location of Egbert’s Stone, where Alfred the Great rallied his forces against the Great Heathen Army in 878 and is celebrated in history as being the retreat of Alfred the Great before the battle of Ethandune. (Eddington)
The event is recorded in Asser’s Life of King Alfred:
In the seventh week after Easter, Alfred rode to the stone of Egbert, which is in the eastern part of the wood which is called Selwood, which means in Latin Silva Magna, the Great Wood, but in British Coit mawr and there met him all the inhabitants of Somerset and Wiltshire, and all such inhabitants of Hampshire as had not sailed beyond sea for fear of the Pagans, and upon seeing the King received him as was proper like one come to life again after so many troubles, and were filled with excessive joy, and there they encamped for one night.”
Asser’s “The Life of King Alfred”
Much of the area from 1540 belonged to the Longleat Estate, where a former priory stood, 60 acres at that time were purchased for £53 by John Thynne. Many of the houses in the two villages were formerly owned by the Thynne family and used by the estate workers and tenant farmers. Large parts of the Estate were sold in 1947 to meet death duties.
The local Pub (the Horse and Groom) and the Village Hall still belong to the Estate. The Thynne Educational Foundation now owns the hall which is run by a committee of local volunteers and is well used by the community for a wide variety of events.
Manor Farmhouse in West Woodlands provides a particularly good example of 17th century architecture and was the formerly the George Inn.
St. Algars Farmhouse – grade II* listed Farmhouse. Named after Ælfgar of Selwood dates from the C14, further alterations of C17, further C19 work. Former chapel of a monastic settlement. Virtually all of the C14 arch-braced collar beam roof remains over the chapel.
There are several archaeological sites within the East Woodlands area. An Iron Age hill fort – Roddenbury Camp – and the early mediaeval Hales Castle are located near East Woodlands.
Hales Castle is a roughly circular ringwork on the lower end of a gently sloping spur north west of Roddenbury Hill. It seems, by castelologists, to be accepted as a medieval castle probably Norman but the location and form is equally that of an Iron Age site.
Diagram showing Hales Castle (top) and Roddenbury Camp (bottom)
RODDENBURY CAMP is a univallate or single rampart Iron Age hillfort. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and on the Heritage at Risk register.
In the woods along the southern edge of East Woodlands are the remains of Dog Street, once a notorious haunt of robbers and villains. It is recorded that the remote backwaters of East and West Woodlands became notorious for the coining of false money called Woodland groats (a coin equal to four pennies) and for clipping, or paring, the genuine coin of the realm… Finally in 1693 a party of soldiers quartered at Frome were ordered to attack a gang of these coiners at a place called Salmons or Seaman’s house, where they withstood a veritable siege, in which a coiner was killed and others taken and executed. This broke the trade but as late as 1714 one Nicholas Andrews of Frome was hanged on Oldford Hill with two Wiltshire men ‘for counterfeiting Her Majesties Coyne’.