The Chase Through Time, Cannock Chase, Staffordshire

This project explored the rich history of Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. All across the Chase, previous generations left their mark on the land. Much is hidden in woodland and heath. This includes one of the best-preserved First World War landscapes in England. Historic England worked with Staffordshire County Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund. We used airborne laser scanning (lidar) to see beneath the trees and bushes. With the help of volunteers, we assessed the remains of the camps where up to 500,000 men trained before they went to the front line. Following the conclusion of mapping and volunteer engagement, the research report on Historic England’s contributions to the project is now available.

Lidar image showing earthworks seen as a series of rectangular enclosures with paths and roads between them
In this lidar image, we have digitally removed the vegetation to reveal some of the earthworks that show where the huts once stood. © Historic England: Source Fugro Geospatial BV

Web map

One of the key products of the project has been the creation of an interactive web based map application, allowing access to both the data mapped by the project and the underlying lidar data used to create the mapping.

Colour image showing features in red, green, blue and orange against a shaded background

First World War camps

Trees, bracken, heather and bilberry cover much of the remains of Brocton Camp and Rugeley Camp. One hundred years ago, these would have been busy places with thousands of men stationed there at any one time. The lidar reveals the outlines of the huts and trenches where the troops lived and trained.

Lidar image showing earthworks of trenches seen as a series of zigzag lines against a background with paths and tracks
Some of the practice trenches close to Brocton Camp © Historic England: Source Fugro Geospatial BV

Survey and research

The first stage of this project was to assess these sites on lidar or aerial photographs. We can better understand some of these sites by also investigating them on the ground and researching old documents.  We carried out some of this work with the help of local volunteers , who know much about the history of Cannock Chase.

Colour ground photograph showing people within woodland
Volunteers and Historic England staff investigate the remains of an officers’ hut in Brocton Camp © Historic England: Rebecca Pullen

Industry on the Chase

The First World War camps are only one part of the story of Cannock Chase. There is a long history of coal mining, ironworking and glass making and we looked at the remains of these industries. Early coal mining involved digging small pits or shafts and groups of coal pits still survive across parts of the Chase.

Lidar image showing earthworks as a series of sub-circular "pimples" scattered across a landscape marked with paths and tracks
A lidar image of medieval and post medieval coal pits in Beaudesert Old Park © Historic England: Source Fugro Geospatial BV

Historic England’s archive has many old aerial photographs. Some of these show the larger collieries when they were still in use.

Black and white vertical aerial photo showing a coalmine with the pit head workings and associated features like spoil tips
West Cannock Colliery Pit No5, Hednesford . Opened in 1914 and shown here photographed by the RAF in March 1948. It was closed 1982 (RAF/CPE/UK/2555 4440) Historic England RAF photography

Examination of the lidar and aerial photographs helped us find the remains of even older sites. These included fragments of medieval deer parks, including both the park pale itself and some lodges. We also identified the remains of a number of prehistoric sites.

Colour aerial photo of earthworks on a hilltop surrounded by trees with houses and fields in the distance
Castle Ring Iron Age hillfort, photographed on 9 October 2008 (NMR_20829/52) © Historic England Archive

Working in partnership

Historic England and Staffordshire County Council worked in partnership in this project with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Historic England created a digital map showing all the historic and prehistoric sites seen on from the air. We visited some sites and recorded them in more detail. We added what we found out about all of these to the council’s Historic Environment Record. This helps the council and its partners to better understand and manage landscape for future generations. It is hoped it will also help in the development if future projects focused on the history of Cannock Chase. This project forms part of the Historic England’s commemoration of the First World War Centenary: Home Front Legacy.

Coloured logos for Staffordshire County Council, Cannock Chase AONB and The Chase Through time
staff member Edward Carpenter

Edward Carpenter

Edward Carpenter is an Investigator with Historic England. He joined the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England in 1998. Since 2002 Edward has been involved in a number of multi-period aerial surveys across England; he has a particular interest in the various ways that these landscapes or the individual monuments within them are perceived.

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