Weald

Weald

[weeld]
Weald, the, area between the North Downs and the South Downs, SE England, forming part of the counties of East Sussex, West Sussex, Surrey, and Kent. Formerly forested and once noted for its iron industry, the Weald is now largely agricultural.

The Weald is the name given to a physiographic area in south-east England situated between the parallel chalk escarpments of the North and the South Downs. It should be regarded in two separate parts: the sandstone "High Weald" in the centre; and the clay "Low Weald" periphery. The name, Saxon in origin, signifies woody country, which still applies today: scattered farms and villages betray The Weald‘s past, often in their names.

Etymology

"Weald" derives from Anglo-Saxon weald, from an ancient Indo-European root meaning "forest" or "wild". Wold, from the same root as weald, also originally meant "forest" or "wildlands". The Saxons also gave it the alternative name of Andresleaz, taking it from the even earlier name Coit Andred (very large), or in latin Saltus Andred, the great chace or forest. See also the additional notes.

The adjective for "weald" is "wealden".

Geology

The Weald is the eroded remains of a geological structure, an anticline, a dome of layered Lower Cretaceous rocks cut through by weathering to expose the layers as sandstone ridges and clay valleys. The oldest rocks exposed at the centre of the anticline are correlated with the Purbeck Beds of the Upper Jurassic. Above these, the Cretaceous rocks, include the Wealden Group of alternating sands and clays - the Ashdown Sand, Wadhurst Clay, Tunbridge Wells Sand (collectively known as the Hastings Beds) and the Weald Clay. The Wealden Group is overlain by the Lower Greensand and the Gault Formation, consisting of the Gault Clay and the Upper Greensand.

The rocks of the central part of the anticline include hard sandstones, and these form hills now called the High Weald. The peripheral areas are mostly of softer sandstones and clays and form a gentler rolling landscape, the Low Weald. The Weald-Artois Anticline continues some 65 km (40 miles) further south-eastwards under the Straits of Dover, and includes the Boulonnais of France.

Many important fossils have been found in the sandstones and clays of the Weald, including for example Baryonyx. The famous scientific hoax of Piltdown Man was claimed to have come from a gravel pit at Piltdown near Lewes. The First Iguanodon was identified by a Lewes Doctor Gideon Mantell in 1819 from a pit near Cuckfield.

History

Some of the following notes in the early part of this section are taken from the High Weald website.

Prehistoric evidence suggests that, following after the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, the Neolithic inhabitants had turned to farming, with the resultant clearance of the forest. With the Iron Age came the first use of the Weald as an industrial area. Wealden sandstones contain ironstone, and with the additional presence of large amounts of timber for making charcoal for fuel, the area was the centre of the Wealden iron industry from then, through the Roman times, until the last forge was closed in 1813. The index to the Ordnance Survey Map of Roman Britain lists 33 iron mines: 67% of these are in the Weald.

The entire Weald was originally heavily forested. Over the centuries deforestation for the shipbuilding, charcoal, forest glass, and brickmaking industries has left the Low Weald with only remnants of that woodland cover.

Settlements on the Weald are widely scattered, and villages as such did not appear until the 13/14th centuries. Before this time, the Weald was used as summer grazing land, particularly for pannage by communities living in the surrounding areas. Many places within the Weald have retained names from this time, linking them to the original communities by the addition of the suffix "-den" – for example Tenterden was the area used by the people of Thanet. Permanent settlements in much of the Weald developed much later than in other parts of lowland Britain, although there were as many as one hundred furnaces and forges operating by the later 16th century, employing large numbers of people.

Geography

The Weald in its entirety begins in the west to the north-east of Petersfield in Hampshire; from where it crosses the counties of Surrey and Kent in the north, and West and East Sussex in the south. In extent it covers about 85 miles (135 km) from west to east, and about 30 miles (50 km) from north to south, covering an area of some 1,300 km² (500 square miles). The eastern end of the High Weald, the English Channel coast, is marked in the centre by the high sandstone cliffs from Hastings to Pett Level; and by former sea cliffs now fronted by the Pevensey and Romney Marshes on either side.

Much of the High Weald, the central part, is designated as the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Its landscape is described as one of rolling hills, studded with sandstone outcrops and cut by streams to form steep-sided ravines (called gills); small irregular-shaped fields and patches of heathland, abundant woodlands; scattered farmsteads and sunken lanes and paths. Remnants of a possible Royal forest (the chace) exist today as Ashdown Forest.

There are centres of settlement, the largest of which are Horsham, Burgess Hill, East Grinstead, Haywards Heath, Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Crowborough; and the area along the coast from Hastings and Bexhill-on-Sea to Rye and Hythe.

The geological map shows the High Weald in lime green (9a).

The Low Weald, the periphery of the Weald, is shown as darker green on the map (9), and has an entirely different character. It is in effect the eroded outer edges of the High Weald, revealing a mixture of sandstone outcrops within the underlying clay. As a result, the landscape is of wide and low-lying clay vales with small woodlands (“shaws”) and fields. There is a great deal of surface water: ponds and many meandering streams.

Some areas, such as the flat plain around Crawley, have been utilised for urban use: here are Gatwick Airport and its related developments and the Horley-Crawley commuter settlements. Otherwise the Low Weald retains its historic settlement pattern, where the villages and small towns occupy harder outcrops of rocks. There are no large towns on the Low Weald, although Ashford and Reigate lie immediately on the northern edge. Settlements tend to be small and linear, because of its original wooded nature and heavy clay soils.

The Weald is drained by many streams radiating from it, the majority being tributaries of the surrounding major rivers: particularly of the Mole, Medway, Stour, Rother, Cuckmere, Ouse, Adur and Arun. Many of those streams provided power to watermills, blast furnaces and hammers which once operated the iron industry and cloth mills.

Communications

The M25, M26 and M20 motorways all use the Vale of Holmesdale to the north, and therefore run along or near the northern edge of the Weald. The M23/A23 road to Brighton , utilises the western, narrower, part of the Weald where there are stream headwaters, crossing it from north to south. Other roads take similar routes, although they often have long hills and many bends: the A21 to Hastings is still beset with traffic delays, despite having had some new sections. Five railways once crossed the Weald; building them provided the engineers with difficulties in crossing the terrain, with the hard sandstone adding to their problems. The Brighton Main Line followed the same route as its road predecessors: although it necessitated the long tunnel near Balcombe and the Ouse Valley Viaduct. Tributaries of the River Ouse provided some assistance in the building of now-closed East Grinstead-Lewes and the Uckfield-Lewes lines. The principal main-line railway to Hastings had to negotiate difficult terrain when it was first built, necessitating many sharp curves and tunnels; and similar problems had to be faced with the Ashford-Hastings line.

The Weald is especially popular with ramblers, cyclists and other recreational users; and several Long distance footpaths cross it.

Farming

Neither the thin infertile sands of the High Weald or the wet sticky clays of the Low Weald are suited to intensive arable farming and the topography of the area often increases the difficulties. There are limited areas of fertile greensand which can be used for intensive vegetable growing, as in the valley of the Western Rother. Historically the area of cereals grown has varied greatly with changes in prices, increasing during the Napoleonic Wars and during and since World War II. The Weald has its own breed of cattle, called the Sussex although it has been as numerous in Kent and parts of Surrey. Bred from the strong hardy oxen, which continued to be used to plough the clay soils of the Low Weald longer than in most places, these red beef cattle were highly praised by Arthur Young in his book "Agriculture of Sussex" when visiting Sussex in the 1790s. William Cobbett commented on finding some of the finest cattle on some of the region's poorest subsistence farms on the High Weald. Pigs, which were kept by most households in the past, were able to be fattened in autumn on acorns in the extensive oak woods.

Wildlife

The Weald has largely maintained its wooded character, with woodland still covering 23% of the overall area (one of the highest levels in England) and the proportion is considerably higher in some central parts. The sandstones of the Wealden rocks are usually acidic, often leading to the development of acidic habitats such as heathland, the largest remaining areas of which are in Ashdown Forest and near Thursley.

Although common in France, the wild boar became extinct in Great Britain and Ireland by the 17th century, but wild breeding populations have recently returned in the Weald, following escapes from boar farms.

Culture

The Weald has been associated with many writers, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Notable examples include John Evelyn (1620-1706), Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962), and Rudyard Kipling (1864-1936) Some of the locations of A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh stories, for example the Poohsticks bridge and Hundred Acre Wood, are based on Ashdown Forest near Milne's country home at Hartfield.

Sport

The game of cricket may have originated prior to the 13th century in the Weald (see History of English cricket to 1696). The related game Stoolball is still popular in the Weald, mostly played by ladies teams.

Other English Wealds and Wolds

Several other areas in southern England have the name "Weald", but are outside "the" Weald as described above. These include North Weald in Essex, and Harrow Weald in north-west London.

"Wold" is used as the name for various open rolling upland areas in the North of England, including the Yorkshire Wolds and the Lincolnshire Wolds, although these by contrast are chalk uplands.

References

See also

Search another word or see Wealdon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature