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History of Greyfield Wood

Greyfield Wood was once part of the Earl of Warwick’s hunting estate. The presence of ancient woodland indicator species, such as bluebell and wood anemone on the steep areas, including Highbury Hill, suggests that this section has been continually wooded since 1600, and probably for much longer.

Much of the site is now classed as secondary woodland, having regrown after being partially cleared for mining on two occasions. The first clearance was in around 1610 and you can still see the remains of bell pits, an early form of mining using shallow shafts to access lodes near the surface. These pits were worked by individual miners during the 17th century. Deeper beneath the surface of the wood lie the workings of Greyfield Colliery which opened in 1833 and became one of the largest in Somerset, producing up to 60,000 tonnes of coal a year. Many of the current paths and tracks were originally mining routes and tramways. The colliery closed in 1909 and the remaining mine shafts were capped in 1998.

Look out for two carved stones, similar to headstones, to the side of the southern perimeter path. In the past, there were many more of these stones scattered through the woods. They are known locally as ‘dialler’s stones’, a dialler being a colloquial name for a mining surveyor, who carried an instrument with dials on it. There are a number of theories about their origin. One explanation is that they were surface markers corresponding to strategic points in an underground survey. Another is that they are date markers relating to tree planting by the Earl of Warwick in the 1860s, while some believe they mark the graves of the Earl’s hunting dogs.

The naturally regenerating woodland including ash, oak, birch, and hazel, stands beside beech and sweet chestnut plantations dating from the early 20th century. Conifer species, including larch, spruce and Douglas fir, were planted in the 1960s by the previous owners, the Forestry Commission. The site was purchased by the Trust in 1998.