Fishlake History Society

Recording historical information before it disappears

Fishlake History Society

Recording historical information before it disappears

  Did Fishlake once possess a forest or at least a substantial wooded area within its geographical boundaries? 


Hunting in a Medieval forest. From Archaeology and History of Sherwood Forest.


So did Fishlake once possess a forest? Notes to try and answer this question.

The following evidence derives from historical documents and place names.

To begin with a Forest was originally a legal term referring to a designated area subject to strict laws, it was not necessary planted with trees to form a wood or a forest area.

Forest laws. “Up until 10th century English villagers had as a rule been able to hunt and snare wild game in woods and wastelands as they pleased. King Canute is said to have set aside hunting grounds for his own use and imposed heavy penalties on poachers. William the Conqueror designated large areas of the countryside as royal forest”. From A Dictionary of ‘Medieval Terms by JJN McGurk.

In a letter from Charles Jackson of Balby on March 1879 enclosing an ancient deed for his (George Ornsby) “Collect de Fishlake”.
John de Warrener comes de Surrey. terrace in……villa de Fishlake in loco vocata North Wode……E2 (Edward 2) 1316. From Johnstone’s MSS at Campsall library E2 p5/. 

North Wood, Fishlake.
From Hatfield Court Rolls. Wednesday 26 th November 1338. At the court held at Hatfield on Wednesday on the morrow of St Katherine Il. Ed. Ill a number of tenants were amerced (fined) for cutting down and carrying away the lord’s wood at NorthWode in Ffishlake.

Richard del Laithe for cartloads of wood cut down and carried away outside le NorthWode in mercy 20d.

John le fferyman for the same in mercy 20d.

Hugh son of Roger Webster for three cartloads of wood cut down and carried away in mercy 2s.6d. 

The total of fines imposed was one pound, three shillings and ten pence.

Adam of Forestecroft was listed as a Fishlake inhabitant in 1342 during a taxation inquest entitled, Nonarum Inquisitiones in Curia Saccarii Temp. Regis Edwardii III (1327-1377).

A Park, an area set aside and managed within designated forests for the keeping of game for hunting. Here is evidence of one such park in Fishlake being deregulated. “By the time of John de Warrenne’s death in 1347 a small park called the Haye in Fishlake had been disparked and let to tenants”. See notes and reference p110 (9) from a Open Field Farming in Fishlake and Hatfield by Dan Byford in Aspects of Doncaster Discovering Local History.

In the will of Alice Shirwood of Fishlake dated 25 August 1451 having left 11shillings to the paupers of Fishlake, she bequeathed for distribution among paupers men and women who dwell in Fishlake beyond the wood where chapel situated (Sykehouse) 6 shilling 8 pence. 

Below are place names within the township of Fishlake which by there origins indicates the existence of a heavily wooded area extending across the landscape.

 Fosterhouses. First recorded in 1519 as Fost Howses named during a Church Court Tithe dispute, then again in a more modern spelling 1546,1585 and 1591 from Yorkshire Wills. Perhaps derived from forester house, the dwelling of a forester. (A theory by the author). A forester was an officer in charge of the kings or lords lands and game.

Hayes (1343) and Hay green (1557) refers to a clearing in a wood.

Hoggreue field name, alluding to hog wood. 

Lawns, Fishlake Lanes, launde meaning  a woodland pasture, glade.

Thorninghirst first referenced by name in 1483 meaning a thorn wood.

Wood Lane running North from Sour Lane then East towards Thorninghirst.
All taken from The Place-Names of The West Riding of Yorkshire. By AHSmith.

Northern Wood is the name of a large field adjacent and immediately South of Steward Ings Lane in addition to a field road next to it called Northern Wood Road both recorded on the 1825 Enclosure Map.

Even as late as the eighteenth century a wooded area still survived and used to provide timber. From the Fishlake school accounts we find in 1780 the school lands had once again been cleared of trees and all the timber was sold to a Fishlake boat builder (this could well have been Mr Steamson) for £163.

In conclusion, the evidence presented above strongly alludes to a heavily wooded area, referred to in contemporary documents as North Wood, having the status of a forest or park situated between the township of Fishlake and Sykehouse.

There are no longer significant wooded areas left in modern Fishlake, another ancient woodland lost for ever.

A further point worth considering in the light of historical deforestation, is the local impact on land water levels. Trees are know to draw up water from the surrounding ground which goes someway to absorb surface land water, particularly advantageous during seasonal flooding.

Consequently the loss of tree cover over many centuries has to be considered in the history of surface water and flood management in this area. 

Rob Downing December 2022.