A history of ‘Specked Wood’, the campaign to preserve it and the formation of Ore Community Land Trust
The Upper Ore Valley, which is now known as ‘Speckled Wood’, was originally an open valley rather than woodland. It has been through many changes since the late 1800s. It has become a very attractive wooded ghyll with a stream running through it over the years and represents the only significant area of accessible green space for the densely built housing area at the top of Ore Valley and Ore Village itself. As such it is an extremely valuable community asset.
At the top of the valley the land rises very sharply up to Frederick Road and it is believed that this road was built on spoil dug out of the Ore Tunnel when it was built for the railway in the 1800s. This has in effect filled in the top of the valley and created a ravine alongside this part of Frederick Road.
Church Street was developed around 1870 on the northern side of the valley and appears for the first time in the Ordinance Survey Map of 1873. [button title=”Download 1873 OS map” url=”https://orecommunitylandtrust.files.wordpress.com/2020/11/9ac55-church-street-historic-map-18731.pdf” color=”green”]
In fact the houses were built over a period of years and in three clusters all on the Southern side of the road.
The first cluster was at the Arrow Road (now Clifton Road) end just behind the Hastings Union Workhouse and numbered about 20. It is quite possible these houses were built for workhouse staff as there were, at that time, very few houses in the area that was built up later in the Victorian era. This cluster of properties also included a number of shops including a grocers, bakers, general shop and laundry.
The second smaller cluster of 6 was built in the middle of Church Street at a later date and the third, of 8 houses, was built at the end next to Queens Road (now Victoria Avenue)
Church Street was regarded as housing for the very poor, which is why these homes later came to be demolished.
The 1909 OS Map does not show any other changes or evidence of land use in the valley.
After the First World War the Southern side of the valley was utilised for allotments (two rows behind Old London Road) for use by ‘invalids’ from the Great War. Larger plots were used as piggeries and small holdings.
The land would have been largely open with few trees.
By 1929 the OS Map shows that most of the surrounding area had been developed as terraced housing and also shows a patchwork of allotments and smallholdings in the valley. The Green next to the Salvation Army Hall is shown along with a small area of woodland below it.
In 1959 the Council declared Church Street a slum clearance area due to the poor condition of the housing stock and over the next 6 years the residents were rehoused.
In 1966, the street register shows only two properties still occupied. The 1967 OS Map still shows the Church Street housing but the whole of Church Street would have been demolished.
At some point during the 1950s and 1960s the allotments and small holding were gradually abandoned. It was subsequent to this that much of the more recent woodland developed and it is easy to identify the original allotments as the boundary hedging has now grown up into tree lines and other trees have self seeded in the plots and across the valley.
The valley was called the ‘Oller’ by local people and contains a number of long established footpaths running along by the stream and the very old (at least 100 years) cross valley footpath from School Road to Church Street that was used by school children to get to school from the homes to the North of the Valley.
On the higher ground behind Old London Road there is a network of access paths for the allotments of which Graystone Lane was the principal track. The top section is a tarmaced road up to Old London Road. All of these access tracks are unregistered land and how been used as footpaths for very many years.
The Work House
The Work House at the bottom of the valley was closed and the building used for the St Helens hospital facility, which was built on the other side of Frederick Road, from 1930.
The hospital was closed in 1994 and the old Work House was renovated and converted into housing in early 2000. Some additional new housing was also built in 2006 beside the old buildings in Frederick Road and in the new road called Speckled Wood.
Over the years after the allotments and small holdings had been abandoned, the valley became overgrown and some of the footpaths became impassable. The path from Frederick Road along the valley floor and up to Church Street remained in use as did Church Street in the form of a rough track although some of the original kerb stones and gutters are still visible. The path from Graystone Lane up to the Green also remained in use but the rest of the valley was used as a wild play area by local children.
Campaign to preserve “Speckled Wood”
However, in 2005 a new group was set up by local people who were determined to save the woodland valley from development and open it up for community use. They had realised that a large part of the valley had been designated for housing development in the Local Plan, a fact that many local residents were clearly not aware of as no activity at all had taken place in the larger part of the valley since it ceased to be used for small holdings and allotments 50 years before.
This group decide to call the Upper Ore Valley ‘Speckled Wood’ and the group was called the Speckled Wood Group. It joined another group called SADOWLS which had been formed to try to stop development of the land next to Victoria Avenue at the top of the valley.
In 2006 these two groups joined to launch the Ore Valley Action group, which as well as adopting an overall aim of trying to stop overdevelopment of the whole of the Ore Valley, retained a core aim of seeking to save ‘Speckled Wood’ from development and making the valley available for community use. A Community Plan was drawn up and launched for public comments showing a number of options for new amenities such as reinstated allotments, children’s play area, seating, footpaths and a section of the proposed Hastings Greenway running through the valley.
During 2008 and 2009 a major drive was initiated to clear and open up all of the footpaths and to clear the stream and the rest of the valley of decades of accumulated rubbish utilising teams of volunteers and the help of other organisations such as the Princes Trust. The bridge over the stream was constructed from railway sleepers and the cross valley path up the School Road from the valley floor was discovered and opened up as it was so overgrown that it was only found when a long term local resident showed the point where it started from by the stream.
In March 2009 Ore Community Land Trust was launched by Ore Valley Action in order to create a membership organisation, accountable to local people, that could seek to acquire land in the Ore Valley for community use and ensure it would remain as public open green space
A formal opening of the footpath network was held in April 2010 and was attended by a number of councillors who had supported the campaign to save and open up Speckled Wood and by the leader of the Council.
In 2011 volunteers constructed a series of steps to allow local people to get to Church Street and the Old London Road from the centre of the valley .
In the years after the decision was taken to open up the footpaths through Speckled Wood, it has been increasingly used by local people for getting to work, school and the shops in Ore Village and for leisure by all ages.
From July 2012 when a new group – Friends of Speckled Wood – was formed, volunteers from this group have also undertaken a good deal of clearance work including removal of a large amount of old metal from the abandoned allotments and smallholdings and have created some footpaths and a bridge at the top of the valley.
The result of the 9 year campaign by several community groups to save Speckled Wood and the work to open up the woodland valley has been a very high level of interest and support from local people and organisations and ward councillors. The woodland footpaths are so well used it is rarely necessary to do any clearance work.
Speckled Wood is well known across the Borough and attracted by far the highest level of public support for protecting a green area in the Local Plan consultation process.
Although the ownership of land in Speckled Wood is a complex patchwork of private plots, areas bought by two developers and some Council owned plots, the land has been left to grow wild and no action to manage or fence off the plots has been taken for many decades. Only the small Green next to the salvation Army Hall and owned by Hastings Borough Council is being managed.
It is very clear that the developers are only holding the land for land speculation purposes as no effort was made to start any work even in the area with planning permission and during the period of high and rising land prices. The physical and local authority constraints, such as road access restrictions, make any major development highly unlikely.
However, Ore Community Land Trust has drawn up an number of practical and realisable projects to make use of Speckled Wood for community benefit and has long term plans to buy as much of the valley as possible as a community asset and to protect and enhance the woodland and animal habitat.
Speckled Wood has attracted support from all sides and is now seen as a very valuable area of urban woodland and green space in a densely built up area of the Borough with no other accessible green space. It is right next to Ore Village and the local shopping centre. It also has the potential to provide much needed public amenities such as children’s play areas, an area for food growing, seating and recreation space.
Any significant development on either side of the valley would destroy the integrity of woodland setting and the quiet tranquillity that is available on the valley floor. Speckled Wood is an abandoned woodland valley that is entirely unsuitable for development and can play an even greater role as a valuable community asset if the woodland is enhanced and properly managed and as a location for much needed amenities .
It is a green lung in a densely built up area with no nearby access to public green space and enjoys very considerable community support to preserve it as urban green space. Ore Community Land Trust would want to take on the role of acquiring land and managing and enhancing Speckled Wood for community benefits once its future has been secured.