Area 26: Highclere & Inkpen Common

Area South of Hungerford in the East of the AONB.

Archaeological sites survive as earthworks on the chalk scarp, dating from the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Romano-British period. Although about half of the historic fields have been modified, large areas of earlier pre 1700 enclosures have been left largely unaltered and are important survivals of early Post-Medieval land use.

Download the full Historic Landscape Character Description and Significance Statement

Present Day Historic Landscape Character

Agricultural changes have led to reorganisation of fieldscapes to create fields more suited to modern, mechanised farming. Although about half of the historic fields have been modified, large chunks of early enclosures have been left largely unaltered. Parliamentary enclosures do not survive as well and most have been reorganised or have come under different land-uses. A growing number of paddocks have been created in this area. Most have been created on an ad-hoc basis and cluster around settlements, such as at Inkpen.

A big increase in tree-cover has occurred despite some clearance of historic woodlands. Large plantations have been created and woodland regeneration and colonisation has led to the development of secondary woodlands.

Some parks have barely been altered, such as Kirby House, whilst others have almost totally disappeared.

Layers in the Landscape

There is no evidence of Neolithic settlement, although some artefacts have been found and so for much of prehistory the area was extensively but not intensively exploited (e.g. hunting and herding). The limited archaeological evidence indicates suggests this continued through the Bronze Age and Iron Age. The dispersed settlement and the multiple tracks and paths which indicate an open landscape seems to suggest that the landscape has only recently evolved from the Medieval period. Indeed in the Roman period there is only one site recorded, at Horris Hill, and although this may have been a significant site, it perhaps represents a small encroachment onto unenclosed land, or perhaps it is a site associated with a hunting landscape. The Medieval evolution of the landscape, with enclosure of common land and woodland is apparent in the historic landscape character of the area.

There are no conclusive traces of an open field system in the area to the North and East of Highclere, and the Medieval landscape seems to have been characterised by small fields interspersed with commons and woods. A dense network of roads and tracks ran through the area and these were heavily influenced by the complex micro topography within the area. The interplay of topography, roads, fields and woods gave a very irregular and small scale grain to the landscape. This suggests late enclosure in a landscape which had high levels of access which had to be retained during the enclosure process.

Historic Settlement Character

Settlement was fairly dense and comprised dispersed settlements, small hamlets and poly-focal settlements. The majority of the dispersed settlements were common-edge settlements, such as Hell Green at Inkpen. These were irregular, unplanned, settlements that had grown-up on the fringes of the common and represent squatter occupation by those wishing to exploit the common’s resources. Such settlements were usually “unofficial” and often lacked a formal name.

Settlement growth is patchy across the area and varied in character. Some new housing has been constructed at historic settlements and farms whilst building at previously undeveloped locations has created new settlements in the landscape. Most growth has been around Inkpen, where all of its historic settlement nuclei, including those around the former common, have been foci of housing growth.

Historic Farmstead Character

Farms were also an important component of the settlement pattern and their distribution, size and names are different to that seen in adjacent areas. Farms were generally smaller, more frequent and more widely distributed across the landscape than in neighbouring HECAs. Over half the farms recorded on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map of the area have names referring to persons, such as Vanner’s Farm, as opposed to place, topographic or other names. This suggests that they were established by numerous individual farmers living on and cultivating their own farms.