The Henley Archaeological and Historical Group were fortunate to be able to welcome Prof Richard Fortey, the eminent natural historian, to speak to them on 3 January about Grim’s Dyke Wood, part of Lambridge Wood. The lecture was extremely well attended – with standing room only available!
The wood is home to many species of plants and animals, many of them endangered, but Richard concentrated on aspects especially interesting to archaeologists and historians. The soil of the wood is an acidic clay on a chalk substratum. This clay is especially suitable for making ceramics and allowed commercial brick making in recent centuries; remains of this industry may be seen in the form of the brick kiln in Nettlebed. This clay also contains flints which are suitable for glass making and this may have led to early glass manufacture in Henley.
Grim’s Dyke Wood contains a section of Grims Ditch, which was excavated by Jill Eyers – who is speaking to the Group next month. When this was constructed in the late Iron Age, the soil covered by the material removed from it contained pollen from grasses and cereals, but not trees, showing that the area was not wooded at that time. In more recent times, beech trees predominated; these were valuable as fuel and, more importantly, as a source of raw material for furniture-making in High Wycombe. The importance of the beech received a boost in the First World War with an increase in demand for tent pegs and wood for rifle butts. Later another use became important – as a back for scrubbing brushes. However, all these uses have now declined after the Second World War and the trees have been left to grow in peace for the last 80 years or so. The challenge now is to manage them through the 21st century.
This summary does not do justice to the talk. The Bell Bookshop stocks copies of the speaker’s book “The Wood for the Trees”, which he will be happy to sign on request.