The earliest signs of habitation in this area date back about 4,000 years to the Bronze Age: the area is dotted with burial mounds - called tumuli. There are a pair of such burial mounds near Latchmoor House, Tile Barn Lane which is quite unusual since only one other pair is known to exist in the whole of the country. It may be these are the tombs of close relatives who died around the same time. Beyond that, few signs remain of other habitation during the next 3,000 years, when the Saxon period was abruptly brought to an end by the events of 1066.
William The Conqueror created his Nova Foresta in 1079. It was a vast hunting area, lying south and west of his capital at Winchester, and far larger than the current 92,000 acres. It stretched south to the coast at Barton and as far west as modern day Bournemouth.
Four years later, the Domesday Book recorded that there were four small Saxon manors in the Brockenhurst area: one, Mapleham, no longer exists, but the name Hincheslea continues to the west of Brockenhurst. The third manor, Brochelie, gives the modern name, Brookley, and was the most important, having a regular weekly market and an annual fair, lasting several days.
At that time, "forest rights" did not exist. However, Brochelie had the right to graze sheep on the open forest, but only between Wilverley and what is now Rhinefield Road. The manor house of Brochelie lay between the modern Brookley Road and The Rise and between the former Watersplash Hotel and St Saviour's Church.
The fourth Saxon manor of the area was Broceste - which gives the village its name. It is pronounced "Brockerste". This manor lay to the north and east of what is now the Lyndhurst to Lymington road and was held by a Saxon family called Aluric. They must have been well regarded by the Normans as they were allowed to continue in residence after the afforestation that turned the area into the New Forest. It also appears they were the only family hereabouts to receive any compensation for the losses suffered.
St Nicholas's church, at that time, was probably little more than an outlying chapel linked to Twynham - later Christchurch Priory. William Rufus certainly visited Brockenhurst, probably worshiping in St Nicholas's church, as at least two writs were issued by him from here.
In contrast to the Aluric family, the general population suffered greatly under the forest law, introduced by King William in 1079. Prime among these was the tearing down of all fences in the area which allowed the deer - which were the prime reason for the changes - to roam at will which made it almost impossible to raise any crops not eaten by deer. Whilst some families moved away, some probably clung on, however, the normally meticulous Domesday Book is ominously lax in recording the presence of these families.
The Norman Conquest was followed by a period of increasing population and the pressure to grow more food caused forest law to be tested. Gradually, the draconian measures gave way to the start of "forest rights": allowing cattle to roam the forest and the collection of firewood, for personal use and sale.
Even the forest law forbidding fences was tested. The forest keepers were instructed to destroy all fences, however, should there be a dwelling - however hastily erected - within the fence, an order of the court was required before taking action. This was not straightforward and often enterprising "trespassers" were left unmolested and could then grow some crops and prosper a little.
In 1348, the Black Death killed a third of the population of England. This wiped out whole families, without regard to station, and probably explains why all mention of Brochelie ceases.
In 1664, during the Restoration, forest rights were put on a more formal basis and an official register made in a form that continues to this day:
- Estover - taking firewood. Nowadays cut by the Forestry Commission and left in certain locations for the commoners to collect.
- Mast or Pannage - grazing pigs, for sixty days, when the acorns and beech mast are on the ground.
- Pasture - grazing cattle and horses all year round. This is the most widely used right and is controlled by the Verderers.
- Turbary - the right to cut turves for fuel.
- Marl - the right to take the lime rich clay for fertiliser on the acid soils hereabouts. There are old marl pits off Balmer Lawn Road.
- Sheep - very few properties have this right, which is why sheep are such a rare sight in the forest!
The rights actually belong to the land, rather than the owner, which explains why even some 20th century houses, such as some on Forest View, enjoy these rights.
By the eighteenth century, nearby Lymington was a thriving town due to the manufacture of salt from sea water. By the end of the 1700s, the Lymington road had become a turnpike and a regular route for the mail coaches from Lyndhurst and the North. During this time, Brockenhurst grew in size, with dwellings and inns strung along the main road.
In 1745, Henry Thurston, a local man who left to make his fortune in London, died leaving a bequest to set up a school in the village which was located at the corner of what is now Mill Lane.
In 1770, Edward Morant, using some of the vast wealth that flowed from the family estates in Jamaica, purchased Brokenhurst House (an Elizabethan farmhouse) for £6,400 and subsequently rebuilt it as a large Georgian mansion. As part of this he laid out the avenues in the grounds and acquired adjacent land, eventually peaking at some 3,000 acres.
However, probably the greatest change to affect Brockenhurst since 1079 was the coming of the railway in the 19th century which transformed Brockenhurst from a rural backwater into a popular holiday and residential centre.
By now, the Morant family were a force to be reckoned with, so much so that when the railway arrived in Brockenhurst, the Morants ensured that the new buildings springing up around the station were located on the far side of the Lymington turnpike. They also arranged for their personal level crossing (now merely a footbridge) to allow them to pass unhindered over the line to their magnificent entrance gate, still visible today in Mill Lane.
At this time the "Morant Arms" was built, replacing the existing "Bat and Ball" inn, which was so close to the railway line smoke from the steam engines was said to have poured in through the windows!
Brockenhurst was an important junction on the Southampton to Dorchester line, with its link to the Isle of Wight, made newly fashionable by the presence of Queen Victoria's Osborne House. At that time, Bournemouth did not exist and the line passed north through Wimborne.
The railway became a major employer but by the end of the 19th century tourism had also increased the prosperity and population of Brockenhurst with much of the new housing being located between the new railway line and Wide Lane - now known as Sway Road.
Another family influencing the village skyline were the Walkers who were wealthy coal mine owners from Derbyshire. Their daughter, Mabel, married Edward Munro and, with a marriage settlement of £250,000, built Rhinefield House. Not content with that, the Walker-Munros built their own church, St Saviours (completed in 1905), and their "beach hut" - the White House at Milford (completed in 1907). This must have been one of the largest beach huts in the country, with a bridge and upper deck in the style of an ocean liner!
Brockenhurst was not untouched by the two world wars: in World War One, the Village was a hospital village for wounded troops, particularly from India and New Zealand and St Nicholas' churchyard houses a poignant reminder of those dark days. Auckland Avenue, Auckland Place and Meerut Road are named in remembrance of the New Zealand and Indian troops who fought so bravely alongside the allies.
In the Second World War what is now the Balmer Lawn Hotel was the location of many of Generals Montgomery and Eisenhower's meetings, away from their headquarters in Southsea, as they planned the amazingly successful D Day Landings. Many an ancient oak tree in Brockenhurst would have hidden an American jeep or Sherman tank that summer of 1944 as they gathered to do battle in Normandy, the very place from where much of Brockenhurst's history springs.
The western part of the village greatly expanded in the 1970s and, in the early 1990s, Berkeley Homes built Ober Park (now known as The Coppice) rounding off the major greenfield developments in the village. Since then, the replacement of older property (such as Culverley House) with several smaller ones continues to this day on the Hayter and Morant Arms sites.The Parish Council thanks Mr Kelly for this contribution.
© Paul Kelly