Snelsmore & Bucklebury Commons
This is an area of high ground and dry valleys between the high Downs and the Pang and Kennet Valleys.
Significant concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age flintwork survive around Beenham. Evidence for Roman activity relates to a villa at Wellhouse and earthworks representing a probable religious complex in Box Wood. This is one of the most highly modified areas in the Eastern half of the AONB. However Snelsmore Common and Snelsmore East Common have their origins in the late Medieval period and survive as common land today. Parks are a common feature in the area, most being minor designed parklands that had been established in the 19th century.
Present Day Historic Landscape Character
This is one of the most highly modified areas in the Eastern half of the AONB. Most historic enclosures have been rationalised into fields suited to modern mechanised agriculture through boundary removal and reorganisation. This has been intensified with the construction of the M4 and A34 through parts of the area. Large areas of paddocks have also been created from historic fields around settlements. Few historic enclosures are unaltered, large areas of historic fields do not survive and those fields that do remain exist as small, isolated groups amidst a modern farming landscape. These changes have created a much more regular landscape and have significantly broken up the historic character of the area. Parliamentary enclosures are almost entirely absent from the modern landscape and most have been used for housing and tree plantations. Many former parkland areas have been enclosed into arable fields and paddocks.
Significant changes have occurred in the tree-cover with many blocks of ancient woodland cleared of native tree cover and replanted with other species. This has impacted on the character of the area as many replanted woods are very large in size. Replanted woods often have dense single species tree-cover. Several areas of ancient and other old woods have been cleared over the course of the 20th century. Some clearance has been for farming or quarrying but most has been used for housing. A huge number of plantations, many very large, have been established within the area. Most were created on former common heathland, including areas enclosed to fields under Parliamentary enclosure. Some of the largest plantations were created in the later 19th century East of Hermitage. Plantations have greatly increased the wooded cover of the area and introduced very tightly packed woodland into areas that were very open. This has changed the character of the area and made large parts of it feel much more visually enclosed than previously.
A lack of grazing on remaining commons and some plantations led to many becoming substantially wooded over by the middle of the 20th century. This is being tackled by management and conservation work at Snelsmore Common. Bucklebury Common and Snelsmore East Common remain very wooded.
Parks are a common feature in the area, most being minor parklands that had been established in the 19th century. A large section of Dunston Park extended into this area.
Layers in the Landscape
Significant concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age flintwork and some late Bronze Age pottery were found during fieldwalking around Beenham. Evidence for later prehistoric activity is dominated by the two hillforts in the area. Firstly Grimsbury Castle which survives as substantial earthworks within Grimsbury Wood and secondly Bussock Camp a substantial wooded earthworks within Bussock Wood. Two convergent linear earthworks, one known as the Black Ditch, run across the centre of Snelsmore Common. These are undated and may be prehistoric.
Evidence for Roman activity relates to a villa which was discovered during ploughing immediately East of Wellhouse in the early 19th century. The site was partially excavated and contained remains of walls and mosaics. A significant complex of earthworks and structures exist in Box Wood and Rook’s Copse at the northern tip of the area.
The linear earthworks on Snelsmore Common have also been interpreted as early Medieval boundary features and are superficially similar to Bury’s Bank on Greenham Common. An earthwork enclosure, Cinges Haga, was mentioned in a charter of 951 and is thought to have run across Snelsmore East Common.
Late Medieval material is mainly represented by features related to the use of Bucklebury and Snelsmore Common. An earthwork bank, thought to be late Medieval in date, can be traced forming the boundary of Snelsmore Common at several places on its western side. A Medieval pillow mound also exists as an earthwork at the common’s Northern tip. A deer park, known from documentary references of 1509, is thought to have existed near Snelsmore Common and it has been suggested that the common boundary bank may have formed the pale of this park.
This area seems to have had a Medieval landscape characterised by small fields and dispersed small settlements and farms, inter-related with large commons and woods with a dense network of roads and tracks. The interplay of land-use, roads and the axes of the ridges and valleys created a very irregular grain to the landscape.
Extensive commons covered much of the area; an almost continuous chain ran along the Pang watershed from Bradfield South End to Eling. Some were enclosed privately before the late 18th century but many were enclosed through Act of Parliament. Expanses of common land at Bucklebury and Snelsmore remained unenclosed into the 20th century.
Historic Settlement Character
The area was more densely settled than the neighbouring valleys, and small settlements were distributed thickly across the landscape. The historic settlement pattern was dispersed and dominated by common-edge settlements and farms. Largest concentrations of settlements were at Cold Ash, Hermitage, and on the North and East fringes of Bucklebury Common. The largest settlement around Bucklebury Common was Chapel Row but most had no formal name. These settlements have their roots in squatter occupation by those wishing to exploit the resources of the common. Their development is poorly understood: they existed by the 18th century but may date back further. Some small-scale settlement growth occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries and this was mainly confined to infill around existing settlement or the construction of small numbers of large houses for the affluent classes.
Historic Farmstead Character
Numerous farms were scattered across the area, the majority named after topographic features and places. Farmsteads typically consist of loose courtyard plans with detached buildings arranged around a yard. Some 19th century farmsteads, built to house cattle for fattening or dairying are more likely to be of L-or U-plan. Historically, farms in this area were small and there is a high density of farmsteads in the landscape. Small farm size often meant that there was little capital to replace buildings so Medieval and 16th/17th century farm buildings often survive. Within the wood – pasture areas and areas of better soils farmsteads typically consist of loose courtyard arrangements, often including an aisled barn. This area has one of the main concentrations of timber-framed aisled barns in the country.