THE FOUNTAIN INN.
In the opening chapter of our book we explained how the woodland immediately behind the Fountain Inn was once a group of fields, divided by banks and ditches. As surprising as this is, the wider history of the area is actually even more complex; but was thought by us to be just a little too far off-topic to be included in the book.
The land immediately south of Parkend is particularly fertile and, unlike much of the Forest, the topsoil lies in a thick layer; making it ideal for agriculture. Despite the Forest being relatively unexplored prior to the Industrial Revolution, this was not something that escaped the attention of the authorities and, according to the booklet Whitemead Park a Short History, the area was enclosed, on behalf of the Crown, by the Deputy Constable of the Forest, Walter de Snappe, in the mid-1200s.
The enclosure incorporated a large swathe of land, which included the plot now occupied by the Fountain Inn, the woodland behind the present-day building (almost as far south as Whitecroft), land below St Paul’s church to the east, and land westwards towards Bream Road. In 1278 the enclosure is recorded as being called Wistemede, but the spelling had settled to become Whitemead Park by the 1500s. This was still long before Parkend village existed and Whitemead Park was designated a detached part of the Newland Parish, paying tithes to that church.
For 350 years it was leased by the Crown to various dignitaries, although the Crown directly appointed keepers of the park between 1464 and 1502. Some contemporary references to Whitemead Park describe it as a royal hunting enclosure, and this may have been the case historically, but from at least the 1600s onwards it seems to have been used primarily for agriculture, with the main lodge used as a farmhouse. It was included in the renewal of a lease to the 4th earl of Pembroke in 1640, but following the Civil War and the abolition of the monarchy in 1649, the Government assumed ownership and sold it.
The sale was opposed by local inhabitants, who claimed Whitemead had never been formally ‘imparked’ and was simply an enclosure made for the use of the Crown and its lessees as a cattle pound for the Forest. In any case, after the restoration of the monarchy, the Crown refused to recognise the sale and took it back; leasing it to Lord Herbert (later the duke of Beaufort) in 1662. After 1688, however, the duke's declining influence encouraged local inhabitants to again challenge Whitemead’s status as a park and mobs of commoners repeatedly broke its fences, so that the duke received no profit from it.
Early in the 1700s a second farmhouse was built in the eastern side of Whitemead Park and, by at least 1751, the park was divided into two farms, separated by Cannop Brook. A map dated 1767 describes all the land to the west and south of Parkend Bridge as being Thomas Barrows’s Farm. While the land to the east, on the other side of Cannop Brook, is called Sarah James’s Farm.
Our property, and the land bordered by the two brooks, is included within Thomas Barrow’s farm and described as a cottage, garden and mead (meadow). What is now the woodland, on the other side of Oakwood Brook, is shown divided into three fields called; Long-Gut, which ran between Fountain Way and Oakwood Brook, and included an area on the other side of our footbridge. Heath-Patch, which occupied an area to the west of Beaver Lodge. And Dab’s Mead, which was a larger field bordered by Oakwood Brook, the present-day Whitemead Park and, what is now, farmer Preece’s field.
Remarkably, almost 300 years after they were constructed, the boundaries of these fields can still be discerned behind the pub, as banks and ditches in the forest floor. Sadly none of their names are still in use, although their etymology does give a clue to their origins.
The Old English word guttas referred to the intestines, but by the 1500s it had shortened to become gut and its use widened to include a ‘narrow passage of water’ (also, as in gutter). The field called Long-Gut was so-named then, because it partly follows the length of Oakwood Brook, the narrower of the two brooks.
Heath-Patch is also an interesting name for a field. The meaning of the word heath has not changed since the 1500s and is used to denote an area of shrubland or unfarmed land. Patch, is a common place-name in the Forest and was historically used to denote a vacant piece of ground. These two names together then, might be taken as an indication that this was, or had previously been, an enclosed but uncultivated area, perhaps an area used for grazing.
The use of a possessive apostrophe in Dab’s Mead seems to indicate that this field was named after a person. And, as previously mentioned, mead, in this context, means meadow. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any historical mention of anyone locally with the name Dab, or anything even vaguely similar. The word 'dab' does, however, feature in old Forest dialect and means to wander or walk.
Photos: 1776 map of Whitemead Park. The field boundaries, highlighted in red, are still visible. The cottage that went on to become the Fountain Inn is marked in green (note that the course of the river has been changed since this map was drawn).
And, the map key, listing the field names.
Photo: One of the field boundaries as it is today, clearly showing the 'ditch and two banks' arrangement that separated the fields.
The farms, and field boundaries, appear to have been out of use by the early 1800s, when Whitemead Park was leased by the earl of Berkeley. The lease expired in 1808 and he sought to renew it in 1809, but this was refused by the Surveyor-General, who stated the park was ‘unfavourably situated for farming’ and that the buildings there had been allowed to fall into a poor state of repair.
All but a few acres of Whitemead Park were taken over for reafforestation and the land behind the pub was replanted with oak trees. What remained of Whitemead Park became the official residence of the Deputy Surveyor of the Forest from 1816. It survives to the present day as a holiday and leisure facility, still bearing the same name.
For hundreds of years, legend says over 700 years, mining in the Forest has been regulated through a system of Freemining; where individuals are granted areas, known as gales, in which to mine. Records show a gale called Parkend Deep Level was granted to John James in 1825. Sopwith's survey of 1835 confirms the award and shows the entrance as being in the woods, immediately behind the Fountain Inn - although the associated gale is some considerable distance away, to the west. We don't know if the mine was ever actually dug, but there's no record, or evidence, of any coal mining having taken place behind the pub.
Maps from the 1850s show that part of the, by then obsolete, field boundary behind the pub was in use as a footpath, running roughly NW to SE. The woods are prone to become very boggy after rain, so logically, the path would have run along the raised bank. The footbridge over Oakwood Brook, immediately behind the pub, does not seem to appear on maps until the 1920s, but would presumably indicate the presence of a footpath from the Fountain Inn too. The footpath along the field boundary does not appear on maps after the 1970s, indicating that it had fallen out of use by that time. The remains of other ditches also exist in the woods, but their purpose is unknown. As they don’t feature on maps they were probably agricultural in nature - possibly created for drainage.
There’s a surprisingly large variety of trees growing in the woods behind the pub and we were told once that this is because, when the Forestry Commission were based at Whitemead Park, they used the woods to trial various tree species - although we have no evidence to support the claim.