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The history of Comer Woods, Dudmaston Estate

Sun glints through the trees
Sun glints through the trees in Comer Woods | © Susan Hudson

Part of the ancient Forest of Morfe until the 16th Century, Comer Woods has a history influenced by nature, agriculture and industry.

Ancient forest

The landscape of Comer Woods was forged in sandy Triassic desert and was changed over time by ice, meltwater and moraine. Those Triassic sand dunes have become the exposed sandstone you now see as you approach the woods.

There have been inhabitants in and around Comer Woods since the Iron Age.

Much of Comer Woods was located in the ancient 'Forest of Morfe' until the 16th century; the word 'forest' in this instance was an administrative term rather than an area of woodland (although there would have been trees in many of these 'forests').

The name Comer derives from 'Cwm Mawr' meaning 'great valley'. This great valley was formed by ancient rivers which carved their way down through the sandstone bedrock. The series of pools or fishponds which now sit at the base of the valley: Seggy Pool, Wall Pool and Brim Pool, date from 1777, although they are probably older.

Autumn leaves coat the path and trees line the trail next to a pool in Comer Woods
Autumn trees line the trail next to a pool in Comer Woods | © Alex Gray

A 200-acre wood for Dudmaston

The woodland was developed in the early 19th century by William Wolryche-Whitmore (1781– 1858) as an extension of Dudmaston’s landscape design.

Geoffrey Wolryche-Whitmore (1881–1969) became agent of Dudmaston estate in 1908 at the age of 27, having trained on the progressive estates of Apethorpe and Buscot. Full of enthusiasm for his new role, he travelled to Germany to study modern methods of forestry and his vision and pioneering work saved Dudmaston from economic ruin.

In 1910 he planted 200 acres of woodland on sandy soil not suitable for farming and established a sawmill at Holt. His interest in trees grew beyond forests to include ornamental planting.

Geoffrey was among the first in England to grow the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) from seed collected in 1948 after its rediscovery in China. His forestry use of different conifers, such as Douglas fir and Corsican pine, was pioneering (the government’s Forestry Commission was only established in 1919) and he became recognised as one of the country’s leading experts.

Festival of Britain

It was the planting and harvesting of fast-growing trees that helped Dudmaston to survive during the long agricultural depression. At the 1951 Festival of Britain, a model of Dudmaston was chosen to demonstrate an estate with integrated farming and forestry. Geoffrey was President of the Royal Forestry Society in 1944–6 and received several of the society’s medals, including one of their first Gold Medals, in 1961.

Geoffrey planted fast-growing conifers on the light sandy soil north and west of Comer Wood, where the agricultural land was of poor quality, and mixed them with broadleaf trees on the heavier soil around the pools and in Comer Wood. Though Geoffrey's work succeeded financially, some of the new and expanded plantings concealed the earlier history of the landscape. Rangers are working to reveal some of this hidden landscape today.

The whole of the Dudmaston Estate, including Comer Woods, is National Heritage Grade II listed due to its special historical interest.

Children cycle on a trail through trees
Cyclists enjoy the Explorer Trail in Comer Woods | © John Millar

The National Trust at Comer Woods

The National Trust took over the estate in 1978 and continues to care for and manage Comer Woods.

In 2018 the National Trust created the Explorer Trail which made Comer Woods more accessible to families, cyclists and to visitors using the Tramper.

In 2023 the terrace was improved at Heath Barn, adding a seating area for the Café and a place for concerts and .

Ongoing projects are underway to increase biodiversity and create wildlife corridors by connecting the woods with surrounding pockets of woodland and heathland.

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Dudmaston's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Dudmaston on the National Trust Collections website.

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