The long history and unique landscape of the New Forest has helped shape a singular and rich culture. This culture is closely tied into the traditions of the Forest’s people, and their commoning rights, many of which are still alive and in practice today.
There is evidence of human presence in the New Forest dating back 750,000 years. Early prehistoric finds such as worked flint suggest the presence of hunter-gatherers, dating at least from the Mesolithic period. During the Bronze Age, agriculture started to dominate the landscape and forest was cleared in some areas. When the soil was too poor for, or exhausted from, farming, the land was abandoned to become heathland, where Bronze Age barrows are still visible today. During this period too, a sea-salt industry was established, which continued along the New Forest coast until the 19th century.
Customs and Traditions
The New Forest has a rich tapestry of local customs and traditions, from its local ship, rope, charcoal, brick, and salt industries to its folklore. It has also long been one of the country’s foremost hunting grounds, as well as a centre for horse and pony racing. Many of the New Forest’s local crafts still survive, and even thrive, to this day – including thatching, sculpture, pottery and painting, all of which play into the Forest’s artistic and literary heritage, from The Rime of King William to The Children of the New Forest and a range of contemporary cultural events, based out of the New Forest Centre.
Parks and Gardens
The Forest has long been home to country estates, such as Beaulieu (the oldest continuously functioning estate), but in the 18th and 19th centuries, the well-to-do commissioned celebrated architects to build them country houses in the area. The beauty of the New Forest ensures that it remains an appealing place to live, and today’s architects face a challenge designing buildings in keeping with this unique, protected habitat. There are also several English Heritage-registered parks and gardens within the New Forest National Park, including Avon Tyrell, Exbury House and Rhinefield.
Commoning and Livestock
Since the New Forest’s 1217 Charter, the right to common has been attached to certain properties located in and around the Forest. Though not all residents continue to use these rights, they are protected by the Forest’s Verderers to this day. The rights include that of pasture (more restricted for sheep), pannage (whereby pigs are turned out to eat acorns, which are poisonous to cattle and ponies), estovers (the right to cut wood for fuel), and the discontinued rights to turbary (cutting turf or peat for fuel) and marl (digging clay to spread on fields).