A Brief History of Lyndhurst
“The people of Lyndhurst ought, I always think, to be the happiest and most contented in England”
So wrote John R Wise in his book The New Forest: its History and Scenery which was published in 1863. Wise was not a native of the New Forest but had fallen under its spell from his very first visit.
He often came to Lyndhurst, sometimes staying at the South View Guest House in Gosport Lane, which he used as his base to explore the surrounding woods and heaths.
Like John Wise, countless visitors have fallen under the spell of the New Forest and, for many, their experience begins in Lyndhurst, the administrative ‘capital’.
A first glance at the High Street might lead one to suspect that its origins lay in the Victorian era but closer inspection reveals many 17th and 18th century buildings.
The oldest building is the ancient Court of Verderers attached to the King’s House at the west end of the High Street and near to the parish church of St Michael and All Angels.
The name Lyndhurst, probably of Saxon origin, means ‘lime-wood’.
Although nowadays, large stands or woods of lime are absent from Britain’s pasture woods, individual examples of the native small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata) can be found around the village.
Indicators of early settlement around Lyndhurst are in evidence.
On Matley Heath, between Lyndhurst and Beaulieu, the mounds of Bronze Age round barrows can be seen and at Pondhead, near Matley, Roman coins have been excavated.
In 980, the recorded history of Lyndhurst begins.
It was, by this time, a royal manor granted to the Abbey of Amesbury in Wiltshire.
By 1075 the first Norman king, William I, had designated the whole area between the river Avon on the west, Wiltshire to the north, and to the south and east the Test, Southampton Water and the Solent as his “New” Forest, or Nova Foresta, to serve as a safe dwelling place for the beasts of the chase.
“Entering Lyndhurst… many of the picturesque associations of the past come to the mind and touch the fancy with pleasant suggestions. Through its winding, straggling street the Conqueror and the hunting members of his family must often have ridden…”
F G Heath’s fanciful vision of Lyndhurst in Autumnal Leaves, 1881
Standing as it does at the meeting place of many major routes and tracks connecting Southampton, Beaulieu, Lymington, Christchurch, Ringwood, Fordingbridge, Salisbury, Romsey and Winchester, Lyndhurst’s importance for administration purposes was quickly realised.
Over the centuries Lyndhurst became the haunt of royalty, nobility and commoner alike.
It was also a magnet for artists, writers and professionals of all kinds.
Most of the inhabitants of Lyndhurst were involved, unsurprisingly, in the timber and coppice industries.
As the village increased in popularity there was an influx of newcomers who built large houses and consequently required domestic workers.
Many locals are still employed in the service industry providing accommodation, hospitality and goods for the many visitors.
The words of C J Phillips, taken from the 1876 edition of his New Forest Handbook, still hold true:
“I purposely advise visitors, whatever the time at their disposal, to make Lyndhurst the centre of their movements, by reason alike of its accessibility and of its proximity to some of the most charming scenes in the Forest.”
“From the introduction to Lyndhurst – A Brief History and Guide by Georgina Babey and Peter Roberts; by permission of the publishers”