Hopwas Wood, which extends to some 400 acres, is ancient woodland defined by English Nature as Ancient & Semi-Natural and Ancient Replanted. Ancient woodland is defined as land believed to have been continuously wooded since at least 1600 AD. However there is clear evidence that Hopwas Wood has existed since the 11th Century.
Hopwas is recorded in the Domesday Book as “The King holds Opewas; there are three hides; the arable land is six carucates. In demesne there is a mill of thirteen shillings and four pence rent; and eleven villans and two bordars employ five ploughs. Here are thirty acres of meadow, a wood six furlongs in length and three in breadth. The whole was valued aforetime and then at 40s. (A furlong is an eighth of a mile i.e. 220 yards.)
This equates to 180 acres which is significantly less than the current wood.
A carucate was an area a plough team of 8 oxen could till in a single annual season which was generally an area of 120 acres.
It is interesting to note that there is reference to a manor house as part of a demesne but there is no evidence that one existed in Hopwas at that time.
At the time of the Doomsday Book the Wood was owned by the Crown. It has changed hands on numerous occasions since but in recent times part of it has been owned by various mineral companies, the current one being Lafarge Tarmac, and the other part by the Ministry of Defence.
Hopwas Hay, which has also been known as Hopwas Hayes, remained the property of the Crown until the middle of the 16th. Century. It eventually became an extra-parochial district. There is no clear definition of a hay or hayes but it is understood to be an enclosure for deer. Which in theory could fit, bearing in mind the land was in the ownership of the crown for many centuries.
It became an extra-parochial district in the middle of the 16th. Century which lasted until 1930`s when it lost its separate civil identity and became part of Wigginton civil parish.
There is scant detail about Hopwas Wood between the Doomsday Book and the 18th. Century and the earliest map of the wood to date is Yates`s map of 1776.
A transcript of the section on Hopwas Hays and Hopwas village from A Topographical History of Staffordshire by William Pitt (1817) states that:
Hopwas is a small hamlet situated at the bottom of a hill, the most remarkable object on which is a house on the summit, environed by a wood called Hopwas Hayes.
The house is well known as the Woodhouse which unfortunately has now been demolished.
From a source known as Hopwas Haye, History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Staffordshire, William White, 1834 it describes Hopwas as:
HOPWAS HAYE, 3 miles W.N.W. of Tamworth, is a wood of 373acres, forming an extra-parochial eminence, with a house upon its summit, occupied by Joseph Tomlinson, the woodman. It is the sole property of the Rev. Thomas Levett; and near the skirts of the wood is the hamlet of Hopwas, which belongs to Tamworth parish. At an early period, Hopwas was given to the Bishop of Lichfield, for the purpose of supplying stone for the reparation of his cathedral.
What we do know is that in 1834 it was owned by the Rev Thomas Levett, of Wychnor Park. He died in 1843 and served as rector of Whittington for 40 years, and was a large landowner in addition to being a clergyman, and played a role in the development of Staffordshire’s educational system. There is a painting of the Rev. Levett dated 1811 which shows him in a wood but whether it is Hopwas is uncertain.
The house referred to above is also mentioned in Gresley’s Siege of Lichfield which was published in 1840 and which is based on the events of the civil war in the 17th. Century. This was in Oliver Cromwell’s time when some of the people of Lichfield are understood to have used it for refuge. It is understood that Cromwell may have stabled his horses there but there is no concrete evidence that that was the case.
There is an earlier reference to the house from an etching by an artist by the name of J. Spyer dated 1786 who recorded many of Capability Brown`s projects. It is understood that it was commissioned by Lord Donegal and called Hopwas Hayes Lodge. A comparison with the Woodhouse of recent time does seem to show that it was the same building. Who Lord Donegal was and whether he owned the lodge and the wood in uncertain.
The house was sold by auction in 1949 and the price family moved in, and the Frank Price Timber Ltd was established until 1959. The work mainly involved felling trees for pit props. The sale particulars are interesting in terms of the description of the Wood: 259 acres containing some excellent mature hard and softwood timber and several plantations of larch and scotch pine together with the Woodman`s House.
The Wood House being 400 feet above sea level being the Forester`s Lodge in the Forest of Hopwas which is mentioned in Gresley`s History of the Siege of Lichfield as a retreat for the royalists about 1643. The house soon fell into disrepair and finally it was considered by Lichfield District Council that as a residence it should be demolished. There only remains the footprint of part of the building but interesting of the surviving terracotta tiles there is reference to a well.
Back in 2007 it came to the attention of the Friends that not all of the Wood was classified as ancient Woodland. This came about because of the fire that occurred in the wood in 1976. Although a large area had been lost it regenerated and the case was put to Natural England that the whole of the Wood should be reclassified as ancient woodland. After a while they agreed, and the whole of the wood is now classified as ancient woodland.
In 2012 applications were made to the Forestry Commission to carry out thinning works in the Wood both by Tarmac and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The Forestry Commission granted consent for Tarmac to remove nearly 4500 trees and nearly 8000 from the MoD area. Tarmac duly progressed with their operation. With respect to the MoD no thinning will be done until there is a Management Plan in place after consultation with the Friends.