Documentary Sources

There is a wide variety of types of documents and places where you may find them. Some of the most easily available are listed below.


  • Maps are an easy starting point. The series of Ordnance Survey maps go back to the mid-nineteenth century. The larger scale maps show a great deal of detail down to individual trees. Comparing the whole series will show how the area has changed. There may also be more specific maps for an Enclosure Award or made for land surveys of estates or when railways, roads and canals were built. The accompanying information for these maps will give land ownership and land use details which you can use to base further work on.
  • Place Names may give clues to the way the land was used in the past, for example a wood called ‘Springs’ does not relate to water but to coppice management. However, 2 points to remember – names can change over time and some names are modern.
  • Photographs / Paintings / Sketches can show what the woodland was like and the activities which were carried out there. Often the wood formed the backdrop for a picture about another subject but its still worth looking at them.
  • Estate Plans, Surveys, Account Books and Manorial Records deal with the management of the land, property and people associated with a specific landowner or area. They may not have a specific section marked ‘woodland’ or may deal with a much wider area than the one you are interested in. However, they may be the richest source of original (primary) information about the day-to-day work and links to industry.
  •  Parish Records are not confined to births, marriages and deaths but can include information about the administration of the area for roads, looking after people, keeping law & order. As with estate records there may be information about how the woodlands were used and by whom and who the local landowners and industrialists were.
  • National Surveys and Inventories; County Reports and Victoria County Histories may mention your woodland by name but more likely will give you some background information to show you what was happening generally at a particular time.
  • Newspapers / Journals / Trade Directories can be useful sources of information about local industry, sales of woodland and products especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries when the reporting was very detailed.
  • Diaries / Recollections / Interviews from people who had direct experience of working in or managing the woods can be very interesting and relevant although the memories may be selective and /or depend on the answers to the questions asked.

Carrying out a website search for your chosen area may give you some useful references to follow up. A list of websites is given in our survey guide. A couple of the key ones are

Another good starting point is to consult your local library and local studies reference section for any relevant publications, maps, newspapers and other records. The books may give sources of information and further references.

The woodland’s landowner and the local authority through their records centres should also have information which may be relevant for your work. They will also be pleased to see the results from your work.