History of Circle Hill
History of Circle Hill
The Devil's Highway can be seen as a sunken path from Pinehill Avenue. Imagine - Romans marched this route 2000 years ago!
Despite not containing any veteran trees, Circle Hill is an ancient woodland. This means that there has been a woodland habitat on the site since 1600, which is when maps started to be reasonably accurate. Because these areas have had tree cover for hundreds of years, ancient woodlands are unique and complex communities of plants, fungi, insects and other microorganisms.
However, we know that the woodland is far from untouched. The Devils Highway cuts right through Circle Hill and the Walter Rec. During the Roman era (AD 43 to 410) this road was constructed from London to Silchester, which was an important town at the time. It was a dead straight, partly paved highway, leading nowhere in particular so provoked much mediaeval mystery.
The Devil’s Highway road and local woods clearly feature on Roque's Map of 1761. You can see 'Crow Thorn' featuring as a local landmark, along with Round Hill, Edgebarrow, Ambarrow and Butter Hill.
The Devil’s highway is still visible today if you look closely. It is the smaller sunken path that leads from Pinewood Avenue through Circle Hill. If you look at the 1939 Ordnance Map you can see that it also follows the fence line in the Walter Rec and continues along the footpath behind the school, and well beyond.
In 1792, the woods around Crowthorne were the scene of massive manoeuvres to practice for the possibility of war with France. Over 7000 troops were involved with nearly as many spectators. Butter Hill, now the site of Broadmoor Hospital was the main redoubt (temporary fortification) but with that number of people in the area, Circle Hill is sure to have seen its share of Napoleonic soldiers or supporters.
Some locals can still remember a large pond where Travis Perkins is now. It is shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1876 (and on Rocque’s map) but curiously is not featured on the Ordnance Survey maps of 1958.
In 1887, John Walter Spurling Esq and the Reverend Henry Thornhill Morgan granted two parcels of land formally known as Hannicans Lodge or the Ravenswood Estate. These measure 5 acres and 38 perches and were designated as recreation land for public use. This charity land, bisected by Pinehill Avenue, became known as the Walter Recreation Ground and Circle Hill - as we still know it today.
On the Ordnance Survey map of 1930 Pinewood Avenue is clearly labelled and Misn.Rm. also features to the east of the site. This could be a mapping stray denoting Mission Room, in connection to the Methodist Church.
To view a scalable map, click on the map image or click here
The Parish Council of Crowthorne, the main public body at the time, were appointed as the trustees for the administration of the Walter Recreation Ground Charity. Later, in 2009, councillors from Wokingham Without Parish Council became trustees of the charity.
With trustees from both parish councils now managing the sites for both recreation and biodiversity they continue to be heavily used as a public recreation area - just as the benefactors in 1887 planned.
In total, the budget to maintain the sites is approximately £13,000 per year. This keeps the paths clear, trees safe and inspected, benches in good repair, bins emptied, litter picked etc. Though in 2022 expenditure increased dramatically as a new path through the Walter Rec was installed. This was to minimise damage to the native flora from trampling and promote easy access on foot and bike to the village. This addition to the site, shown here in spring 2023 was possible due to a £10,000 grant from the National Lottery.
In 2024, the trustees will be working on the second Woodland Managment Plan for Circle Hill. This will outline how the sites will be managed for the next 10 years and will be approved by the Forestry Commission. If you would like any input into this or have any historical knowledge to add here, please do get in touch.