Cannock Wood History

Castle Ring
Castle Ring

The rural village of Cannock Wood is in the Cannock Chase Council administrative district of Staffordshire. The village lies on the south-eastern edge of Cannock Chase adjacent to the Iron Age hill fort known as Castle Ring, which at 801ft above sea level is the highest point on Cannock Chase. Cannock Wood has the distinction of being the only village completely within the boundaries of the Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a fact of which the villagers are very proud.

It is not known how long Cannock Wood has existed but it is recorded that in 1666 it was a hamlet of eighteen houses and that in 1851 there were ‘a few good farms and 275 inhabitants’ with ‘a large proportion of the open heath, where there are a number of cottages with small plots of garden ground attached to them’. [1]

Approaching Castle Ring
Approaching Castle Ring

There are several suggestions as to how the village got its name – one of which surmises that “Cannock Wood” means the “wood of the Canks (or Cangi), a tribe who occupied Cannock Chase at the time of the Roman invasion. Another suggestion is that the name is taken from the word “knock”, an old Irish word meaning hill. It has also been mooted that “Cannock” comes from two Anglo Saxon words meaning “powerful oak”, possibly a reference to the tree which was once so numerous on the Chase. Yet another suggests that “Cannock Wood” was originally “Canutes Wood”. Perhaps we will never know! [2]

Castle Ring Information
Castle Ring Information

Castle Ring Camp was bought by the old Cannock Urban District Council in 1933 from the 6th Marquess of Anglesey and is now scheduled as an ancient monument. At Red Moor, less than a mile to the south of the camp, is the site of the Cistercian abbey of Radmore. [1]

King Stephen gave an area of land at ‘Radmore’ (now Red Moor) to two hermits, who with others founded the abbey in 1141. By June 1155 the monks had exchanged the land for other land at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire and by Michaelmas of that year the land was once again in the hands of the king.

A house at Chestall (or Cheshall) to the east of Castle Ring seems to have been held by Simon de Rugeley of Hawkesyard (in Armitage parish) in 1333 and by James de Rugeley in 1370. A descendant sold the house in 1562. Chestall was mentioned in 1595 as on of the bounds of the manor of Cannock, and Chestall Hall in Cannock Wood was mentioned in 1640. By the end of the 18th century the farmhouse called Chestall was owned by the Earl of Uxbridge and between at least 1834 to 1892 was occupied by the members of the Darling family, who were land agents to the Marquess of Anglesey. The next tenant was John Reid Walker followed by Arthur Chetwynd. In 1938 the house was sold by the 6th Marquess of Anglesey to Charles Wootton whose widow had put it up for sale by 1956.

The house, which has an 18th century farmhouse as its core, was much enlarged in the middle of the 19th century and is now a red-brick mansion with stone dressings in the Tudor style.The once extensive stabling and farm buildings have now been converted into luxury dwellings. [1]

The predominant industry in the Cannock Wood area was coal mining and it is mentioned in historical records that there were three colliers of Cannock Wood in 1601. In 1688 Lord Paget granted a lease of his mines at Cannock Wood, ‘Newhay’ and elsewhere in the vicinity. There were pits on land a little to the north west of New Hayes on the site of the old Cannock Wood Colliery in 1775 and in 1820 a colliery called Park Colliery was noted on the site. In 1865 and 1874 the Cannock & Rugeley Collieries Company sank two shafts at Cannock Wood Colliery which produced what was termed as the best coal in the Midlands.

The presence of slag and refuse on the western slopes of Castle Ring may indicate the site of a bloomery (or iron works) although the oaks growing out of these deposits indicate its long disuse.

A Congregational chapel with 120 sittings was erected in Chapel Lane, Gentleshaw, in 1835, but has been closed for 50 years and is now derelict. In contrast, a Wesleyan chapel, built in the previous year, in Chapel Lane Cannock Wood, to accommodate eighty, is still very active. A third chapel, Primitive Methodist, stood in Cannock Wood, close to the present entrance to Beaudesert Scout Camp, but after being used as a reading room and a Scout headquarters it was finally demolished to make way for a house.

The old Village Institute, a surplus pre-war Army hut, stood on land behind the school but was demolished when extra playground space was needed for the school and finally replaced in 1967 by the present Village Hall in Budds Road. This hall stands next to the Beaudesert Sports Field, given to the village in 1946 by the then Earl of Uxbridge and administered by the villagers themselves.

  • 1. M W Greenslade – A history of Cannock & Neighbourhood
  • 2. Chris Twinning

Castle Ring Hill Fort

Castle Ring represents a type of fortified settlement, know as a hill fort, built by the Iron Age occupants of Britain around 500 B.C.

It is the best preserved of the eight in Staffordshire. As their name suggests hill forts were built on high ground reinforcing natural defences by earth banks and ditches. At a height of nearly 800 feet above sea level Castle Ring is on the highest point of Cannock Chase and when built would doubtless have had commanding views over the surrounding countryside giving local inhabitants early warning of any advancing enemy forces.

Whilst hill forts are characteristic monuments of the Iron Age archaeological evidence suggests that, in some cases, they may have developed from enclosed settlements of the earlier Bronze Age. Although flint implements of Bronze Age date have been found at Castle Ring no definite conclusions can be drawn on such an early occupation of the site.

Castle Ring would have been an important fortification of one of the iron Age tribes occupying the area before the Roman invasion of Britain, lying on the boundary between the two major tribes of the midlands, the Cornovii and the Coritani. Whether it was one of these or a separate local tribe that occupied the site is not known. However the finding of elaborate gold “torcs” or collars at nearby Needwood and Tamworth does suggest that there was a local Iron Age chieftain resident somewhere in the area.

In its heyday Castle Ring would have been a centre of activity for the surrounding area, perhaps with a settled community living within the protection of the rampart, in round houses up to 20-40 feet across. Most of the inhabitants would have been engaged in agriculture, but pottery, metalwork and textiles may also have been made by specialist craftsmen. In addition the site would have acted as a refuge for a scattered farming community in times of trouble.

Hill forts vary in size and complexity of defensive structures. Caste Ring hill fort is a multi-vallate hill fort comprising a number of banks (or ramparts) and ditches. The ramparts appear to have been simply constructed using materials excavated to form the ditches. The main rampart may have been faced with timber and would have been topped by a timber palisade to provide a protected sentry walk around it. The main rampart is considerably higher than the outer banks, by up to 18 feet in places, and would have given defenders manning it a clear advantage over potential invaders.

Castle Ring Hill Fort
Castle Ring Hill Fort

On the north and west sides, where the sloping ground provides good natural defences, the site is defended by two banks and ditches (1). To the south-east there are up to four banks and ditches to provide better defences in an area of fairly level ground (2). At the north-eastern corner of the site is the entrance, slightly inturned for better defence (3). Evidence from other hill forts suggest that this would have been protected by massive wooden gates. The corresponding gap in the south-west rampart (4) is unlikely to be original as most hill forts of similar size to Castle Ring had only on entrance for defensive reasons.

In A.D. 43 the invasion of Britain by the forces of Imperial Rome was soon followed by the subjugation of southern and central Britain which became a province of the Roman Empire. Castle Ring occupies a position overlooking the Watling Street, now the A5 trunk road, the major Roman communication route through the Midlands to the north-west. Like some other hill forts, Castle Ring may have continued in use during the Roman occupation of Britain or, if vacated it mat have been re-occupied in the fifth or sixth century A.D. following Roman withdrawal from the country.

Later in the twelfth or thirteenth century a medieval building was constructed within the fort (5). The sandstone foundations of this building, a rectangular hall, possibly a hunting lodge for the royal forest of Cannock Chase, a visible today in the north-west corner of the enclosure.

Today the earthworks of Castle Ring are still an impressive site giving us a glimpse of over two thousand years of man’s occupation of the Cannock Wood area.

Since 1933 Castle Ring has been owned by the District Council. It is a scheduled Ancient Monument in order to protect it and any evidence of those who occupied it in former times which may lie beneath the ground. Whilst it can be approached by several footpaths across Cannock Chase the main approach today is from the car park off Holly Hill Road (6). Castle Ring affords a pleasant walk with views from the ramparts over the earthworks where one can stop and speculate on how our ancestors may have lived and how they defended their hill top.

A particularly good view over the nine acre hill fort can be obtained from the highest point on the ramparts from the site of the old triangulation pillar (7) now marked by an area of concrete. These pillars were used by the Ordnance Survey when making detailed maps of the whole country. It is said that from this point that, before the growth of all the trees on the Chase, it was possible to see seven counties of England and three of Wales. It was also said that with a good pair of binoculars one could see ships on the Mersey but this may well be wishful thinking. A little further round the ramparts a clearing in the surrounding forests (8) gives a fine view over Rugeley and across the valley of the River Trent.