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Big Wood Nature Reserve

Entering Big Wood from the Temple Fortune Hill Memorial Gate, one crosses and ancient boundary that runs along Big Woods western edge and on through the rest of the Suburb where it is now partly obscured. This line almost certainly dates back to the Anglo-Saxon period. Historians have suggested it was part of a boundary between the hundreds of Ossulstone and Gore both described in the Domesday Book of 1086. Later it became a boundary between the manor of Finchley and the earlier Manor of Hendon.

At the time of the Norman conquest the wood was likely to have been part of a much larger woodland area, gradually reduced as new fields were made. Later the line served as, a parish a parliamentary and urban district boundary. 

In the early Middle Ages the land to the west of the line was owned by Westminster Abbey. In the 13th century grants of this land were made to the Leper Hospital of St James (where St James Palace now stands,)

but the Abbey lost control of the hospital and estate to the Crown in a 14th century dispute. WhenHenry V1 founded Eton College in the 15th century he granted them the hospital and the land (by then called Wyldes). Subsequently the hospital was taken by Henry V111, but he confirmed Eton's ownership of the land. The college continued to hold this until the beginning of the 20th century, when they sold much of it to the Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust for building the original part of the suburb. The wood itself lay in Bibwell, on the eatern side of the line, an area which was probably part of the Fulham estates. These estates had been acquired by the Bishop of London from the Bishop of Hereford documented in a charter circa 704-9A.D. However the earliest mention of Bibwell found so far is in a document of 1434 confirming a 40 year lease between the Bishop and a Johnny Sanny for "a certain close in Finchley called Bybwell". Many different tenants leased Bibwell through the centuries. These leases show they were expected , amongst other things to maintain the woods. A lease of 1588 to John Kerrie for 21 years requires him to protect the young re-growth "that are nowe growinge and that hereafter after every fall of the woods thereupon growinge or so growe during the said term". This suggests that tenants or their workers might cut/coppice wood fairly regularly in small sections at a time and not cut new growth until it was well established. They needed wood for many things including thatching pegs, hurdle making for sheep folds, and firewood for cooking and heating, however leases show that from 1810 the bishop no longer allowed tenants to cut wood and reserved all timber rights for himself. It appears that around this time much of the coppice woodland was felled and re planted with an oak timber crop as most of the current oaks (now) standing date from the 19th century. Gradually in the 20th century the smaller trees and bushes regenerated from seed and the old root system to form the present understory. In 1911 the HGS Trust took a 999 year lease on the area to extend the original suburb. The freehold of Big Wood was taken over from the ecclesiastical commissioners (who had taken over the administration of the Bishop's estates in 1855) by Finchley district council in 1933 and remains with the local authority - Barnet.

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