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  Grovehill, Piccotts End, Woodhall Farm and Phoenix

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Can't See the Wood for the Trees

By such natural processes as being carried by the wind, and by birds, seeds drifted in after the ice retreated and began to grow, gradually creating light woodland and then forests.

 

People saw that the land was becoming good and they spread over it, moving along the river valleys, fishing, catching eels and hunting the animals. There were grass seeds and fruit and nuts and berries to gather. These are the first people to arrive after the glaciations and are known as 'hunter gatherers'.

 

Using stone tools, and later iron and bronze tools they began to cut down trees to make enclosed fields to grow corn, shelters and to make pens for animals.

 

The Gade valley was marshy right up until the town began to be developed (even now Gadebridge Park floods) and so people moved along on the flat river gravels above the marshes with a trackway that became the High Street.

 

Was it a Saxon man, Hamel who needed a homestead for his growing family and settled on a gravel terrace just above the river, who gave Hemel Hempstead his name or a Bishop of a similar name?

Who knows!

 

Through the millennia the hunter gatherers settled and started to farm the land. Domesticating the cattle and penning them to stop them from straying was so much easier than hunting them. Their houses became more permanent structures. Trees were cut down to provide house timbers, clay was puddled to add to woven willow and hazel to make walls, and grass or turves were used for roofs.  

 

As groups of people became settled the woodland was gradually cleared for arable land where crops could be grown. Remnants of old woodland such as Howe Grove, High Wood and Dunster Copse were never cut, only coppiced to take the smaller wood from them.  

 

Timber was necessary for everything, to burn for warmth and cooking, to build looms, to make a frame for a house and a fence to stop the animals from straying.

 

At some time iron smelting took place at Ashridge and this created a demand for coppiced hazel branches for charcoal.

 

Think about rain forest clearance going on today. Is it the same as then?

 

The word grove is from an Old English word graf used before AD900 for trees such as Hazel, Lime or Poplar planted close together to form a plantation with two or three acres attached. The origin of the word before this is unknown.

 

Oliver Rackham gives 'a small defined, probably managed wood, normally surrounded by non-woodland'. Anglo-Saxon. So we have Dunster Copse from coppice.

 

The name of the old house that gave the area its name, Grovehill House confirms the presence of these trees.

 

Coppice  or copse, (from the Old French word copiez, from Vulgate Latin colpaticium, from colpare to cut. To coppice (Medieval Latin colpus  a blow) means to regularly cut back to encourage growth .