Naphill Common - History

Interactive Timeline

The earliest feature known in the area (so far) is a bank and ditch system thought to be a Romano-British farmstead. There are signs of iron smelting associated with it and a Roman pot sherd was found in the adjacent Dew pond.

Originally the common was at least twice as large as at present. It extended across the present Main Road and from Walters Ash to Coombe Farm. Its early history is not yet known.

The common was originally "Wood-pasture", i.e., open grassland dotted with trees, enclosed by a bank and ditch to keep in the animals, hence the trees were pollarded and not coppiced.

Commons traditionally had funnel shaped exits to enable livestock to be assembled before leaving. Remnants of one survive where Stocking Lane meets Main Road.

In 1700s there was a distinction between Naphill and Moosley or Moseley Commons. (There were probably two villages: ‘Musleghe’ 1237-40, ‘Mosleye’ 1284; ‘Knaphill’ 1599, ‘Naple’ in 1766.)

In 1700s and early 1800s there was a lot of encroachment, with several houses and enclosures on the common, e.g. Heyshams. Many people were fined for encroachment.

It is likely that drovers, moving cattle to St Albans or London from as far as Wales, used the common for pasture and water from the ponds. (18th -19th Century.)

Enclosure

From around 1890s onwards the common became increasingly covered with juniper, gorse, heather and holly; a very few juniper bushes and a few tufts of heather survive today.

From Victorian times to the 1920s fairs were held on the common.

The common was used for grazing by local farmers, but the practice died out soon after the First World War.  The last farmer to graze his cattle was Arthur Nicholls of Vincent’s Farm in 1928, with Ken Bristow (Kedgel) tending them.

After grazing ceased the common evolved to mixed woodland: first birch and cherry, later overshadowed by beech and pedunculate oak. Some of the ancient oak and beech pollards have survived.

In 1951 the common was declared an SSSI Grade 1 mainly because "there has been little or no silvicultural management since the cessation of grazing.; The site is therefore of value to woodland ecologists as a control in which the fate of native tree species, and the associated flora and fauna, can be monitored and compared with more managed stands."

In 1994 English Nature (now Natural England), who are responsible for caring for SSSIs, proposed to restore the common by felling trees and removing scrub so as to open up some paths and areas and return them to heathland; a five year programme of work began in 1995 but was not completed.

(Some of this history is based upon Rex Lever (1999) 'Naphill and Walters Ash: Looking Back at Village Life in Celebration of the Second Millennium') Copies available from Wycombe Library.

There is plenty of scope for amateur historians to explore. It seems likely that the common began as two commons, Moseley and Naphill, but its origins are, as yet, largely a mystery. There are stories of drovers, a ghostly lady and a Kibbo-Kift site. There is archaeological evidence of the original common boundary; a registered ancient monument, a Romano-British farmstead; evidence of iron smelting; World War II tank tracks, and numerous other features, all waiting to be investigated.

If you have any information or can help in any way please do not hesitate to contact Trevor Hussey (see contact us.

Other references to Naphill Common can be found here