Memories of Oakley Wood

When I was a child in the thirties and forties, Oakley Wood was part of the Ashorne Hill Estate. Ashorne Hill belonged to British Iron and Steel, and was run by Colonel and Mrs Alexander. I lived there from 1936 and knew the staff in the house and on the land. That is how I got to know Henry Thurston, known as Harry, the gamekeeper of Oakley Wood. Later, in the fifties, Harry became my stepfather.


My earliest memory of Harry was from when I was a child at Ashorne school. We children were given permission to pick rose hips in the wood. This was a great privilege as usually no one was allowed in there. If we were caught sneaking in we were soon sent packing. The wood in those days was a beautiful place full of mature trees that had been there for generations; oak, horse chestnut, sweet chestnut, elm, ash and holly. Also the rides were kept in immaculate condition so it was like walking on lawn. When you walked down the rides you saw all the wild flowers; bluebells, foxgloves, violets, anemones, primroses, and even wild raspberries. I think at some point there were deer which had escaped from Charlcote Park. I can’t remember how long they were there for, but I can imagine Harry wouldn’t have been very pleased. He said Muntjacs were always around.

Harry lived at Oakley Wood Cottage early on so was very much on top of his work, caring for the woodland and all the fencing and keeping a watchful eye for poachers with his lovely Labrador beside him. As you can imagine, Harry was devastated when the wood was ripped out for pit props. To pass the wood and see this was very upsetting. All his years of hard work just disappeared. Only the mature trees on the edge of Ashorne Hill Park were left so that the view would be pleasing from the house.  On a happier note, I wish he was here to see the work now being done. Those of us who enjoy the wood now will not be here to see the work come to fruition, but the generations to come will. I myself walk there a lot and I am so lucky to be able to do so.

Anne Chambers, née Collins

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