A Brief History of the Common

Horsell Common in the Winter Snow
Horsell Common in the Winter Snow
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From very early times much of southern England would have been covered with forest. The early Britons gradually removed the timber for fuel and building and used the land to grow crops and rear livestock. Once exposed to the weather, the sandy soil became poor and acid, and soon only plants like heather that could flourish in these conditions were left. By the Iron Age, large areas like Horsell Common were probably open heathland.

Originally Horsell Common was part of Windsor Great Park and was known as King’s Waste, until, like most of the Park, it eventually passed into local ownership. The owner was the Lord of the Manor of Pyrford, the Earl of Onslow, who allowed it to be used by the local residents for grazing, firewood collection and open recreation, while making an income from the sandpit and forestry. An early 18th century map shows the Commons as “Hoswell Heath” and a later map as “Horsehill Heath”.

The 1806 Enclosures Act refers to enclosures of lands in the Manor of Pyrford… “Commons and Wastelands within the manor…shall not divide let out, allot or enclosed, or in any manner interfere with the several commons and wastelands within the Parish of Horsell…but that the same shall be and remain in the same state and condition as if this act was not passed.”

In 1904 the Lord of the Manor was finding it difficult to stop despoliation of the Commons under his ownership. An attempt to get the Horsell populace to vote in a referendum, on “whether our Commons shall be preserved and protected”, or whether they “shall be left as now, to be the sport of Incendiaries, the Common receptacle of all kinds of refuse… and a camping ground for Gypsies”, was inconclusive. This failure and letters in the Times and other papers instigated a scheme to “invest with the necessary authority some person or persons resident near each of my commons” and in 1910 the Horsell Common Preservation Committee held its first meeting.

Lord Onslow suggested he hand over the common entirely to the committee as early as 1920 but no action was taken. Years later the question of acquiring the Common by the Committee was again raised, and the lease of the common from Lord Onslow was signed in 1947, and in 1959, the Society gained charitable status. The Society finally purchased the freehold of the Common in 1966 for £1,634.

Since then, 24 acres of riverside meadows at Bourne Fields have been added, and a further 50 acres of farmland at Bonsey, previously known as Mizen’s Farm, have been taken into management.

In total the Society owns and manages over 830 acres and is the largest landowner in the Borough.