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discover the history of the new forest

New Forest History

There can be few other places in England where the ancient landscape has remained so unchanged. In 1079 when William The Conqueror named the area his ‘new hunting forest', little could he imagine that nearly 1000 years later his ‘Nova Foresta' would still retain its mystery and romance.

The ancient system established by William The Conqueror to protect and manage the woodlands and wilderness heaths is still in place today through the efforts of Verderers, Agisters and Commoners - literally the judges, stockmen and land users of the forest.

The part the New Forest played during the war effort

In the First World War wounded soliders were brought to Brockenhurst to be treated in the make-shift hospitals set up by local residents who owned some of the larger properties in the village.

The New Forest's strategic location on the south coast meant that it was crucial in a range of operations both for British, Commonwealth and US and Canadian troops in World War Two. 

During World War II Balmer Lawn in Brockenhurst was used by Generals Montgomery and Eisenhower's for meetings as they planned the D-Day invasion. Ashley Walk near Godshill was a bombing range used to test the 'bouncing bomb' and there were 12 airfields across the area - some of which can still be visited today.

Learn about the forest's history and archaeology at our many museums and Heritage Centres. From stately homes such as Palace House at Beaulieu or Breamore House to the Roman Villa at Rockbourne.

Visiting these places will help your knowledge about the past in this fascinating part of the world grow even more.

Visit historic villages such as Buckler's Hard, where ships for Nelson's fleet were built, using the mighty oaks from the forest. Another example of how man has harnessed nature is at Britain's only surviving tidal mill, Eling Tide Mill.

There are many hidden treasures for you to discover if you know where to look. Alice Liddell, Lewis Carroll's inspiration for Alice In Wonderland, is buried in the churchyard in Lyndhurst.

You'll find the grave of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the churchyard in Minstead.

Sway village is the location in the book 'The Children of The New Forest', written by Captain Marryat.

In the 1930's Hythe was home to the British Powerboat company & the eccentric and brilliant inventor of the Hovercraft, Sir Christopher Cockerell. Also, TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) once lived in the village.

The ideal place to start your visit is The New Forest Museum & Visitor Centre in Lyndhurst with its exhibition depicting the history and heritage of the forest.