Wentwood reservoir and hills seen from Gray Hill
|Summit:|| 1,014 ft ST411942 |
Wentwood is underlain by sandstones which are assigned to the Brownstones Formation of the Old Red Sandstone, a suite of sedimentary rocks laid down during the Devonian period. The beds dip gently to moderately in a south-easterly direction. It is the southernmost part of a range of hills formed by the relatively hard-wearing Brownstones sandstones which stretch in a rough arc northwards through eastern Monmouthshire, the broadly west-facing scarps of which are generally well wooded.
There is a small area of houses in Wentwood that are known as Wentwood Village. There is also a church in Wentwood called Gilgal Chapel.
It is the ninth largest ancient woodland in the country. The current wooded area is a remnant of a much larger ancient forest which once extended between the rivers Usk and Wye and which divided the old kingdom of Gwent into two - Gwent Uwchcoed and Iscoed, that is, above and below the wood.
The area contains Bronze Age burial mounds, a stone circle, and a Megalithic alignment on Gray Hill, Monmouthshire.
In the Middle Ages, the woods belonged to the lordship of Chepstow and provided hunting preserves, and timber, fuel and pasturage for the tenants of nearby manors. The Royal Forest of Wentwood had its own forest laws and courts were held twice yearly at Forester's Oaks, above Wentwood Reservoir.
These courts tried luckless locals charged with a range of crimes within the forest boundaries, from sheep stealing to poaching deer. These crimes were taken so seriously that culprits were hanged from one of the two Forester's Oaks. The last offender dealt with in this severe way was hanged as recently as 1829.
The edges of the wood were gradually cleared and felled away in the 16th century and 17th century by farmers. In 1678, Wentwood was the scene of riots led by Nathan Rogers and Edward Kemys, against the actions of the Marquis of Worcester, Henry Somerset, who, as Lord Lieutenant of Monmouthshire and Governor of Chepstow Castle, enclosed some 3,000 acres of the forest for his own use, and began to fell trees for use in his ironworks at Tintern. The tenants of the area, including Rogers, claimed that the ancient rights to the forest belonged to them, and rioted when 50 armed men of Worcester's arrived to carry away the felled wood.
Many stands of substantial mature Oaks were felled to meet the demand for stout oak heartwoods in Royal Navy battleships and men o' war of the Napoleonic era of the 19th century, such as HMS Victory and others, but the heart of the forest remained preserved for charcoal production, a necessity for the iron industry and local ironworks.
The first conifer plantations were planted at Wentwood by 1880, and most of the native trees were felled during World War I to provide timber for props and supports for the trenches. When the area was replanted by the Forestry Commission in the 1950s and 1960s, the original broadleaved deciduous trees were largely replaced with non-native conifers, damaging the woodland habitat. More recently, broadleaved trees have been allowed to grow back.
Wentwood and its surrounding areas are popular with hillwalking and mountain biking enthusiasts and the Wentwood Reservoir, opened in 1904, is a centre for trout fishing. The area is also home to thousands of wildlife species. These include 75 species of bird, including rare turtle doves, nightjars and spotted flycatchers; dormice; otters; pipistrelle bats; and ancient woodland plants, such as wild daffodil, wood sorrel, and yellow pimpernel.
In 2006, the Woodland Trust completed the purchase of nearly 900 acres of Wentwood after a high-profile campaign, and plans a programme of conservation and restoration.
- Woodland Trust site with more information
- BBC report on April 2007 rave event
- www.geograph.co.uk : photos of Wentwood and surrounding areas
- British Geological Survey 1:50,000 scale geological map sheet 233 Monmouth
- Julian Mitchell, Nathan Rogers and the Wentwood Case : a continuing issue in Monmouthshire politics from Charles I to the Chartists, Welsh History Review, Vol. 14, nos. 1-4 1988-89, pp.23-52
- Molly McLean, The Wentwood Forest riot: property rights and political culture in Restoration England, in Political Culture and Cultural Politics in Early Modern Europe: Essays presented to David Underdown, Manchester University Press, 1995, ISBN 978-0-7190-4695-7, pp.112-132