Bookham Commons long ago

The commons are a small remnant of a wildwood

Large herds of red deer, wild cattle, boar and even bears, lynx and wolves used to roam across the commons and southern England. European beavers made ponds along the stream valleys and the occasional elk kept the forest glades open by munching the trees.

Man and the commons

The commons have been influenced by man’s activities since the Stone Age. Our distant ancestors hunted many of the wild roaming animals to extinction, but took over their role by grazing domestic animals, coppicing and chopping wood for fuel and building.
Today we still manage the woodland and harvest some of the oak.

Chertsey Abbey monks

From around AD666 all the land around the Saxon settlement of Bochham (meaning ‘the village by the beeches’) was owned by the monks from Chertsey Abbey. Pannage (the right to graze pigs on acorns) is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086).
Five of the 12 ponds on the commons were created by the Chertsey Abbey monks for storing fish.

Henry VIII and timber for Nonsuch Palace

It’s believed that King Henry VIII used to pass through Bookham on hunting trips and he was not adverse to plundering local commons for timber. In 1538 the building accounts for Nonsuch Palace states that the royal carpenter, Stephen Crispian, rode out to various commons including Bowcham (Bookham), to choose suitable oak for the new palace’s beams.
When Henry VIII disbanded the monasteries in England, he gave the land (1551) to the Howard family, the Earls of Effingham.
If you’re interested in reading more about the early history of the commons a good reference book is The London Naturalist ‘Bookham Common: a short history’ by John H Harvey (published in 1942).