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Hampshire Countryside Service

History at Westwood

The tranquil site you see today hides a surprising history of human activity.

Westwood was formerly part of a large estate in the ownership of the Cistercian monastery of Netley Abbey. The site joined the Abbey via four conduits; large banked ditches designed to carry water which fed the fishponds, filled the wells, and ‘flushed’ the toilets of the Abbey. The remains of these conduits can still be seen through the site today and one is a scheduled ancient monument.

Westwood then went into the management of local farmers who used the site as coppice woodland, cutting hazel stems from the woods each winter to make hurdles and charcoal. By the late 18th century much of Westwood belonged to Mr Cleverly, who also owned nearby Grange Farm, now the site of Netley’s popular Mill House pub.

During the Victorian era houses were erected along the southern edge of the site; Marina View, Hilton House and the now demolished Lake House which took its name from the ornamental lake that stood in its grounds. That lake is now Westwood’s main pond and the Bamboo and Greater Periwinkle plants that surround it date back to the Victorian period. Until the Second World War the rest of the woodland was managed by a gamekeeper on behalf of the Chamberlayne estate, and was most probably used for shooting.

When the war reached Britain the spitfire factory at Woolston needed protection from enemy bombing and Westwood was an ideal site for an artillery emplacement. The natural cover of the woodland edge was perfect for concealing this Z-battery and looking through the undergrowth you can still spot the largely intact bases of this emplacement.

From the end of the 19th century gravel extraction took place until part of the site became an area for refuse disposal. Following the restoration of this landfill Hampshire County Council and Southampton City Council took management of Westwood in 1986 and the ancient woodland and restored grasslands were opened as a public space.

The site is now a flourishing Local Nature Reserve, rich in wildlife and popular with visitors, but take a stroll through the woodlands and across the fields and you can still discover the pieces of history that have made Westwood what it is today.