The History of Colwick Woods


Colwick Woods has a rich history of various uses all affecting its development and forming today's features.Some of Colwick Woods is 'ancient woodland' as defined nationally as having had continuous woodland cover for 600yrs. Other areas of woodland are recent having developed naturally from farmland abandoned in the 1950's. There are also areas of planted trees.


Colwick Woods was once part of the Colwick Hall estate owned by the Byron Family and managed as a deer park. There are still remains of the Ice House which served as the fridge for Colwick Hall including storing venison.


Prisoner of war camp.
The new football pitches are on the site of previous football pitches, previously ridge and furrow old species-rich grassland unfortunately lost. However old grassland is being rescued on the land newly added to the woods above Greenwood Dale School. Pitch and putt golf course shape of the greens and bunkers

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Originally we believe this camp site was an army barracks, housing personnel who manned anti-aircraft emplacements that were to protect the ordinance depot in the Meadows area.

It was then used as a Prisoner of War Camp, and in 1950 it was converted into emergency housing for 24 families until 1955 when the huts were demolished

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I first recall the woods in 1939 at the age of 5 years. My parents took me to walk our dog at that time. I remember there was an ice cream kiosk where the Bowling Green is now, and my mother bought me a "penny lick". The 2nd World War broke at this time. I was in my first year at Jessie Boot School. I remember the Army Huts being built and we were stopped using the woods. There was an Artillery Unit with 3 or 4 anti-aircraft guns overlooking the Trent Valley, and security was strict. I learned later that the German bombers used the Trent as navigation to Nottingham in order to target the Royal Ordnance Factory in the Meadows area.

After the Blitz the artillery was removed and the camp was changed into a Prisoner of War Camp. At this time we were allowed to use the woods again, and I spent many hours playing in there with my friends. In those days there was a main ash path that ran from Greenwood Road down to a Park Keepers Cottage just in front of where the spring is. Opposite the cottage were some public toilets. The ash path then continued up the hill behind the toilets, to the fence at the top of the cliffs overlooking the railway. It then continued along and dropped down to Colwick Road. The other main path was off Greenwood Road opposite Harrogate Road to the left, which went passed garden allotments on the left. This came out onto an open area and a path to the left leading to the bottom of Greenwood Road known as Saville Spinney. This has not over-grown and is still there today. Both these main paths were well maintained and surfaced with ash from Nottingham Power Station.Park benches lined the main paths (they were never vandalized in those days).

We spent most weekends and school holidays playing in the woods making dens and climbing trees. In the winter we would sled down the slopes and in the autumn we would collect the conkers. At the end of summer there was always an abundance of blackberries to collect. The woods were always a popular place for courting couples, and in our teenage years we would go to the Rio or Dale Cinema where we met the girls and would walk them through the woods. There was a public shelter near the ice cream kiosk where we would sit if the weather was inclement.In the early 1950's I was drafted into the army and I didn't use the wood again until eight years later.I found that the Keepers Cottage had been demolished, together with the public toilets, and the army camp had gone. The allotments had been deserted. I began to use the wood regularly again walking my dog. A pitch and putt course was built where the camp had been. The ice cream kiosk and shelter had been knocked down, a children's playground was built which is still in situ and a bowling green was made.

The rest of the wood over the 1960's to present day slowly became more and more neglected until paths became overgrown and neglected. Since the allotments were abandoned after the war, over the past 60 years nature has taken over and they are now mature woodland. Wild life use this as a haven for breeding and nesting, as it is not frequently used by the general public.The spring is still there, but is only a trickle now and doesn't create the bog land that it used to. All the mature elms trees got Dutch elm disease (in the 1970's) and had to be felled. However I have noticed in the old allotment area there are two new Elm saplings.

The woods in general are much the same as they were in the 1930's except for the neglect and changes I have mentioned.

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Extract from the "GUARDIAN" 8th January 1921

Old Colwick Wood
Come away to Colwick wildwood-
Come away to Colwick Lane:
As we wandered there in childhood,
Let us wander there again.

So sang Edward Hind, in 1853, but I knew "Colwick woods" many years before that date, and it was this earlier picture which must have been in the poet's eye when he pleaded: "Let us wander there again". He might then have justly said "If you come you will find it changed," for the Midland Railway was then on the scene. At my first visit I was a toddler in charge, I think, of my-sister, who was three years my senior; our errand was gathering spring nettles to make "nettle porridge", one of our old family recipes. This was "spring medicine". I think it is now forgotten. The Midland Railway line occupies the site of the then "Colwick-lane", and along its south side was the wall of Colwick Park, the entrance to which was opposite the Hall, or where the bridge over the metals occurs.

Its woodland character gave it a local popularity. It was more accessible than Clifton Grove, and was visited by "Gipsy parties", or workmen wending there, usually at their master's expense, for a half-day summer holiday.On this picture a dark shadow was cast in 1844 when William Saville took his wife and children to murder them in that pleasant wood, and made it "notorious".In 1846 or 1847 as a boy operative, I was one of a "gipsy party" that went there well provisioned, and we had "the day of our lives".


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A frightful calamity occurred at Nottingham, at the time of the execution of William Saville, for the murder of his wife and three children, by cutting their throats, in the Wood at Colwick. The following account of this awful affair is taken from Mr. J.F. Sutton's Date Book :

The crowd at the execution, Wednesday, August 8, was immense. It was wonderful to see what countless thousands were packed together. As far as the eye could reach from the scaffold, in front of the County Hall, nothing could be beheld but a sea of heads. Eight was the hour of execution, but every available space was occupied long before it arrived. Occasionally, there came a cry from the mighty surging mass that a man, woman, or youth, was fainting, or being crushed to death; and if the sufferer was fortunate enough not to be entirely bereft of strength, he or she was lifted up, and permitted to walk or creep to the extremity of the crowd on the shoulders of the people.

Saville was led forth, and at three minutes past eight, the drop descended. Almost immediately after, the mighty crowd brake, as it were, in the middle. The anxiety, deep and general, to witness the spectacle, was succeeded by an equally general and still deeper desire to get away from the overpowering and suffocating pressure. The result was positively awful. The greater portion of the house-doors along the Pavement were closed, and those who were crushed against the wall by the terrific and resistless tide, had no means of escape. Twelve human beings were killed, and more than an hundred received serious injuries; and of the latter, the deaths of five, after lingering illnesses, were clearly traceable to the same most lamentable catastrophe.

The inhabitants, at the windows on each side the street, observed the overwhelming rush, and foreseeing the consequence, screamed out to those in the rear to stay their progress. The mayor was especially active, and though the almost threw himself out of his window for the purpose of staying the fatal advance, all was in vain: to halt, was to be overborne and destroyed. Heaps of victims were thrown down and trampled upon on the Pavement, and then the pent-up tide found an outlet at Garner's-hill, down which it rolled with destructive velocity. Some fell in their involuntary descent of the steps, others became entangled with them and overthrown, and in a few seconds the steps and narrow thorough-fare was completely choked up. There the struggling mass lay-men, women, and children, promiscuously heaped together, and each moment receiving additions to its number. The shrieks of the female sufferers were fearful, though not protracted, for a very brief interval brought on either insensibility or the silence of death. Seldom has the eye beheld a sadder spectacle. The mass was literally writhing with agony. Many had dislocated or broken limbs - females could be seen struggling for life, divested almost totally of their exterior garments - and groans, mingled with hurried prayers and curses, resounded on every side.

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