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Alveston Deer Park

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January 2016

Royal Alveston Deer Park?

Everyone loves a good detective story. Trying to picture the scene from a few scraps of jigsaw-like pieces. Trying to string together a sequence of events from unconnected snapshots in time. Such was the tale told by John Adnams to the January gathering of Thornbury History and Archaeological Society.

It all started about 5 years ago when some Norman pottery and a coin of Henry 2nd were found in a field to the west of Alveston. This led to an archaeological excavation (perhaps the subject of a future talk) and some research by John. While reading an historical atlas of Britain he came across references to a royal ‘progress’ by Henry 1st that included Alveston in the itinerary. A royal ‘progress’ was basically a chance to get in some good hunting while dispensing the odd bit of justice and imposing taxes, hunting being the favourite pastime of medieval kings. So John put two and two together and wondered if the finds in the field could be related to a royal deer park with a secure boundary.

John started looking in documents of the Norman period for reference to Alveston and hunting. Searching through charters of the 12th century and ‘Pipe Rolls’ (tax accounts) of the same period, he came across references in royal charters that stated they were ‘written at Alveston’, which proved the king had been doing business there. Also in the ‘Great Pipe Roll’ of 1130 there were accounts for land at Alveston being incorporated into a park. All John needed to do now was find it.

Using a surprising range of tools such as old tithe maps, 1881 Ordnance Survey maps, and Google Earth, John began to look for tell-tale signs of the park boundary. Field and parish boundaries have changed a lot in the last 200 years but a useful clue is that ancient boundaries tend to be more sinuous than modern ones. Many of the field names in the area refer to the management and herding of deer and game. Field walking and comparison with known deer parks made a convincing conclusion. The boundary turns out to be around 7 miles long making a very large deer park with the centre roughly at Lodge Farm near the M5 motorway.

So through diligent investigation and research, as well as a bit of foot-work, the detective had solved the case and ‘got his man’. Alveston was a royal Norman deer park going back to Henry 1st. We wish John well in his continuing research.

The Thornbury Local History and Archaeology Society always welcomes new and occasional members. Details of our programme can be found on this website, the library or the Town Hall. Our meetings are on the second Tuesday of the month, held at St Mary's Church Hall beginning at 7.30pm. Visitors are always welcome at the society for the small charge of £2.50.

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