For more than 1000 years Common Wood, together with Penn Wood and Kings Wood, formed the southern part of 4000 acres of common heath and woodland called Wycombe Heath or Holmer Heath. The heath included the areas now occupied by Hazlemere, Holmer Green, Penn Street and Winchmore Hill.
During Saxon and Norman times the Heath was used for hunting deer and wild boar and this has a bearing on the origins of the wood’s name. The Roque map (1761) shows Common Wood as Penn Wood and the Bryant map (1824), as Penn Common Wood. It seems likely that from Saxon times all the woodland in the north of Penn Parish was called Penn Common Wood – OE penn meaning enclosure (for deer). By 1206 Wycombe Heath was being used by the inhabitants of surrounding parishes to pasture pigs, graze cattle, dig clay, chalk and sand, and collect fuel and timber.
Disputes between the commoners and the various Lords of the Manor who owned the heath were recorded in historic documents. Both Common Wood and Penn Wood formed part of Penn Manor until 1222 when Segrave’s Manor was formed from confiscated land; however, both returned to Penn Manor in the early 17th century. Records show that in 1372 Segrave’s Manor made a significant income from the woodland, largely by selling bundles of firewood, which were 3
taken down to the Thames by horse and cart. In 1855 the Inclosure Award ended commoners’ privileges and both Common Wood and Penn Wood became the private property of the first Earl Howe.
The main topographic feature of Common Wood is a broad ridge of Cretaceous ‘Upper chalk’ (soft white chalk with many flints) rising to 165m. The ridge is capped by ‘Clay with flints’, made up of a brown reddish tough tenacious clay and containing largely unworn and sometimes unbroken flints. At the west and north-west ends of the ridge the ‘Clay with flints’ gives way to ‘Pebbly clay and sand’ composed of well rounded flint pebbles and sub-angular flints derived from the Eocene Reading Beds, set in a clay and sand detritus. Low down the slope to the north-west along the line of Deadman’s Dane Bottom the ‘Pebbly clay and sand’ merges with ‘Glacial sand and gravel’ that make up the valley bottom. The chalk bed rock is sometimes exposed on both the north-west and southern slopes of the ridge.
Archaeological Research Questions
1. What are there archaeological features within the wood?
2. Which ones merit recording and preservation?
3. What do such features tell us, if anything, about human activities in Common Wood in the archaeological past?
A four pronged approach was used:
1. Examination of the Sites and Monuments record (SMR) records and aerial photographs archived at the County Archaeology Office, Aylesbury.
2. Field walking, recording and mapping
3. Topographic survey of important features. 4
4. Excavation of specific archaeological features.
Download a full copy of the Results of a Survey and Excavation made between October 2003 and August 2004 by the Chess Valley Archaeological and Historical Society Field Group.