The forest of the Weald
Origins of the name 'Weald'
‘Weald’, translated from ‘wald’, means a wood or forest.
The term Weald was used to describe a once largely uncultivated wilderness - a mosaic of grassland, scrub, solitary trees, groves and more extensive areas of forest., in which cattle and swine were grazed on leaf fodder and beech mast Such wood-pasture still survives in some places.
At the start of the first millennium the inroads of civilisation into the wilderness, though rapidly advancing, were still comparatively local.
Development 7th-10th century
From the 7th century through to the 10th, the Weald evolved into a kaleidoscopic landscape formed by piecemeal settlement, still with a great deal of woodland, shaws and small fields. The Saxon Weald of around 900AD stretched from the marshes of Kent to the New Forest in Hampshire – 120 miles long and 30 miles wide.
When William the Conqueror commissioned his Domesday Book audit of his new dominion in 1086, the Weald was the largest remaining area of woodland and heath in England.
The modern Weald landscape
By AD 1200 much of the modern landscape was already recognisable. Nearly all our villages and most hamlets existed then, and the proportions of farmland, moorland and woodland were not enormously different from what they are now.
Between 1066 and about 1500, generations of farmers and craft workers had achieved an unparalleled transformation. The Weald had become one of the country’s wealthiest areas, where craftsmen thrived and yeomen made their fortunes.
The larger, more luxurious and solidly constructed houses of the Weald, including the iconic 'Wealden' design of house, were one result.
- Agriculture in the Weald was mainly pastoral, but it had a close economic link with the arable and pastoral agriculture of the chalk downlands. So the area of the South Downs National Park also helps to define our regional interest.
- The High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is at the heart of the Weald.
- The Sussex Wildlife Trust manages 4,500 acres of nature reserves, much of them in the Weald.