It is well worth exploring this pocket of ancient woodland, swathed across a gently rolling south Warwickshire hillside. Throughout the seasons there is always something to catch the eye, from the profusion of bluebells in late spring to the feast of seasonal colours and amazing toadstools in autumn. In early summer the forest road is ringed with orchids, while winter displays the sculptural forms of trees and glimpses of deer.
Overlooking the valleys of the Rivers Arrow and Alne, the wood is to be found about one mile south of the centre of the historic Roman market town of Alcester.
Discover a hidden haven of native English wildlife and stroll amongst the plants and trees under a scenic canopy of some 230 acres of natural beauty. The lime, holly, wild cherry, oak and ash are all indigenous and would have been present here when most of England was covered in forest! Oversley Wood is fantastically rich with many unusual flowers and insects, and is home to a varied mammal and bird population.
Oversley Wood once formed the southern end of the old Forest of Arden, an area of north and west Warwickshire that remained heavily wooded long after the Romans arrived. The name Oversley is likely to be Saxon in origin, meaning Ofe’s settlement in a clearing of woodland, a ‘|ey’. The present wood formed the southern half of what was known as Oversley Park, later to be known as the Old Park. Oversley Wood was part of an estate belonging to the Abbot of Bordesley, but was let to the Boteler family, the owners of the main Oversley manor which they held directly from the crown. It was local Norman lord, Ralph le Boteler; founder of Alcester Abbey (a Benedictine monastery) who worked the land and paid his feudal dues to the Abbot for his tenancy of the wood. Ralph and family lived at the long gone Boteler’s Castle and in 1140 he described his Oversley estate as having fields, copses, vineyards, forests, parks, fishponds and meadows. Court records of 1320 refer to a ’park’. Landowners, as a sign of their high social status, created parks for hunting deer. These were surrounded by deer leaps; constructions that allowed deer to jump into but not out of the park. Archaeological evidence suggests that Oversley Park included the present day Oversley Wood and stretched almost down to Stratford Road at Durlip Hill; Durlip being a corruption of Deer Leap.
The park would have contained not only woods but pasture too. Apart from deer, rabbits and pheasants would have also been hunted. In 1537 the land was purchased by Henry VIIl’s first minister Thomas Cromwell, who oversaw the dissolution of the monasteries (including Alcester) and supported the beheading of Anne Boleyn. By 1540, Thomas had fallen out with his master and was himself executed! His lands were sold and Sir George Throckmorton, from nearby Coughton Court, ultimately obtained the manor on May 28th 1542 for £774.9s 2d plus an exchange of land. For many years the wood and surrounding fields belonged to the Throckmorton family and they appeared to have leased it to tenant farmers. In the 16th century they formed a new enlarged park, built a lodge and employed a park manager. By the mid 18th century, Oversley Park had been split into four farms. Local records show that in 1600 Richard Bennett cut staves illegally in Oversley Park Wood and in 1603, Thomas ‘ Kempson paid rent to use the land for his animals and receive revenue from the sale of wood. In 1657 three tenants’ leases show arable, pasture and coppice in the Old Park; two show 440 poles of oak and the other entirely coppice. This relates to a system of forest management known as Coppice with Standards, which was practiced right up until the Throckmortons sold the estate in early 20th century. Forest Management ’Coppice with standards’ was a form of forest culture which allowed trees of oak and ash to grow from tiny seedlings to mature trees (200 to 300 years old in the case of oak) at wide spacing. Hazel and lime coppice grew between the oak and would be cut regularly every 10 to 15 years. Hazel was used for hedging, thatching, barrel hoops, wattle fencing and the wattle and daub that very likely filled the spaces between the oak timbers of the many half-