Colour aerial photo showing heathland with deeply incised valleys and some plantations
Heathland on Cannock Chase photographed on 29 November 2016 (33001_063) © Historic England Archive
Heathland on Cannock Chase photographed on 29 November 2016 (33001_063) © Historic England Archive

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 (now the National Lottery Heritage 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.

Cannock Chase, Staffordshire: The Chase Through Time: Historic England Contribution

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Working in partnership

Historic England and Staffordshire County Council worked in partnership in this project with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (now the National Lottery Heritage 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.

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.

Contact Edward Carpenter

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