Category Archives: Warren Wood

Investigations into the Warren Wood area of Marlow

Warren Wood Investigations – December 2012

In order to evaluate other local sites, which may be similar to the Warren Wood enclosures, our Chairman, Andy Ford, arranged a visit to Naphill Common and Park Wood, Bradenham, on Sunday 2nd of December 2012. Andy’s report follows.

There are certain winter mornings when you feel impelled to put the walking boots on and venture forth – the sky is clear and blue, the air clean and fresh, the ground a blanket of early morning frost and the Chiltern hills are at their most inviting.  Thankfully, Sunday 2 December was just such a day as a small but select group of AIM members gathered at the church in Bradenham village to explore two of the local archaeological sites.

Our purpose was to visit Naphill Common and Park Wood to explore sites that have, at least on paper, some similarities with the enclosures at Warren Wood that we have been investigating and excavating over the last few years.  By so doing, we hoped to be able to better understand Warren Wood as possibly part of a pattern of similar settlements across the Chiltern hills.

The site at Naphill Common (grid reference SU 8365 9687) consists of a simple rectangular enclosure approximately one kilometre east of the Bradenham church.  It is reached quite easily via footpaths up a relatively steep incline from Bradenham village and is on open access land.

While it lacks the complexity of the double-enclosure structure of Warren Wood, the site at Naphill Common does have a number of similarities with the former – it is at a similar height above sea level, is of a similar size and is in dense, most likely old, woodland.  It consists of a ditch with some remains of a slight rampart and, in places, both inner and outer banks.  The archaeological finds there have included a portion of a broad swordblade, iron slag suggesting industrial activity at the site and Romano-British pottery sherds.  There is a very helpful interpretation board near the site covering the whole of Naphill Common that suggests the enclosure is Romano-British in origin, but other schools of thought argue it is more likely medieval given its rectangular form.  One of the more interesting features at the site – and notably lacking in our interpretation to date of Warren Wood – is a large dewpond next to one side of the enclosure.

The group located the site with relative ease, notwithstanding the prodigious quantities of mud on the footpath that presented something of a hurdle, and bravely fought their way through the undergrowth to follow the line of the bank and the ditch around the full extent of the enclosure.  In truth, the outwardly mundane nature of the site means that it is unlikely ever to make it into anyone’s list of “top 10 places to visit in Buckinghamshire”. But for those who do venture off the path into the wood, it does pay dividends – at times the line of the bank is as clear as that at Warren Wood and the ditch occasionally surprisingly wide.  All in all, the site serves as a useful reminder that such ancient enclosures are a common feature of this part of the Chilterns and that Warren Wood is far from being unique.  Indeed, previous research in the 1990s by Andrew Pike identified potentially more than a dozen similar sites in the south Chilterns.

As an aside, Naphill Common is well worth a visit for other reasons – there are intriguing “clumps” of trees whose purpose remains a mystery and a wealth of flora around the common.  Of particular mention must be the rare juniper tree near the enclosure site, joyfully identified by one of our more observant group members.

The site at Park Wood (SU 8265 9815) is an altogether different proposition.  It is approximately one kilometre north of Bradenham and can again be reached with relative ease by footpaths from the village, although the final 100 metres or so involves a steep climb through dense and sometimes unforgiving woodland.  Extensive archaeological investigations were undertaken here during the 1970s and are well-described in an article in Records of Bucks, 1979.

There are a large number of small archaeological sites spread across a wide area towards the top of the slope in Park Wood.  These can be located with relative ease in the woodland with the aid of a GPS system – however, on this occasion, the Chairman had unfortunately failed to charge the battery on his and the group had to resort to older forms of amateur orienteering in an attempt to interpret the site!  While this was initially somewhat frustrating (and embarrassing for the Chairman), it did eventually bear fruit, but whether by luck or judgement must remain a matter for some debate.


The site has been identified as the remains of a medieval homestead, probably dating from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries.  Amidst a complex series of banks, a number of buildings have been identified, most notably a raised rectangular house, approximately 5m wide and 10m long and with seemingly substantial flint walls (see photo).

Also recorded on the site are possible dewponds and potentially even a dovecote.  The existence of the latter, alongside the nature of the pottery finds at the site, suggest some refinement, possibly even touches of luxury, in the lives of the occupants of the settlement.  Other finds at the site have included tiles, iron objects, iron nails, copper alloy pan, slag and animal bones, all pointing to medieval occupation, as does the find of coin from 1205 or soon after.

There are strong similarities between the dating of the finds at Park Wood and the dating of some of the finds at Warren Wood which also point to medieval occupation at a very similar time.  If nothing else, the clear existence of a medieval flint-walled dwelling at Park Wood should give us further hope that we may have found a similar building in our work to date at Warren Wood – and help to focus further our investigations next year and beyond.

It is also worth noting that there it is possible that the dwelling at Park Wood was associated with hunting in the area.  The name alone suggests the existence of a deer park in the vicinity and there are certainly records of the existence of one in Bradenham, albeit nothing that definitively predates the Tudor period.  The investigations in the 1970s did also identify the potential boundary of a possible deer park surrounding Park Wood and much of the nearby area to the north and west of Bradenham village.  All of which does leave open the possibility that the house at Park Wood was the dwelling of the local park-keeper, a theory that has also been put forward to explain the purpose of Warren Wood.

After much wandering through the wood, the group took great solace in finding many of the sites identified in the 1970s’ investigations – although there remained much confusion about whether they had found them all in anything like the right order!  A further visit at some point in the future with the aid of a GPS might assist – but at least we know for sure now where the key medieval dwelling is located.

The journey back to Bradenham village was further enhanced by our resident flora expert (aka Gerry Platten) identifying what was undeniably an impressive fungal circle around a beech tree near the path – later identified as a collection of trooping funnels.  In short, an educational and rewarding expedition on many levels!

So in summary, these two sites provide strong evidence that Warren Wood is far from unique as well as helping us with more clues as to its purpose(s). There are other sites in the vicinity that warrant similar investigations and we will therefore look into arranging further visits for some time in 2013.


Warren Wood Investigations – November 2012

Only one visit was made to the site in November. On Sunday, the 11th, Four AIM members endeavoured to survey the outer enclosure (see photographs below).

A sunny day at Warren Wood
Total Station in use

Pegs and poles were inserted on the bank of the outer enclosure every 7/8 metres. Measurements were then recorded on AIM’s Total Station at these points and at one metres distances up and down Trench 9 (see graphic below).

Red dots show trench 9 and the high points of the bank of the outer enclosure overlaid on previous hachure drawing of the inner and outer enclosures



Warren Wood Investigations – October 2012

We visited Warren Wood twice in October. On the 14th we continued to excavate Squares B, C and G. These squares were photographed (see photograph of Square B, below) and Square G was drawn . Also below is a photograph of the pot sherd found within this context in Square G.

Square B. context 2
Pot sherd with inclusions

On the 28th, much time was spent measuring the depths of each on the contexts of the the seven squares within Trench 9. context 2 of Square F was also drawn. Squares A and E were excavated further (see photograph of dedicated volunteers, below).

Excavating and drawing in action!

Warren Wood Investigations – September 2012

Four visits were made to the site in September.

Trench 9, Drawing Frame over square B

More excavation work was conducted in the ‘bank’ area of Trench 9. The bank appears to have around 150mm (6″) of relatively fine sand of an orangey hue. As the sandy cover is on top of a bank, it is currently felt that this is not geology and, therefore, the bank was constructed for a specific purpose (yet unknown).

Context 2, Square B, Trench 9
Context 2, Square B, Trench 9

After Square B was photographed (see above), the square was drawn (see below).

Drawing of Context 2, Square B, Trench 9
Drawing of Context 2, Square B, Trench 9 (click to view full size)


Warren Wood Investigations – August 2012

Excavations continued during August with fewer volunteers, due to Summer holidays (see photograph of willing helpers below).

Happy volunteers!

In August Squares C and D were excavated down into contexts two, as were Squares F and G (see photograph of Square G below).

Sqaure G, Context 2

In Square B, context two, a sherd of Pottery with inclusions was found (see photograph below). This sherd appeared similar to Iron Age pottery sherds found during 2011/12.

Pottery Sherd with inclusions

Warren Wood Investigations – July 2012

Excavation continued in July with Square G taken down through context one and Square F entering context two. In Square F some Pot Boilers were found weighing 49gms in total (pot boilers were used by pre-historic man and are the remains of stone and flints that were heated in fires and then placed in containers of water in order to boil it).

Pot Boilers from Square F

Drawings were made of each Square during July and on a regular basis and an example is shown below from Square G. 




Warren Wood Investigations – March/April 2012

On Sunday the 18th of March, AIM began its investigations at Warren Wood, Little Marlow. The main objective was to date the larger outer enclosure by excavating a trench across its bank and ditch. See the trench in the photograph below.

Trench 9

During our investigations in 2011/12 we dug 8 test pits. Consequently our new trench was numbered ‘9’. The trench measured 1 metre x 7 metres. The intention was to excavate one context/level at a time, therefore gradually revealling a profile along the 7 metre side of the trench. The first 1 metre x 1 metre square (‘A’) was excavated at the top of the trench (see photograph below).

Square ‘A’










In April, square A was excavated through context/level one. This context was a dark brown rich organic soil.

Richard of Cornwall, Lord of Marlow and King of the Romans

Following our AGM on 31 May, AIM Chairman Andy Ford gave a talk on “Richard Cornwall, Lord of Marlow and King of the Romans”.

Andy explained that the origin of the talk was in the research that he has been conducting over the last few months into Warren Wood.  As part of that he came across an entry in the medieval Close Roll document for 14 April 1233 which, roughly translated, reads as follows:

“Peter de Rivall is ordered to give eighteen fallow deer from the royal forest of Windsor as a gift from the king to Richard, Earl of Cornwall for the establishment of his park in Marlow”.  Andy has therefore been exploring both the life of Richard of Cornwall and trying to identify the location of the deer park.

Andy explained that Richard was born in Winchester in January 1209 and was the second son of King John.  He was only six years old when his father died and his elder brother Henry succeeded to the throne.  Henry III spent much of his reign trying to assert his royal authority over the powerful barons, often through controversial means such as promoting outsiders and foreigners.  His younger brother Richard was, by contrast, a far more able and sensitive politician who was known during his lifetime for his diplomacy and his strengths as a negotiator.

Although Richard was a member of the royal family and heir to the throne until 1239, he had to make his own way in the world and did so with remarkable success.  He became reputedly the wealthiest man in England and one of the richest in Europe.  He acquired much of that wealth through land granted to him by Henry III, including the Earldom of Cornwall in 1231.  Many of the subsequent grants were made after the brothers had quarrelled and were often, in effect, a bribe to keep Richard from siding with the barons.  During the course of his life, Richard built up an extensive portfolio of estates in Cornwall, the Thames Valley and Buckinghamshire, Middlesex, Suffolk, the East Midlands and Yorkshire, as well as enjoying wealth from tin mines in Cornwall and Devon, and presiding over a highly lucrative recoinage across the country.

Once he had secured his position both financially and politically at home, Richard became increasingly active overseas, for example joining the Sixth Crusade between 1240 and 1242.  The success of his contribution to the Crusade and the increasingly close links with leading European families fuelled Richard’s ambitions and he became heavily involved in European politics.  This culminated in his being elected King of the Romans in 1256, although in truth this meant that he became effectively not much more than overlord to a number of German states concentrated around the Rhine.  Richard spent a considerable proportion of his wealth to acquire the title and visited his new kingdom on four occasions during his fifteen year reign, albeit spending less than four years in total there.

Richard’s focus on his overseas ambitions coincided with increasing unrest at home.  Marginalised barons, frustrated by Henry III’s increasingly autocratic and aloof kingship, found an effective champion in the form of Simon de Montfort who led them in open revolt in 1263.  In May of the following year, his army comprehensively defeated the royal forces at the Battle of Lewes where both Henry III and Richard were taken prisoner.  The situation was reversed in August 1265 when royalist forces under Henry III’s son defeated the rebels at Evesham and restored Henry’s position as king.  Richard played a key role in re-establishing peace in England after the rebellion and remained a central figure at court until he died in April 1272.  He was buried in Hailes Abbey (Gloucestershire), which he had founded after surviving a shipwreck in 1243.

There is no evidence of Richard of Cornwall having any association with Marlow until 1231 when two separate events established firm links with the town and the area.  The first was his marriage in Fawley in March 1231 to Isabel Marshal who was a member of one of the leading baronial families of the time.  Isabel already had connections with Marlow through her former husband, the Earl of Gloucester who had died in the autumn of 1230.

It seems the new family spent quite some time in Marlow in the first years after the wedding.   Isabel gave birth to four children during her marriage to Richard.  Their first, John, died in Marlow in September 1233 and may have been born in the town in the preceding year.  He was buried in Reading Abbey, as was the second child, Isabel, who was born in 1233 and died in the following year.  It is possible that Isabel also was born and died in Marlow.  Coupled with the establishment of a deer park by Richard in Marlow in 1233, these births and deaths suggest a close association by the family with the area over a short but intense period.  Unfortunately, we can’t say for sure where the family were resident when they stayed in Marlow.

What is also notable is that Richard did not gain control of the estates of the former Earl of Gloucester including Marlow, except perhaps for temporary custody of them during the period 1239-43.  Instead, Richard did acquire land in Little Marlow, also in 1231.  In that year, one of a series of royal charters granted him the honour of Wallingford that brought with it an estate in Little Marlow.  Given this, it is highly likely that the location of Richard of Cornwall’s deer park is to be found in Little Marlow rather than Great Marlow.

Deer parks were a common feature of the landscape during the medieval period.  It is possible that over 3,000 existed at various points during the period and 50 have been identified to date in Buckinghamshire alone.  These were typically enclosed areas of land preserved for the purpose of the local lord being able to hunt deer, both for food and for sport.

Andy suggested that Warren Wood, which is located in Little Marlow, may be the site for the deer park for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it shares many of the characteristics of other known deer parks in terms of both location and features, in that it is a sloping, wooded site some distance from the main village settlement, on the edge of the parish/manor boundary and on a site that would have been difficult to cultivate.

In addition, the various finds from our investigations to date on the site suggest that it was highly likely that there was a medieval dwelling at Warren Wood, the dating of which is consistent with the establishment of Richard’s deer park in1233.   Dwellings of this type for a park-keeper would have been common in deer parks at this time to help with maintenance and security.

A further clue is offered by the name of the site.  For some time, it has been assumed that the name of the wood derived from the local Borlase Warren family who were prominent local landowners during the eighteenth century.  However, the first record of a map for the wood identifies it as “The Warren”.  Andy explained that the term “warren” had a number of different meanings during the medieval period, but all in some way were associated with the hunting or rearing of animals.

Andy explained that there were some challenges with this interpretation, for example the lack of evidence of a boundary around the Warren Wood site which would have been necessary for keeping the deer in the park.  It is also possible that the name refers to the prior existence of a rabbit warren.  In the early medieval period, rabbits were extremely rare and highly prized, both for their meat and their fur.  They were farmed in specially developed “coneygarths”.  There is documentary evidence showing that Richard maintained rabbit warrens at his other estates so it is possible that Warren Wood also served that purpose.  Interestingly, rabbit warrens were elsewhere maintained alongside deer parks.

There are no further records relating to the deer park in Marlow after Richard’s death.  By the turn of the next century, the number of parks across the country was at its peak and for various reasons it declined after that.  Due largely to the effects of the Black Death and the subsequent labour shortage, it became more and more difficult to maintain the hunting parks and many gradually fell into disuse and were leased out.