Forest Rides

A map of the Forest from 1757

Hatfield Forest has a fairly regimented design, with rides of medieval origin running through the woodland, separating areas of coppice and wood pasture. In addition, further rides within the bodies of the coppices, and intersecting at a focal point were added in the late 17th century, to improve the line of sight for guns.

Medieval Rides - help for hunters

This design dates back to the medieval period when the rides were created for hunters on horseback.  On either side would be a ditch and a woodbank construction.  The woodbank would be topped with a hedge of dead sticks.  This early form of fencing ensured recently cut coppice was protected from grazing animals.  After approximately nine years, the dead hedge could be removed, when the new coppice growth was no longer vulnerable, and the animals allowed to graze freely.

Quirky coppice names

The coppices have maintained their curious medieval names, including Hangman’s, Spittlemore, and Beggarshall.  Many of them were named after local farms or the family that had leased the land.  Hangman’s Coppice is not the site of a local gallows.  It is more likely named after a Mr Hangman.


Later Rides – help for shooting parties

The distinct straight rides within the coppices are of later origin and probably associated with a sporting objective, to give guns a better field of view.  In seventeenth century France, it became fashionable to divide woods into geometrical shapes with straight lines, radiating from a central point.
This fashion spread to England and it is believed that Sir Edward Turnor, who owned the forest towards the end of the 17th century, initiated the present network of geometric rides in the coppices, west of Shermore Brook.  The 1757 Hollingworth and Landers map shows rides in many of the coppices in the Forest.  
The system shown is almost exactly as it is today, with four central points (or "pattes d’oie" - goose feet), in Takeley Quarter (Eight Wantz Ways), Round and Collins Coppices and near Portingbury Rings (Six Wantz Ways).  These had from six to eight intersecting arms and were probably introduced by Sir Edward Turnor in the later part of the 17th century, about the time he was (re)establishing the Warren.  
The two intersecting rides in Warrren Coppice, part of the detached pleasure gound, and shown in the 1757 map, were probably added later, by Jacob Houblon III, after he assumed ownership of the Forest.
Interestingly, the two southern coppices under the control of the Barrington family, Gravel Pit Coppice and what is now Elgin Coppice, did not have any internal rides, although their more northen group, in the Takeley Quarter, did.
Rides were created in the these remaining coppices in the middle of the Victorian era, when Jacob Houblon VI consolidated Houblon ownership of the forest.