Celebrating our common heritage – a guide to Chorleywood Common
PUBLISHED: 11:38 15 August 2013 | UPDATED: 11:55 15 August 2013
Medieval common land still makes up thousands of acres of green open space and woods in the county. Elizabeth Hamilton, chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural Britain Hertfordshire group, gives a guide to one of our most important, Chorleywood Common
Chorleywood Common is typical of many commons, with grassland, woodland, wide rides, glades and ponds as well as having Chorleywood Golf Club and Chorleywood Cricket Club in its grounds. Numerous paths allow people to enjoy its open spaces and it is a designated Local Nature Reserve, rich in wildlife. The common covers around 200 acres and is a lovely place to spend time walking, enjoying a picnic or taking in the view. Such areas of relatively natural land are especially valuable close to towns (the common is almost surrounded by housing) while wooded areas absorb many people without feeling crowded.
From medieval times better quality soil was generally under crops while poorer land was deemed ‘waste’ – areas designated for cottagers to graze animals and collect fuel. Usually this waste land was owned by the lord of the manor but rights held in common by local people to use its resources were recognised in law, preventing the landowner from enclosing the land for his exclusive use.
In the medieval period such common land covered perhaps a quarter of England and Wales. Piecemeal enclosure took place over the centuries and accelerated in the 18th and 19th centuries. In Hertfordshire the largest common to be enclosed during this period was at Northaw where 2,000 acres was enclosed in 1806. Today the area of common land in England and Wales is one-and-a-half million acres, about four per cent of the land area.
In Hertfordshire around 70 commons survive.
Since 1965 common land has been registered to ensure its continued survival. But there has not always been a universal public right to walk on commons. For many a public right of access on foot, except on public rights of way, has only been available since 2000.
Former occupants of the older houses clustered around the edges of Chorleywood Common would have had rights over the common to graze animals, take wood for fuel and house building, and dig clay for bricks. On some commons there were rights to fish, allow pigs to eat acorns and cut peat for fuel. During the 20th century the exercise of many of these rights died out and was lost, although at some commons they are still in use.
The common is much more wooded now than before grazing died out after the First World War, with trees mainly of oak and birch, and some wild cherry, beech and rowan. Varied soils support three types of grassland with locally rare plant species. Heather and gorse has been reintroduced to the heath land areas and a magnificent annual display of wild flowers and butterflies can be seen in the chalk meadow. These areas need cutting or grazing to stop tree and shrub invasion. Seven ponds, important for watering animals when the common was grazed, are now habitats for all three native newt species and require regular maintenance. Church Pond was cleaned earlier this year with the help of a grant from the Chilterns Commons Project. Chorleywood Parish Council now owns the common and its management enhances public enjoyment and wildlife conservation.
Explore Chorleywood Common
You can explore the common along the one-and-a-half-mile circular walk from the car park near Christ Church. Details are on the parish council website chorleywood-pc.gov.uk and on an information board in the car park. There are plenty of seats on the common and also two pubs on its edge (The Black Horse and Rose and Crown). A longer walk might include the common and the valley of the River Chess, a delightful chalk stream. Follow signs for the Chess Valley Walk or visit chilternsaonb.org for more information.
Horse access is via a separate circular track around the common.
By train on the Chiltern or the Metropolitan line to Chorleywood Station, located near the south-western edge of the common.
By car just to the west of Junction 18 of the M25.
OS Map Explorer 172.