For a hundred years or 50 after 1066 the Norman kings designated large tracts of England as royal hunting forests, where the king or his officials had the sole right to hunt the wildlife, especially the deer. The forest laws were sometimes draconian, particularly against the English peasantry. Feckenham Forest was one such royal preserve.
The term 'forest' obviously included woodland but the area usually covered small settlements, heath land and meadow as well. Feckenham Forest, like most other crown forests, was extended considerably in the l2th and l3th centuries; at first its eastern boundary was the Ridgeway, taking in Cookhill and Headless Cross but with the later extension the River Arrow served as the boundary: this meant that Feckenham Forest and its legal jurisdiction took in a part of Warwickshire for the first time. The written proceedings of the forest court are a primary source of our knowledge of the area covered by Feckenham royal forest. Places mentioned in the Lower Arrow Valley c.1200 are Arrow, Coughton and Sambourne. Great Alne is mentioned in 1326; somewhat surprising, as it lies to the east of the River Arrow. The lords of the manors of Coughton, Oversley and Alcester would not have welcomed the extension of the rights of Feckenham Forest to include their lands, for each of them had his own deer park. Perhaps each lord was expected to agree a special contract with the crown? The peasant poacher would have found conditions very onerous; whereas he had had to answer to the manor court, now he had to answer to the King's Court of the Forest of Feckenham.
After 1300 the Forest of Feckenham was reduced in size, until by the l6th century it had become little more than a large park of 30 or more square miles. In 1629 it lost its royal status altogether. This was part of a national survey by the crown of all former royal forests,
The crown realised that what had once been an asset to the Exchequor was now a drain on its resources. The lords and common people would certainly have been very glad to be left in peace to their own devices. It was another indication that the feudal Middle Ages had gone for good.
Winter 96 index