Hartlebury Common is about one third of its pre-
In the Medieval period, and possibly earlier, the owner of common land was the lord of the manor in which the common lay. In the case of Hartlebury the Bishops of Worcester. Ownership was then passed on to his legal descendant down the centuries. In 1968 it passed to the County Council and in 1979 was designated a Local Nature Reserve and it has SSSI status. What makes common land so unusual is that many ordinary folks had, and still have, rights over the surface of common land. The most obvious right is of grazing animals on the herbage; sometimes the right to fish, the right to cut bracken for fuel or bedding cattle; the right to gather wood for fuel and the right to dig turf for fuel or roofing. The right to free access for those holding common rights meant that the owner was prevented by law from erecting fences, barriers or buildings. At Hartlebury others did encroach, at the lower half of the Common there are several houses and plots carved out of common land, these may have originated as squatter's cottages.
In the 18th century Hartlebury Common was described as being:
"A sandy unprofitable heath with only a few lonely cottages exhibiting a picture of desolation and poverty". It was thought so worthless that it was not enclosed under the Enclosure Act and Award of 1815 and 1821. Centuries later the common is considered to be remarkable, certainly in terms of botanical rarities and especially from a natural history point of view. It has over 220 acres and includes areas of fine windblown sand, a bog which is the most important in the West Midlands, various pools all within close proximity to each other. The Commons importance is in no small measure due to the use man has put it to.
Rush Pool dates back to the last Ice Age. Its existence is due to an underlying clay lens which retains water above it in an otherwise dry, sandy area. The peat deposits in the pool are very thick. A fallen pine was found underneath the peat layer and this helps to date the beginning of the peat accumulation; a radiocarbon date was obtained from a sample of the trunk of 10,000 years. A peat core was taken from Rush Pool and the vegetation succession determined from 10,000 years ago. From this date the pollen indicates a beech and hazel woodland with possible open areas. From the Bronze Age to the Iron Age (roughly 1,000 BC to the Roman Period) a sharp rise in grass pollen is discernible which indicates open areas or clearings were made in the woodland cover.
The first written reference to Hartlebury Heath appears in 1299 and is contained in the "Red Book of Worcester" which is a survey of the Bishop's manors in the 12th and 13th centuries. There are references to a "Thomas on the Hethe" who had one quarter of a virgate (a measure of land usually about 8 acres)'... with two assorts by service 3s 2dper year. For work and custom 6d. ' Asserting usually entailed grubbing up trees, brushwood and other sorts of reclamation to make arable holdings. Thomas is referred to on two separate occasions in the Bishop's Survey. The survey states he had to hoe for one day with one man and had to produce three saws in autumn with one man. Thomas was of villein status and the 'one man* probably refers to a servant. As a villein Thomas was bound to perform certain services for the Lord of the Manor. Whether he cleared parts of Hartlebury Heath for arable holdings is a matter of speculation.
The Survey provides a glimpse into one of the Heath's uses, '...from heath [materials, for example shrubs] taken for fuel 10 shillings per year. '
It is also possible that a rabbit warren existed on the heath in the 13th century because in 1288 it is stated: "No estimate is made of the profits from the coney warren and the fishpond".
There is clear evidence, both the present common and parts of its former extent were
managed for rabbits in the 17th century onwards. The presence of a managed warren
indicates the presence of a warrener who would often cultivate areas of scrub to
encourage rabbits by providing shelter and food. The first known warrener appears
on a lease of December 1692, he was Thomas Lowbridge and he leased the warren from
the Bishop of Worcester who owned the Common. This 1692 lease mentions a cottage
on the warren and this is probably where Cooks Nursery now stands on the south-
The fishpond could be an early reference to Hillditch Pool. Indeed in 1299 the Bishop
of Worcester is recorded as having land "near the coney-
The Black Death of the mid-
There is evidence of two rope-
In 1840 there is a reference that clay was dug from under the moss to make crucibles for smelting at the forges that were worked near Titton Brook. Rod mills, where straight and slender bars of iron were manufactured, are recorded in the 17th century at Upper and Lower Mitton. These processes needed large quantities of sand to make the connections where the iron was led out of the furnace into casting moulds.
In the 19th century a rifle range was set up on the Common by the Stourport Rifle
Corps, a volunteer force formed in 1859. The possibility of war with France caused
the government to set up Volunteer Corps throughout the country. The officers of
the Corps were all local factory owners-
The introduction of the more powerful Lee-
Gipsies lived for many years on the common, a change in the bye-
Now that the Common has SSSI status it's future seems assured, we now have a wonderful amenity for all; to walk the dog, horse ride or simply to just enjoy.