The Forest of Middlesex was an ancient woodland covering much of the county of Middlesex, England, that was north of the City of London and now forms the northern part of Greater London. A path was cut through the forest for the creation of Watling Street. At its ancient extent the forest stretched twenty miles north from the city walls at Houndsditch. Following the Norman Conquest it became the royal forest of Middlesex, where citizens of the City of London enjoyed the right of free chase by charters granted by Henry I and Henry II.
William Fitzstephen, who died circa 1190, described it as "vast forest, its copses dense with foliage concealing wild animals – stags, does, boars, and wild bulls." After the area was disafforested in 1218 by Henry III, ceasing to be a royal forest, the land passed into private ownership. This led to the deforestation of the bulk of the forest and its opening for development and agriculture.
The boundaries of the Forest aren't clear, but Domesday returns for Middlesex as a whole indicate that it was around 30% wooded (much of it wood-pasture) in 1086, about double the English average., this would have been lower in the lower land, close to rivers that made it more attractive for farming, and higher elsewhere. The proportion of woodland in England decreased sharply between the Conquest and the Black Death due to the pressure of a rapidly increasing population, and the same pressures would have been experienced here. Much of the loss of woodland in Middlesex appears due to wood-pasture being downgraded to heathland as a result of intensive grazing.
Remaining fragments of the ancient forest include Harrow Weald Common, Highgate Wood, Queen's Wood and Scratchwood. The London neighborhood of St John's Wood reflects that part of the forest later owned by the Order of St John of Jerusalem.
- Robinson, W., History and Antiquities of the Parish of Tottenham, (1840)
- A description of London, (Florilegium Urbanum), accessed February 11, 2008
- "Hickling - Highgate". A Topographical Dictionary of England. 1848. Retrieved 2008-02-11.
- Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape, Rackham, p50
- Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape, Rackham, p55
- History of the Countryside, Rackham, p292
- London Borough of Harrow, Management Plan: Old Redding Complex, p. 2, 2010 Archived 2012-09-14 at the UK Government Web Archive
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