It’s nearly Coronation Day! So, in the spirit of all the amazing things to come on May 6, here’s a few fabulous Royal New Forest Facts to get you started.
1. Founded by a King
Everyone knows the date of 1066, when William of Normandy defeated the unfortunate King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. But fewer know the date of 1079 – believed to be the start of something called the Nova Foresta, in the old Kingdom of Wessex. The New Forest, as it came to be known, was William’s private hunting ground, stretching across what is now West Hampshire and encompassing Brockenhurst.
2. The Arrow of Death
It was an arrow through the eye that finished off William I’s opponent, King Harold. But it is believed to be an arrow through the heart that finished off his son, William II or William Rufus, in 1100, as the hated king was hunting in the area now known as Stoney Cross. An unfortunate mistake? Or something more sinister? No one knows, but you can still visit the spot, marked by the Rufus Stone, where it’s all supposed to have happened!
Image - Rufus Stone
3. Royal Jail
Built at the instigation of King Henry VIII, Hurst Castle was designed to foil dastardly invasion attempts by the French. However, far less nobly, it also served as a temporary prison for the wretched Charles I. The monarch was detained there in 1648 on his long journey back to London from the Isle of Wight, to his eventual beheading for treason.
4. Hunting Lodge
Charles I’s son, Charles II, had much happier memories of his time in the New Forest. Why? Well, along with the hunting, he is also said to have enjoyed trysts with his lover, Nell Gwynne, at a lodge near Brockenhurst which is still there today – now known as New Park Manor hotel.
Image - New Park Manor Hotel
5. Royal Selfie
Whilst enjoying a cruise in the Solent in 1902, King Edward VII stepped ashore at Buckler’s Hard and was driven to nearby Beaulieu Abbey in a car belonging to the Hon. John Douglas-Scott-Montagu. According to the Royal Collection, which retains an image of the King at the wheel of a of a 24 horse-power Daimler, His Majesty was then driven to Lymington and Thorn’s Beach to take tea, returning via Buckler’s Hard two hours later.
6. Hospital Visit
In November 1914 there was tremendous excitement in Brockenhurst, when King George V and Queen Mary paid a visit to the Balmer Lawn, which was serving as a military hospital for casualties in the First World War.
The royal couple arrived by car from their train, which had stopped at Brockenhurst station, and visited soldiers, many of whom included injured Indian combatants.
Image - Balmer Lawn
7. Diary of a Secret Trip
Unlike many of his Royal engagements, the visit of King George VI to Exbury - or HMS Mastodon as it was known during the Second World War – was completely hush-hush. The reason? It took place just days before the D-Day Landings of June 6 1944.
After sailing down the Beaulieu River, the King inspected ships and landing craft. “I must have seen over 300 landing craft and other ships attached in the command,” he said. “I spent a most interesting day.”
The only reason we know his thoughts is because, after learning that the New Forest’s National Park Authority was researching untold war stories, his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, kindly allowed the diaries to go on show in Lyndhurst.
Image - Bucklers Hard
8. All Aboard at Exbury
Who doesn’t enjoy a ride on a miniature steam train? Especially when you get to travel in the cab! Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II certainly did, undertaking the trip along with the public, during a private visit to Exbury Gardens in 2008, which provided some of the most charming images of her long reign.
Image - Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway
Her Majesty made many public and private visits to the New Forest, including her first in 1966, to Lymington, and then to Lyndhurst in 1979 to celebrate the Forest’s 900th anniversary. She also honoured the area in 2012, by choosing the New Forest Show as final engagement of her official Diamond Jubilee Tour.