Thursday, 25 July 2013

The medieval hunting lodge

We've reached M in the A - Z of Ashdown. M is for the medieval hunting lodge that stood on the site long before the current house was built.

The pre-Restoration history of Ashdown Park is fascinating. The name Ashdown is an ancient one. It is first mentioned in a chronicle of 777AD when King Offa of Mercia advanced as far west as the nearby village of Ashbury in his battles against the West Saxons. It is, as previously mentioned, also a strong contender for the site of King Alfred’s Battle of Ashdown of 871AD when he defeated the Vikings. 

In 953AD the manor of Ashbury including the lands that were then known as Aysshen Park came into the possession of Glastonbury Abbey.  They remained part of the Abbey’s lands until the Dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1539. We know that there was a house built for the Abbot in Ashbury as early as the 13th century and that Ashbury Manor was built in 1488 as a guesthouse for travellers and pilgrims from Glastonbury to Canterbury. At the same time, Ashdown Park was being developed as a hunting ground for the abbey. The King granted the abbot a licence of free warren at Ashbury in 1330 and also a licence to hunt which meant that he could both breed and hunt game on the site.

Documentary evidence tells us that by 1204, Ashdown Upper Wood was surrounded by a park pale, a high ditch and bank to keep the deer inside. You can still see the remains of the park pale in the fields to this day. Inside medieval deer parks there were areas of woodland, spinneys and lawns or grassy clearings, very similar in fact to the way that Upper Wood still looks today.

There was also a hunting lodge. We don’t know what it would have looked like. Most medieval hunting
lodges of this sort are lost to us now; either they fell into ruin or they became part of larger buildings. This picture is of a 14th century hunting lodge in East Anglia that belonged to an abbey so it gives us an idea of what the Ashdown hunting lodge might have looked like. It would have been a substantial building that demonstrated the wealth and social standing of its owner – exactly like the current Ashdown House. Ashdown Park would have been a target for armed poachers so the lodge would need to be defensible. It would also have provided accommodation for the abbot’s gamekeeper and also possibly for hunting parties.

One final question remains. Where was the Ashdown hunting lodge located? Hunting lodges were often on the highest part of the hunting ground, which would have put it at the top of Upper Wood. However, English Heritage records suggest that there was an earlier building on the site of the current Ashdown House, which is another alternative. The farmhouse in Ashdown village, which dates from 1617, also incorporates a medieval core so that is a third possibility. It is another Ashdown mystery. 

Monday, 1 July 2013

Ashdown in a Golden Light!

We liked this photograph of Ashdown so much we wanted to share it on the blog. It was taken yesterday evening along the North Avenue.