THE hidden history of the Medieval Park of Erringden was uncovered in a talk to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society by the Society's librarian, Nigel Smith.
Erringden park was known to be one of the largest deer parks in the country, covering 3000 acres of the hillside above Hebden Bridge. Records show that the park was probably established in about 1331 and although it was broken up in 1451, nearly six hundred years later the marks it made on the landscape are still visible to an expert eye.
Nigel Smith's historical detective work drew on sources ranging from Medieval Manorial Court Rolls, maps, and the revelations of aerial photographs from Google Earth. Walking in the landscape revealed clear signs of boundary features such as the ditches and banks which would have been topped by palings to keep the deer inside the park. Medieval books on hunting illustrated some of the ways the park might have been stocked, and again marks on the landscape conjured up visions of the deer being herded through a kind of chicane into the protected area. Place names too provide clues – Palace House Road refers to the original palisade, Tower Hill may have been the site of an observation tower, such as are found in later deer parks, and even Bell House may capture the way the deer were called together to be given food to see them through the harsh winter.
Mr Smith added that a deer park was probably the ultimate Medieval status symbol. The deer belonged to the Lord of the Manor and were kept mainly for the pleasure of the hunt. Venison could not be bought or sold and there were strict penalties for trespass or poaching. Unsurprisingly the parks were not always popular with the people who were struggling to make a living from the land. Park-breakers would deliberately trespass in order to subvert authority.
In the end the Erringden deer park probably just wasn't profitable, and was "dispaled" and divided up in 1451 to revert to agricultural land.
The Hebden Bridge Local History Society next meet at the Methodist Hall on Wednesday February 25. Richard Catlow, previously editor of "Pennine Magazine" will show "How Hebden Bridge Saved the Pennines".