Delve into to history of our local forests, Cannock Chase, Sutton Park and Shenstone
The Great Forest of Cank now Cannock, was in existence by the 1080s, the boundary being the rivers Trent, Penk and Tame, but there was no natural boundary in the south, so this varied. It took in the Cathedral city of Lichfield and was a large area stretching from Stafford in the north to Sutton Coldfield in the south. To the west the boundary was around Brewood and to the East Tutbury. The forest had not been used for settlement because the soil was too sandy and poor to grow crops.
A forest was an unenclosed territory of woods and pastures under the King’s protection which was used by him for his pleasure to hunt game and wild beasts. The boundary was like an invisible wall, usually particular hills, rivers or highways and within that wall any offence by any person was severely punished at the pleasure of the King. The King appointed a Justice of the forest, foresters, keepers, and wardens to oversee it and no man could cut down trees without permission from the forester or kill a deer within its boundaries.
During the Spanish invasion, many landowners gave “great trees in the forest of Cannock for use in building ships”.
A Chase, like a forest was unenclosed and had natural boundaries but it could be held by a subject of the king and the law was different in that if a crime was committed it was punishable by common law and not forest jurisdiction. Chases often had more clearings than forests such as heaths and were therefore more suitable for hunting.
A Royal Chase was a Crown Estate, similar to a Chase but where certain rights are reserved for a member of the Royal Family.
The Ancient Forest and Chase of Sutton Coldfield was a deer park and royal chase which during the 12th century had been created from a small southern portion of the Great forest of Cank or Cannock as it came to be known. It was bounded on the south and east by the River Tame and on the west by two little streams, one the Holbrook, rising on the western side of Barr Beacon and joining the Tame at Perry Barr Bridge, the others were the Bourne Brook and Blackbrook, rising on the eastern side of Barr Beacon and taking its course to Shenstone. It then bends sharply and marks the northern boundary of the Chase until it meets the Tame at Drayton Bassett.
Shenstone was therefore now just inside the boundary between the Forest of Cannock and the Forest and Chase of Sutton Coldfield. The ridge of Barr Beacon rises 750 feet above sea level and runs due north and south. The land descends in successive undulations until at Tamworth the river is only 150 feet above sea level. It is in this area, a few miles from Barr Beacon, that the small sandstone hill of Shenstone stands, crowned by Shenstone Church.
Shenstone therefore sits outside the boundaries of both areas of forest. One of the old English spellings of Shenstone “Sejenstan” is thought to mean “shining stone” or “sign stone” which suggests that it could have been near a white or shining stone, maybe marking the boundary of the county or the forest.
If you would like to learn more about the local history of Shenstone, why not join our local history group? For more information, please feel free to contact us