The arden is an area of land in central England that was once densely forested. It was called the Forest of Arden, which was derived from the Brythonic word ardu- “high”, by extension “highland”.
The Forest of Arden is an ancient region located in Warwickshire and Staffordshire. The area was largely deforested during the medieval period.
There is evidence of a settlement in the Forest of Arden as early as the Iron Age, but it was not a significant settlement by medieval times. By 1086 only a handful of settlements were located in the area. These included the towns of Henley-in-Arden, Coleshill, Knowle and Temple Balsall, all of which still stand today.
In the eleventh century the area was a hotbed of political conflict, particularly between the Earls of Warwick and Birmingham. These lords wished to expand their holdings and power and they sought to attract settlers, especially from the south of England. They promoted the planting of towns in the lands to make them more palatable for settlement and enticement was also given by the free burgage tenures that were offered to residents in places such as Solihull.
During the fifteenth century, as a result of a “peasant land hunger” and seignorial encouragement, a wave of settlement took place in the area. Lords were encouraged to re-establish their dominance over the lands in the area by offering free burgage tenure in the towns and by building roads that would enable trade between their estates and the surrounding countryside.
One of the oldest surviving villages in the forest is Henley-in-Arden, which was built on the site of an Iron Age hill fort and was a center of local government during the Middle Ages. The town is now a market town and is home to a large population of English speaking people.
Another ancient town in the forest is Temple Balsall, which was a centre of local religious worship in the Middle Ages. In addition to temples, the area was home to a number of monasteries. The most famous of these is the Knights Templar, who had a preceptory in Temple Balsall.
In the 16th century, the Coughton cross – a wayside cross at the southern boundary of the forest – was used as a place where travellers would pray before entering. This cross was also used by members of the Royal Forest courts, which were a medieval version of forest guards. These men were responsible for protecting the forest from brigands and raiders. They were also responsible for providing the timber needed to build houses, bridges and other structures.