Review of ‘Duffield Firth: History and Evolution of a Medieval Derbyshire Forest’, by Mary Wiltshire (and others)

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on (date of publication unknown), and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

History and Evolution of the Landscape of a Medieval Derbyshire Forest

by Mary Wiltshire, Sue Woore, Barry Crisp, Brian Rich
Published by Landmark
ISBN 1-84306-191-0 (2005)

This is the first comprehensive story of a mid-Derbyshire medieval forest, Duffield Frith, which encompassed a large area with important connections to the Peak.

Four local historians, Mary Wiltshire, Sue Woore, Barry Crisp and Brian Rich, have worked together to produce this extensive and valuable resource for Landmark Collector's Library. They have translated medieval-Latin documents, made detailed studies of the landscape and investigated surviving place names and fine-sounding role players such as Siward Barn, Leofnoth, Randulf Prudfot, Wulfsi and a lady improbably named Ammonia.

A frith was a forest subject to strict laws, here explained in fascinating and sometimes bloody detail. These also applied to friths in the Peak as at Hartington, Alstonefield, Leek and Chapel en le Frith.

Duffield Frith was created by the Normans and it developed into a Royal Forest concentrated on deer management, remaining as such until 1633. The de Ferrers dynasty, sometime Lords of the Manors of Tissington, Bradbourne and Hartington, played a major role and provided fascinating characters from crusaders to castle- builders. Their influence extended to recovery for the Crown of Bolsover Castle and Peak Castle at Castleton, held by 13th-century rebels.

This new work also covers keenly researched topics from forestry laws and the uses of timber to charcoal burning, millstone manufacture, lead smelting and poachers - who at the upper end of the social scale included John Vernon of Haddon and a son of a vicar of Wirksworth.

Duffield Frith is far more than the history of one forest; it brings together a mass of diverse information to paint the wider picture of medieval rural life in the heart of England.

Review by Julie Bunting

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