CONSERVATIONISTS in West Oxfordshire have been leafing through the pages of a rare book for guidance on how best to protect a historic former Royal hunting forest.

Cornbury and the Forest of Wychwood was privately printed in 1910 and bought by Brian Crawford in 1967.

It is now being used to support the work of conservation group the Wychwood Project.

Mr Crawford, former managing director of Witney blanket makers Early’s bought the book as he was interested in local history.

It traces the history of the forest back 1,000 years to the Domesday period.

Mr Crawford’s nephew Keith has now donated the book to the project, which has recently  planted more than 20,000 trees to create the new Foxburrow Wood, near Witney.

The team, which is continuing to plant trees to expand the forest, will use it to learn about how the forest has changed over that time.

Keith Crawford, of Vanner Road, Witney, found the book in his late uncle’s possessions as he was sorting through them. He is one of the executors of Brian Crawford’s will.

He said: “It was by far the largest book in his collection. “The work of the Wychwood Project is very important and I have supported them, so it seemed right that this went to them to help them with their work.

“It is very interesting to look at how there was a massive reduction in the size of the forest over the years.

“There is a map which shows just how much of the area this forest took up.

“It is really great that the Wychwood Project is taking steps to replant it.”

Wychwood Project director Nick Mottram said: “The ancient royal hunting forest of Wychwood once covered a large part of West Oxfordshire.

“This history lies at the heart of the project’s efforts to get people involved in the conservation of our special landscapes and habitats.

“The book contains a lot of useful information about the former boundaries of the forest and the middle of the 19th century, when large areas of the forest were cleared for farming.”


  • Privately printed by Hatchards in 1910
  • Written by Vernon J Watney (1861-1928) of Cornbury Park, who was High Sheriff of Oxford in 1908
  • Brian Crawford bought the book at auction at Cornbury Park on May 23, 1967, for £23 and two shillings
  • It has 300 pages and is now thought to be worth £500.