History of the Hurtwood

The Hurtwood is full of surprises.

The first surprise is that the name Hurtwood may not derive – as is generally believed - from the hurts (the local name for wild blueberries) whose bushes carpet the woods and hills, but from the Old English word ‘ceart’ or ‘churt’ meaning a rough common overrun with gorse, broom and bracken.

holmbury hill eveningThe second surprise is that although The Hurtwood is the largest area of commonland in Surrey, it is still privately owned. Most of it lies within two of the ancient manors that make up the Shere Manor Estate – the Manor of Gomshall Towerhill and part the Manor of ‘Shire cum Vacherie et Cranley’, which was given to Sir Reginald Bray by Henry VII over 500 years ago and has remained in the ownership of the Bray family ever since. Legend has it that the knight found Richard III’s crown in a thorn bush after his defeat at Bosworth Field and he presented the symbolic trophy to Henry. The manors were his reward.

The parts of the Hurtwood at Albury, Blackheath and Farley Heath lie within the Albury Estate, which is owned by the Duke of Northumberland. By a twist of historical fate, the summit of Holmbury Hill, with the hillfort and Bray family memorial cairn, is part of the Ockley Estate.

History of the Hurtwood


The Landscape

The Domesday Survey The Hurtwood given to Sir Reginald Bray in 1485 was probably deciduous forest as the Scots pine was not introduced until the 18th century. The Domesday survey described the manor as ‘as much woodland as produced to the Lord’s share 50 fat swine’ and it was the movement of pigs across the hills down to the forests of the Weald that produced many of the deep ‘sunken lanes’ so typical of Surrey. Quarrying Winterfold and Pitch Hill are dotted with old quarries. The honey…

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Roman Temple

The Roman Temple

The Roman Temple Farley Heath is famous for its Romano/Celtic Temple which may have marked the boundary between the land of the Regnenses of Sussex and East Surrey and the Atrebates of Hampshire. The outer and inner walls of the temple are today marked out clearly in stone. Excavations Victorian antiquarian Martin Tupper from Albury excavated the temple and described digging through the black mould of burnt huts and finding a green bronze ring, pottery, tiles and 1,200 coins. A 20th century…

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winterfold view

Public Access

Public Access At the time when elsewhere in England thousands of acres were being enclosed by their landowners, The Hurtwood remained accessible common land, where local people could exercise the rights of pasture for cattle, sheep and pigs and also goats and donkey, which were not considered ‘commonable cattle’; estovers – the right to cut underwood or bracken; and turbary - the right to dig turf or peat for use as fuel in the commoner’s house. The land was used and lived in by the cottagers…

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Gypsy History

Gypsies There had been Gypsies on the common for generations. While numbers were limited, they lived in harmony with the woodland and with their village neighbours. But increased numbers led to pressure on the land and Reggie Bray allowed a maximum of 100 to stay in what became known as ‘the camp’. He issued a five shilling (25p) licence to each head of a family, allowing them to stay provided they behaved and disposed of their rubbish. Local Cranleigh people worked to help educate the gypsy…

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The Motor Car & Fire

The new threat was the advent of the combustion engine. Cars and motorcycles poured out of the London suburbs into the nearest unspoiled countryside and – as common lands are not permitted to be enclosed - they drove wherever they pleased heedless of the destruction in their wake. Reggie Bray wrote: “At present they come only to disfigure and destroy: by their reckless carelessness in throwing down lighted matches and cigarettes, or by lighting fires and boiling water, they are steadily…

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leafy hollow


Dedication of the Hurtwood On October 13, 1926, the deed of dedication of The Hurtwood was signed by R.A. Bray and the Bray family has upheld the dedication ever since. The Duke of Northumberland also signed a deed of dedication. Soon afterwards, the Hurtwood Control Committee was formed; a few basic rules and regulations were adopted, and subscriptions invited; tree planting resumed. The Hurtwood, as we know it, was reborn. In over three-quarters of a century since then, Hurtwood Control Committee…

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