Iron Age Native potters used the local blue gault clay to make pots, making use of wood for fuel and heathland turf for building kilns.
The Romans AD50 – AD400 Alice Holt was part of the Forest of Anderida and was mainly open land with patchy scrub. Pottery was important and there was trading as far afield as London. Twenty four pottery sites have been discovered, including some built on top of each other, a fairly rare occurrence. There were Roman kilns at Alice Holt 100 years before there were any in the New Forest. Thousands of fragments of pottery, some with finger prints, patterns and glaze have been found. Alice Holt pottery was famous for its colour, grey, as most pottery was red. Bowls, flagons, platters, pie dishes, cooking pots and crematorium pots were made. This was equivalent in its time to a modern day Stoke-on-Trent. The Alice Holt kilns and workings are located in the southern part of the forest with a major centre in Straits Enclosure. Most are Scheduled Ancient Monuments. They are well protected within the woodland and not easy to see. One kiln, in Goose Green enclosure has been reconstructed as an authentic example. After the Romans left the area it reverted to natural woodland.
The 10th Century The land formed part of the Bishop of Winchester’s estates. One of the bishops was called Aelfsige and the name Alice Holt is a corruption of this.
The 11th and 12th Centuries After his accession to the throne, William the Conqueror (1066-1087) created a number of Royal Hunting Forests, one of which was the Royal Forest of Wolvemore and Alsieshold. It was designated as a forest for hunting and for timber production. Very strict laws governed the use of royal forests with severe penalties for those who broke them e.g. poachers would have a hand cut off if they were found guilty. The laws were upheld by four different types of Justice with the following responsibilities:
Venators deer and game.
Vendors timber production.
Agisters use of the land by Commoners. To this day there are Agisters in the New Forest where Commoners still have grazing rights on common land.
Registers protection of the forest area against encroachment.
Henry I (1100-1135) introduced Fallow deer to the site and suspended the Commoners’ right to graze their animals during the breeding season.
The 13th and 14th Centuries During this time there was much poaching and illegal activity e.g. a corrupt Wardener named Alan Plugenot took money from illegal huntsmen who killed 150 deer. Henry III (1216-1272) declared that all falcons’ nests belonged to the Crown because he wanted to use them for hunting. Richard II (1377-1399) ordered timber from Alice Holt to build the roof of Westminster Hall. Potteries were started again at Bentley Station to the north of the forest and at Frith End to the south.
The 16th and 17th Centuries During the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and throughout the 17th century Alice Holt was most famous as a source of timber for shipbuilding. In 1607, during the reign of King James I, 500 oak trees were cut for the building of the ‘Prince Royal’ at Woolwich at a cost of £20,000. Unfortunately some of the timber was of an inferior quality and it cost a further £6,000 to rebuild the ship. In 1633 Charles I had the ‘Sovereign of the Seas’ built using 1500 oaks from Alice Holt. The cost of the ship was £40,000 and it took nearly four years, until 1636, to build. The King introduced an unpopular ‘Ship Levy’ to pay for it, which was opposed by many, and John Hampden refused to pay it. This was one of the issues which led to the Civil War. During the Civil War (1640-45) a local Squire and JP, Edward Heighes of Hay Place, Binsted, is known to have helped himself to timber from the forest. By 1665 the forest was seriously depleted and King Charles II had it replanted. It was left for 100 years before there was any further significant timber extraction.
The 18th Century Emanuel Scope Howe was the King’s Lieutenant for Alice Holt between 1699 and 1709. He was married to Ruperta, daughter of the Prince Palatine of Rhine and was also envoy extraordinary to the Elector of Hanover, so he was a very important man of his times. He spent £1,200 on the Great Lodge at Alice Holt after the King ordered repairs. He sent the bill to the King who refused to pay it on numerous occasions. He introduced wild boar and buffalo but they were poached to extinction. Between 1771 and 1788, 1800 loads of timber were taken from Alice Holt in preparation for war against France (the Napoleonic Wars), leaving very few trees in the forest.
The 19th Century Under the authority of the Royal Commissioner for Woods, the forest was again replanted from 1811 onwards. In particular, many of the oaks planted in Goose Green and Abbots Wood between 1811 and 1820 are still standing. Parts of these woods are classified as ancient semi-natural woodland. These are areas that have been in existence as woodland since at least the Middle Ages and which now have stands of native trees that were not obviously planted. Ancient semi-natural woods are of greater value for nature conservation than other woods as they contain a greater diversity of wildlife habitats.
The 20th and 21st Centuries In 1919 the Forestry Commission was founded and in 1924 Alice Holt Forest was taken on by the Commission which still manages it through its agency, Forest Enterprise. Since 1924 the forest has been actively managed as a sustainable source of timber. This management has resulted in a forest of diverse structure both in terms of species and age. Overall there is a mix of approximately 50% conifers and 50% broadleaves with oak dominating the heavier soils to the south and mainly conifers on the lighter soils to the north. During the latter part of the 20th century Alice Holt has become a popular place for visitors and management for recreation is now an important part of the Commission’s work. The 1990’s have seen a great increase in visitor numbers and in the facilities and activities available to the public. These include way-marked trails, children’s play areas, an education service for schools, and organised activities for children and adults. A third strand of the Commission’s work is conservation management. It has a responsibility to look after sites of ecological value and to maintain a diversity of habitats within its woodlands. It has an active conservation policy for all its woodlands, including Alice Holt, where the ancient semi-natural woodlands, two ponds and an area of heathland are of particular importance. Alice Holt’s importance as a recreation site is expected to increase in the future as the population grows and people seek more outdoor leisure activities. Also, as timber prices have fallen since the greater availability of cheaper imports from northern Europe the income from recreation is likely to be of greater importance.