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BUCK WOOD - HISTORY AND HERITAGE

THE GLEADLESS VALLEY

Until the middle of the 19th century, the Gleadless Valley was an isolated rural area lying between the small villages of Heeley and Norton. At least four farms are known to have existed in the Lees Hall area since before the 17th century. As Sheffield grew to take in Heeley and Meersbrook, the valley began to be used by residents of nearby urban areas for walks and recreation. In order to serve these people, recreational facilities including allotments, sports grounds and Lees Hall Golf Course were established in the western part of the valley from the 1920s onwards.

Although the nearby Arbourthorne estates were built in the 1930s, the Gleadless Valley continued to be farmed until the 1950s, retaining a rural landscape of hedge-lined fields, woodlands and scattered farms. Urban development of the valley began in the late 1950's and continued into the 1960's, with the valley's housing estates being built to accommodate approximately 17,000 people. This development was remarkable for the way in which a network of open spaces based around the valley's existing mature woodlands was retained, both within the development, and between it and neighbouring built up areas. Most of these open areas have remained to the present day.

ARCHAEOLOGY
The north edge of Buck Wood is known to have formed part of the boundary bank to the medieval Sheffield deer park.

Archaeological surveys of the valley's woodlands have revealed extensive evidence for the production of a range of woodland products. Charcoal, an important raw material and fuel for the early South Yorkshire iron and steel industry is known to have been produced within at least some of the woodlands because of the presence of charcoal burning platforms.

A line of pits and depressions along one of the upper paths in Buck Wood is thought to be the result of the digging of surface coal, especially as they follow the line of a coal seam underlying the wood. This digging would have taken place on an ad hoc basis, possibly during a period of economic depression such as the 1920's.

ANCIENT WOODLAND STATUS
As for many other woodland areas, the history of the Gleadless Valley woodlands can be deduced from a variety of sources. Much of this evidence makes it clear that the valley's woodlands are 'ancient woodlands', meaning that they have been in existence since at least 1600 and in all likelihood for far longer than this.

The earliest known documentary evidence for woodlands in the Gleadless Valley dates from 1462 and refers to 'Herdyng Wood', the name given to the then more extensive area of woodland now split up to produce the two woodland areas of Herdings Wood and Rollestone Wood and The Lumb. Documentary evidence for Buck Wood dates back to 1637.

The shape and location of ancient woodlands often indicates the way in which previously wooded areas were gradually taken into agricultural production, leaving those woodlands that still remain on ground unsuitable for agriculture because of its terrain. In the case of the Gleadless Valley, most of the remaining woodlands are in relatively steep sided stream valleys or on steep slopes, as in the case of Buck Wood.

Woodland names also provide clues to the ancient origin of the woodlands. Until the middle of the 19th Century, Buck Wood went under the name of Berry Storth Wood, 'storth' being a Norse name for woodland.

Another way in which ancient woodlands can be distinguished from more recently established woodlands is their diverse flora and fauna. Indeed, certain plant species, usually those that spread relatively slowly by vegetative means, are known to be either entirely restricted to, or only rarely found outside, ancient woodlands. These are known as 'ancient woodland indicator species'. Where a number of these species are found together, there is a high likelihood that the wood in which they occur is of ancient origin. A wide range of ancient woodland indicator species occur in woodlands in the Gleadless Valley, including Bluebell, Dog's Mercury, Ramsons, Wood Anemone, Wood Sorrel and Yellow Archangel.

A 'pole lathe' in use at an event in Buck Wood. In the past these simple machines would have been used to shape wood produced in the
Gleadless Valley woodlands.

WOODLAND MANAGEMENT
Archaeological features indicate that many if not all of the Gleadless Valley's woodlands were coppiced over several centuries in order to produce charcoal and other woodland products. Coppicing is a form of woodland management in which deciduous trees are cut back to just above their base to form coppice stools. These then sprout quickly, forming numerous poles, of value in construction and as a fuel. The process can be repeated again and again, usually at about 15 to 20 year intervals. Coppicing for charcoal production within the Gleadless Valley woodlands is known to date back to at least 1492 when a record referring to Herdyng Wood states that this was leased by its owner for charcoal production. There is known to have been a long history of coppice-with-standards management in Buck Wood.

Having lasted for hundreds of years, coppice management died out in the Sheffield area during the latter half of the 19th century as a result of a decline in demand for coppice products, particularly by the steel industry in which coal replaced charcoal as a fuel. The woods became managed purely for timber and were converted to high forest by the planting of non-native species such as Sycamore and Beech, as well as of some native species such as Oak. Over the 19th century, Beech, Sweet Chestnut, Sycamore and, to a lesser extent, Hornbeam and Larch were planted in Buck Wood. However, coppicing of the Oak-dominated understorey of the woodland is known to have continued until as late as the end of the 19th century.

FURTHER INFORMATION
More general information on the history of the Heritage Woodlands is available elsewhere on this website.


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