History of Asham Wood


Owned by Saxon Kings, full of birdsong in spring with deep valleys and mossy paths this Ash, Oak and Hazel woodland with its impressive stands of ancient Whych Elm is on the final fold of the Mendip Carboniferous Limestone plateau just as it dives beneath the town of Frome. It is also the final leg of the Mendip Way, the long distance footpath between Uphill on the Bristol Channel coast and Frome.

Asham’s 347 acres (c141 hectares) have national and European status being both a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and a SAC (Special Area of Conservation) and is the largest and most diverse of the ancient semi-natural woods in the Mendips with a rich flora including: Autumn Crocus, Lilly of the Valley and Solomon’s Seal.


Listed in the Doomsday Survey, it was shared by the surrounding parishes of Nunney, Whatley, Leighton and Wanstrow. Little is known of its early history although its limestone caves at Tom Tiveys Hole, White Womans’ Hole and Asham Wood Cave were home to Neolithic (4,500-2,000 BC) cave dwellers. Later the open pastures of the Bronze Age (2,000-600BC) saw a series of burial mounds and camps built and in Roman (43-400AD) times a coin counterfeiter operating deep in the Wood at White Womans’ Hole.


It was the Saxon King, Aethelwulf who granted the Wood along with Downhead to Glastonbury Abbey who held it until the dissolution in 1539. Managed for timber, and coppice, indeed its banked and hedged compartments to keep out animals still survive today. Charcoal was produced for the local smelting of iron, indeed timber provided half the estates income. However, not all went well, in 1618 a charcoal maker - unemployed for a year, and his family were removed from Asham by Downhead parish officers and returned to his birth parish of Stoke St Michael for parish relief. Although there was some argument that a child born at Asham should be provided for by Downhead! By 1797 workers now in mobile huts could earn 1s a day plus 6d for every sack of charcoal.


The mid 1800s saw industry boom with hurdle making, handle making and the brush industry taking off, with timber auctions held locally at Tadhill Inn. Water was taken in a stone edged leat (later piped) through the woods to feed Fussell’s Iron Works at Chantry. The Portmans who had held the woodlands from the 1600s eventually sold up in 1943 with the quarry companies Hanson and Aggregate Industries eventually sharing the main ownership.


Today, many people enjoy walking the woodlands and the Friends of Asham Wood have created a forum with land owners, Councillors, Woodland Trust, Natural England, Police, Mendip District, County Rights of Way, and local user organisations  Everyone from the surrounding parishes (there are 8) are invited to meetings and each parish council asked to appoint a representative. For further details please contact friendsofasham@yahoo.co.uk.