A History of Britain to show where we are in the scheme of things:-
10,000BC the last Ice Age – Ice Ages wiped everything clean. The valley which forms the Seven Fields would have been cut by the Ice Age retreat and then by the Haydon Brook as it flowed through the middle, by 8,000BC the Ice Age finished The Coral Reef which is Penhill would have been exposed and then the beginnings of habitation with dwarf trees, Scots Pines and Birch. By 6,000BC Britain had become an island and anything new growing after this is not native. A 1000 years later and we had natural climax vegetation. Even then Humans were not having much impact on the environment, they were hunting food, but berries were the bulk of their diet and came from gathering rather than hunting in Wild wood, which had totally seeded itself, and everywhere was wooded except cliffs, high mountains etc. In this area, Beech Woods grew on chalk. Willows in the Thames Valley, Basset, Oaks etc., Elms. Different woodlands grew on different soils. 2/3rds of our breeding land birds had arrived, over half of our moths and butterflies and a sixth of our flowering plants. All were dependent on woodlands. The climate became too warm for Scots Pine.
Neolithic man had arrived circa 4,000BC, it was he who was the first to tan, slash and burn to increase fertility of the soil. The berries of the Wild Service Tree were part of their staple diet. They formed clearings for farming or grazing and by chopping they must have realised about stumps growing and the resulting new branches which were straight for tools etc. By this time man knew what timber to use and how to apply it.
700BC – 43AD Iron age Celts managed 35% of the land. In 43AD Romans invaded, most settled on the Downs because the Oak woods were too difficult to clear, just mile away from Seven Fields is a newly discovered Roman Sanctuary and Quarry
1066 Norman Conquest. Under a quarter of Britain was left wooded by this time. The woodland was used for firewood, building, pannage, nuts, dyes herbs, fruits, fencing, shelter for animals and forage, sport and ships, almost everything essential to the daily lives of all people. (Forest is the legal term for hunting tracts).
1086 Stratton Parish in the Shippen Hundreds, held by Nigel the Doctor for the King – Seven Fields was in the Stratton Parish, and along with Penhill formed a piece of land – 243 Acres and 21 perches. Only Furrow Field, Picketts and part of Penhill Copse were in Rodbourne Cheney. In the early Middle Ages there was no dead wood, – every bit being used. By 1260 Seven Fields had been granted to Merton College, Oxford for “the sustentation of scholars, In serlis degentum”. 1350 The Black Death, Britain lost a third of its population, the King lost interest in his Forests and people ignored the laws. So few people survived to do the work that vast tracts became derelict. The Apothecary was making good use of herbal remedies., some grown, but mostly picked from fields and hedgerow.
1448 Henry V1 The court was at Oxford and overcrowding of the Oxford Colleges had resulted in the ‘Town and Gown riots’. From that time the monarchs had decided to build more educational establishments in other parts of the country, Henry V1 swapped the Stratton holdings for land in Cambridge to sustain the College of ‘St. Nicholas and St. Mary’, better known today as Kings College Cambridge.
1642 English Civil War, there is a local legend that something happened at Seven Fields, the stories, handed down from generation to generation, range from a skirmish on the bridle track to a full blown battle or as simple as Cromwell having taken a bath in a Spring. Although there is no recorded incident, for 18 months, 20,000 Roundheads were encamped at Highworth and during the Civil War both sides would send out parties to search for food. Each Parish was made to donate part of their supplies to the war effort. As the crow flies, Seven Fields is not that far away from Highworth and perhaps the locals here, as in many other places, being tired of having their own food supplies stolen, formed themselves into bands and fought off the intruders. To a simple people this would have looked like a battle, and it may have enlarged in the telling. It is also possible that a roundhead took a bath in a spring (this may have been the Twin Ponds now filled in at Ray Close Greenmeadow, just the other side of the Kissing Gate).
In September 1643 The Earl of Essex marched the model army from Gloucester to the Battle of Newbury along the Roman Road – Ermin Street – which is very close – did they stop over in the Seven Fields area before progressing onto their battle? There is also more than one Cromwell in history and when the Abbey’s were dissolved perhaps Blunsdon which was probably much like a Christian Guest House of today, received a visit! It is rumoured that Tadpole Lane (approx. 2 miles) was on the main coach route between Bath and Oxford.
1750 About this time, farmers would have been changing from Ox drawn ploughs and this could have been the last time one was used on Furrow Field. What made a succession of farmers leave that field unploughed since then? It has however, been enriched at some point.
17/18th Century, Enclosure Laws – it seems ironic that today we have to fight to keep our hedgerows, in the late 1700’s we would have been protesting the enclosing of our common by hedgerows, this is when the majority of Seven Fields hedgerows were planted. With the exception those in Furrow Field and the Old Parish Boundary Hedgerow.
Arkells Brewery was established in 1843, and took water to brew its ales from two wells in the Seven Fields area, one well head was at Inglesham Road, Penhill and we believe the other is in Spring Field.
1914/18 Wars. By this time the Woodland in Britain was down to 5 to 6%, and the cry went out for more wood to use in the war effort, this is possibly why Penhill Copse was nearly cleared felled at this time. By this time there was no wild wood left anywhere.
1952 – 55 Penhill was built on the largest part of the land, and it seems the meadows had a lucky escape as a plan shows that Penhill was to be built across the Nature Reserve and playing fields, ending at the Bridle Track., rather than upon the hill.
Circa 1975, Dutch Elm hit Seven Fields, all bar a few of the Elms died and were felled. Now within the Swindon Borough boundaries, the wood was sent to a local saw mill, who tried to mill the wood, they were unable to do so as the wood was peppered by gun cartridges left over from Dad’s Army practising – shooting at trees, rendering the wood useless, but they had lived for over another 30 years full of the metal! Seven Fields had many Elms, suckers now grow from the stumps of these trees, reach about 15 years and then the beetle attacks again, although some of them have survived past the 15 years without suffering the damage.
1989 February, a group of local people adopt the area for community conservation and elect to stay with the folk name of Seven Fields used to cover the whole open space area they plant 2000 trees along the Northern Bank, *Only recently have maps been found referring to it as ‘Stratton Field’
1995 Due to the groups vigorous campaigning and the support of the surrounding communities the Hay Meadows at Seven Fields receives Local Nature Reserve Designation.