Common Wood is so-called because, for well over a thousand years, it formed the southern part of Wycombe Heath, 4,000 acres of common heath and woodland. The edge of the Heath is still marked by place names such as Widmer End, Beamond End and Tylers (End) Green.
The inhabitants of all seven surrounding parishes enjoyed rights of common and they used the heath to pasture their pigs, graze their cattle and provide fuel and wood for their houses and tools, and as a source of clay, sand and flints.
During the Saxon and early Norman centuries, the Heath was used as a hunting chase for the Citizens of London. Common Wood was a part of ‘the pen’ or enclosure where the deer were kept and from
which Penn parish presumably took its name.
The heath actually belonged to various Lords of the Manor, so commoners had to guard their privileges jealously and there were continual disputes over rights of common and to prevent enclosures.
The chair industry started up in High Wycombe in the 1790s and was to become the town’s dominant industry for nearly two centuries. It was the primary reason for the settlement and growth of Tylers Green and it completely altered the nature of the local woods.
The Inclosure Award of 1855 finally extinguished all rights of common in Penn, and from then on, Common Wood and Penn Wood became the private property of the first Earl Howe. The dispossessed majority was outraged and seven years of active, lawless protest, followed.
Old Names (earliest reference date in brackets)
Old Penn Street Way is the surviving centre part of the main track through the wood from Potters Cross to Penn Street, used before the 1855 enclosure established modern roads (Common Wood Lane and New Road).
Red Gate (1838) was an entrance to Wycombe Heath. The side banks of Penn House Way descending to Red Gate are evidence of long use.
Barnfield (1690), Spilmor (1690) and Crook Snails (1838) are old field names.
Deadmans Dean Bottom (1838) – This former trackway probably owes its name to the discovery of an Anglo-Saxon grave, complete with skeleton and iron battleaxe, in 1828. A bronze axe was found c.1905.
The Two Sisters (1852) were two old beech trees on the Rushmoor Path side of Farther Barn Field.
The Penna is the central open place of Penn Wood where the purple-leaved beech from Prince Charles’ Highgrove estate was planted by Earl Howe in 2000 to mark the purchase of the wood by the Woodland Trust after its rescue from becoming a golf course.
Goose Pond Gate reminds us of the original role of Penn Wood as common land before enclosure. A 17th-century protest poem runs: “The law locks up the man and woman/ who steals the goose from off the common/ But leaves the greater villains loose/ who steals the common from the goose.” The nearby Gagemoor Pond could be a misheard Old English Goosemoor Pond.