As we walk through the woodland of Whitewebbs we get a pretty good idea of how the area has looked for a thousand years. Oak and hornbeam predominate. There are open areas of grass and shrub and we can imagine Elizabeth 1 hunting deer in this part of what was called Enfield Chase. Deer still move through Whitewebbs – the more recently introduced munjacs are common and in quiet spots people have reported seeing Roe and Fallow deer melting into the trees.
Enfield Chase was an eight thousand acre hunting ground for the rich and powerful with very few human inhabitants. The people in the surrounding hamlets did have certain common rights in the Chase. In summer they were permitted to graze their animals while their own fields were under crops. Fallen wood could be collected for fuel. Penalties for poaching the deer and felling timber could be severe, if not brutal. Communities on the edge of the Chase were required to build and maintain barriers to prevent the deer escaping.
The history of the Chase consists of the rich and privileged trying to maintain their rights, the locals taking advantage of opportunities to exploit their common rights to the fullest extent, the King making the most of the Chase as a reward for service, creeping enclosure of the land by opportunists and then wholesale enclosure by more powerful landowners. Nobles, poachers, thieves, brigands, murderers, highwayman, the greedy and the intransigent have all played their part in the history of Enfield Chase. see this link for “Poachers battle gamekeepers …. 1725”
“The Story of Enfield Chase” by David Pam is a fascinating and detailed account full of human and historical interest. It is published by the Enfield Preservation Society.
The rough sketch map below gives an approximate idea of the extent of Enfield Chase. Whitewebbs Park occupies about 250 acres of the eastern part. It was bought by the Council in 1931 for use as a public golf course and open public space.
The old course of the “New River” ran through the park until the course was straightened in the mid 19th Century. Traces of the old course can be seen in the park. The aqueduct in Flash lane has been restored.
For a more detailed account of Enfield Chase click on this link and then click the Enfield Chase link:
Maps of Enfield Chase on Wikipedia.