DESPITE being on our county’s doorstep, how much do you actually know about the New Forest?

Originally carved out as a hunting ground for William the Conqueror and including gorse, heathland, mudflats and farms – it’s not particularly new and it’s not really a forest.

A new book from local author Martin Brisland sets out to unearth quirky and interesting information about the area and lift the lid on the secrets of the New Forest.

Secret New Forest provides a fascinating insight into the World Heritage Site and explores its many areas, little-known personalities, unusual events and tucked-away buildings.

This is a book that anyone with even just a vague interest in the area will enjoy, full of interesting and fun facts that are sure to enlighten, entertain and educate.

A perfect publication for a rainy day, or as a handy companion while exploring any of the 219 square miles of 'forest' in the sunshine.

Secret New Forsest book cover by Martin Brisland

Secret New Forest by Martin Brisland - the book cover.

The following is just a small taste of the delights contained within Secret New Forest’s 96 fact-packed pages:


Forest place names from the Saxon and Viking period (410-1066 CE) include Brockenhurst, meaning badger wood. Brockenhurst was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Broceste and was once declared ‘Britain’s Most Beautiful Place to Live’. This may explain why the average 2021 property price in and around Brockenhurst was £1,009,225. Its railway station was used to film a 1974 remake of Brief Encounter starring Richard Burton and Sophia Loren. The Watersplash is a much-photographed ford crossing. The Filly Inn, just outside Brockenhurst, is opposite a former German POW camp.

The Rhinefield House hotel website says that in December 1648 Charles I met Oliver Cromwell in a hunting lodge on the estate. Charles was beheaded in London on 30 January 1649. Rhinefield was built in 1885 with a gift of £250,000 given to a daughter of the family who owned Eastwood Colliery in Nottinghamshire which featured in novels by D H Lawrence. It has a smoking room that recreates the Alhambra Palace in Grenada, Spain.

The seventeenth-century Roydon Manor was purchased by Edward Morant in 1771, not long after his acquisition of Brockenhurst House. It was included by the Revd Henry Comyn in his 1817 Directory of Life in the Parishes of Boldre and Brockenhurst. Bluebells, primroses, marigolds and daffodils can be seen in season at Roydon Woods Nature Reserve.

Brockenhurst General Views stock

A general view of Brockenhurst.

Created by 1484 and replacing a previous one at Lyndhurst, New Park was used for deer hunting. Roman coins have been found there. In 1666, after his return from exile in France, Charles II made New Park his favourite hunting lodge. The acorns and oak leaf patterns on doors, original furniture and fireplaces in New Park Manor commemorate the oak tree in which he hid from Cromwell’s men, and his royal coat of arms is displayed prominently above the fireplace in the oak-panelled restaurant.

St Nicolas’ Church is developed from a Saxon church. Adjoining the church is the Great Yew Tree. Its girth, which was 15 feet in 1793 and over 18 feet in 1930, is now more than 7 metres. The yew was carbon dated in the mid-1980s and a certificate stating that it is over 1,000 years old is on the wall by the font.

Bucklers Hard

Bucklers Hard is a part of the Beaulieu Estate with a delightful river walk from Beaulieu. Around 1570 the Tudors created a Surveyor General of the Kings Woods to provide timber for naval ships. The demand for timber increased and parts of the Forest were inclosed (fenced) for this purpose. In 1698 William III passed an Act to create more inclosures for protected timber production, for use by the Navy. With the need for straight trees, an Act of Parliament of 1698 made it illegal to pollard trees. Commoners had previously cut back trees causing them to branch in several directions. They used the leaves and twigs for animal fodder, firewood and house frames.

Originally designed in the early 1700s to receive and refine sugar from the 2nd Duke of Montagu’s estates in the West Indies, it developed into a shipbuilding village. in 1745 the first ship built at Bucklers Hard was the HMS Surprize, a twenty-four-gun sixth rate ship of the Royal Navy. In 1781 Nelson’s favourite ship, the Agamemnon, was built here.

It is estimated that it took around 100 acres of woodland and 2,000 trees to build the 3.500-ton HMS Victory. Between 1745 and 1818 around seventy oak royal and merchant navy ships were built here using New Forest timber. The wide verges on either side of the central path were for the stacking of timber. Some Arab dhows even used forest timbers for their masts.

Three Bucklers Hard-built ships were in Nelson’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, His favourite, the 46-gun HMS Agamemnon, costing £24,000, was launched from here in 1781. It was built by Henry Adams who lived in what today is called The Master Builder hotel and built c. 1729. Its most famous tenants were Henry and his sons, Master Builders of seventy ships for the Navy, including three which fought at Trafalgar - Agamemnon, Swiftsure and Euryalus.

In 1861 HMS Warrior, the first ironclad warship, was commissioned and soon wooden warships became obsolete. It was named The Master Builder’s House by John, 2nd Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, in 1926 when it opened as a hotel. Queen Mary visited during the annual Cowes Regatta. In 1943 the Military Police took over the Master Builder Hotel whilst dummy landing craft were assembled in the field behind. They were then moored in the river alongside real landing craft to check how realistic they were. These dummy craft were later used to fool the Germans into thinking that any invasion of Northern Europe would be in the area around Calais.

Bucklers Hard, stock Saturday 12th May 2012.

Bucklers Hard in the sunshine.

Torpedo boats used in D-Day were also built here. The Chichester Room recalls Sir Francis Chichester, who in the 54-foot Gipsy Moth IV, became the first person to complete a solo circumnavigation of the earth in 1966-67. Bucklers Hard shopkeeper Mrs Rhoda Martin’s task was to preserve eggs for the trip by covering the shells with liquid paraffin and de-eyeing hundreds of potatoes to prevent them from sprouting. Gipsy Moth is now in Guernsey. The Hon. Mary Montagu-Scott, commodore of the Beaulieu River Sailing Club, said she hoped ‘the Guernsey Sailing Trust continue to use her to inspire a new generation of young people to take up sailing’.

Alice in Wonderland

The Alice in Wonderland stories have an enduring appeal across the generations. Alice Pleasance Liddell (1852-1934) was the young girl who inspired Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, followed by Alice Through the Looking Glass in 1871.

The stories were first created on 4 July 1862 while Dodgson was entertaining the three Liddell sisters during a boating trip. Alice then lived at Christ Church College, Oxford, where her father was the Dean and Dodgson was a maths tutor. During a family holiday on the Isle of Wight, Alice met the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron who was part of a local bohemian circle, including the poet Alfred Tennyson, actress Ellen Terry and artist George Frederic Watts. Cameron photographed Alice Liddell and her sisters several times. The photographs are on view at Dimbola Lodge, Freshwater.

In 1880, Alice married Reginald Hargreaves, who had inherited the Cuffnells country estate, near Lyndhurst. The grave of Mrs Hargreaves is in the High Victorian Gothic-style church of St Michael and All Angels, Lyndhurst.

The Hargreaves family grave in St Michael and All Saints Church graveyard.

In 1928, financial hardship forced the widowed Alice to sell the manuscript given to her by Dodgson to an American collector. She was consulted on a Paramount film adaptation of the story, released in 1933. In 1948, the original manuscript was returned to the UK.

Secret New Forest, from Amberley Publishing, contains 100 illustrations, retails at £15.99 and is available today from book shops as well as in Kindle, Kobo and iBook formats.