Mesolithic, 8000BC - c4500BC
The High Weald’s first inhabitants are hunter-gathers who are using the Weald, as well as the Downs and coast, for hunting, fishing and gathering food. Game includes aurochs (a wild cow), red deer, roe deer, wild pig and birds. The hunter-gathers are moving seasonally into the Weald, often returning to the same place. They prefer areas with dry soils close to springs, rivers and wetland.
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Watch the video below about Tarneg, who lived in the Mesolithic period
Neolithic, 4500BC - 2300BC
This period sees the taming of wild animals and the sowing of crops in Britain following the arrival of new ideas and people from mainland Europe. However in the High Weald, with its hard to dig clay soils, Mesolithic hunting practices continue as the main food source.
Download Og Knapper meets the Farmers
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Bronze Age, c.2300BC - c.700BC
This period sees the first use of metallic tools and jewelry. Hunting practices continue but there is an increase in more permanent settlement and farming. There is much trade between tribes and there are clearer differences between rich and poor people.
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Iron Age, 700BC - AD43
This period sees people begin to smelt iron from rock (a process involving heating and melting) to make better tools and weapons. Neighbouring tribes compete with each other and there are serious disagreements. There is no evidence of lots of settlement in the High Weald but towards the end of the period the rest of the country is becoming densely settled and 'towns' are developing.
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Romans, AD43 - AD410
The Romans have brought major social and economic change. Demand from new towns and the Roman army has led to a massive expansion of the Wealden iron industry. The size and importance of the industry, coupled with the lack of towns in the High Weald, suggests the area may have been an Imperial Estate (ruled by Rome). It is thought it was comprised of 2 main groups of iron-works; a western ‘private’ area and an eastern area linked to the Roman navy (the Classis Britannica). There is settlement on the area’s high ridges and close to routeways and early ‘farmsteads’ are providing food for the iron-workers and traders.
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A link to more information about the Romans
More pictures of the Roman period
Follow a walk on Ashdown Forest which includes part of a Roman Road
Watch a video about Maximillius, a roman soldier who was stationed at the ironworks near Beauport on the edge of Hastings
Saxons, AD410 - AD1065
From 300AD (the late Roman period) to 600AD there is a steep decline in the population of Britain. Farmland has been abandoned. Trees and scrub are growing up on former fields. The woodlands are valued as animal fodder and people move seasonally into the area from the Downs to feed pigs or other animals in the woods (pannage). In areas of less fertile soils (where trees find it hard to grow) animal grazing is creating treeless (open) areas.
Download the story of pigs and dragons
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Find routeways created by pannage at Birchden Wood
Watch the story of Edmund, an Anglo Saxon drover
Medieval, AD1066 - AD1539
Between 1086AD (the date of the Domesday book) and 1300AD the population of England increases three-fold. As the demand for resources grows the High Weald is increasingly used. The temporary settlements (dens) created by seasonal pig herders are becoming permanent farmsteads. However there are still large expanses of unfarmed land which is attractive for hunting and for the grazing of animals by peasants.
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Watch this video which tells the story of Edith who lived in the medieval period
Watch Hugh, a commoner from Ashdown Forest tell his story
Post-medieval, AD1540 - AD1699
The growing population means increasing use of the area’s natural resources. With rising produce prices more land is being farmed. The iron industry has boomed following the introduction of the water-powered blast furnace in 1496, a larger and more permanent structure than the furnaces (bloomeries) used in the past. Daily production has jumped from a few kilos of iron to nearer a tonne. More iron-rich rocks and charcoal is required and the need to operate the bellows by water power rather than by hand means that ponds have been created to store the water. A different type of iron is being produced which means a forge, with its own pond and charcoal supply, is needed to refine the iron.
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More pictures of the Post-medieval period
Follow a 7.5 mile walk around Mayfield which passes two Furnace sites
Watch Jane tell about her experiences as a Tudor Ironmaster's wife
Watch a video of Jacob, a coppice worker who tells you of the connection during his time between wood and guns
Victorian, AD1800 - AD1913
Transport progress, particularly the building of railways, has improved access in and out of the Weald. Many wealthy people, now able to travel in and out of London, have built grand homes and gardens in the area. Settlements near railway stations have expanded. The ability to transport goods to London and the coastal towns has allowed many land-based industries, such as poultry breeding and brick manufacture, to expand.
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Watch a video where Edward tells you about the development of his Victorian Estate
World Wars, AD1914 - AD1945
This period sees difficult farming conditions linked to World Wars and the Great Depression with many people leaving the land and area.
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Follow a history trail around Broadwater Warren and discover signs of World War action
Watch a video about Ruby who came to the High Weald between the years for hop picking holidays
Watch Dora tell of her experiences as a World War II evacuee in the High Weald
AD1945 to now
The High Weald has been designated an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ by Government to help conserve and enhance its nationally important medieval landscape. Competition from global markets and increasing costs means farming in the Weald continues to be difficult. Changes in the way land is managed has led to dramatic loss of wildlife-rich habitats such as heaths and wildflower meadows.
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More pictures of the High Weald from 1945 to the present day