The History of Alice Holt
There has been a forest here since around 5000 BC. At that time most of the trees were oaks and the woodland was much more extensive than it is now. Alice Holt has been through several phases of deforestation and replanting over the centuries and today efforts are being made to restore much of the native woodland which has been lost. These include the gradual removal of conifers within broadleaf woods and the encouragement of natural regeneration of native tree species
In the 1st Century BC Iron Age inhabitants began to make pottery at Alice Holt and when the Romans arrived around AD 60 they expanded these potteries into a major industry. The potteries were extensive and economically important giving rise to wealthy settlement in the area. All the materials required for a pottery industry were easily available at Alice Holt, including clay, water and fuel for the kilns. Pots from Alice Holt have been found in London and as far afield as Brittany. In 1978 a reconstruction was made of a Roman kiln and new pots were fired in it. The kiln has fallen into disrepair but we hope it can be restored in the future. When the Romans left the woodland would have been seriously depleted as the potteries required substantial amounts of wood to fuel the kilns.
In Saxon times some of the forest was cleared for farming and local people grazed their animals in the woods, resulting in a mix of dense and open woodland with open spaces between.
In the Middle Ages Alice Holt was a Royal Hunting Forest and strict laws governed it, controlling the rights of local people within the forest.
During the Tudor and Stuart period there was great demand for timber, mainly for shipbuilding but also for great buildings, and by 1635 the forest was in a poor state. In 1655 Charles 11 had the forest replanted and it was left for 100 years before any significant timber extraction took place.
By 1788 Alice Holt was again depleted of substantial timber owing to the demand for shipbuilding material during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1812 the Enclosure Act allowed the enclosure of 1600 acres of forest which was replanted with oak between 1815 and 1825. There were red deer in the forest until 1815 but they were removed when the Inclosures were created. Today roe deer are common in the forest.
The Forestry Commission took charge of Alice Holt in 1924. At that time its purpose was to grow trees to increase the home grown timber supply so the planting of trees, mainly quick growing conifers was the policy. After the First World War, when timber was need for pit props and trenches, only 5% of the UK was woodland and timber supplies were very limited. But it wasn’t all about production in the 20th Century. In the 1960’s an arboretum, or ‘tree zoo’, was created in Lodge Inclosure by researchers studying plant progeny and genetics. There is a path through a fascinating collection of specimen conifers and broadleaves from around the world and the arboretum used to be very popular with visitors. Unfortunately, the arboretum has suffered from neglect in recent years, especially since the development of the Woodland Park in Willow’s Green and Glenbervie Inclosures, but we’re hoping that it will be restored to its former glory in the near future.
Today, the Forestry Commission manages forests for people as well as trees and it has a policy of open access to the public and of providing facilities for visitors on many of its sites, as at Alice Holt. More details are to be found on our Sustainable Forestry and Managing Woodlands for Wildlife pages.