St Leonard’s Forest explored in new book

Maggie Weir-Wilson shares her knowledge of St Leonard’s Forest in her new book.

Saturday, 16th January 2021, 9:00 am
Maggie Weir-Wilson
Maggie Weir-Wilson

St Leonard’s Forest, West Sussex: A Landscape History has been published by Author’s Pen, paperback £19.99, ebook £9.99.

Maggie, aged 71, said: “Having spent six years part-time researching and writing about my local forest for a DPhil at the University of Sussex, I wanted to make all that knowledge more widely available. I knew that there had not been any recent books published specifically about St Leonard’s Forest or I would have found them.

“This seemed such a pity as it is an interesting forest, with lots of legends and myths. It is on the edge of the expanding market town of Horsham, and much is open to the public to walk and explore.

“I thought there must be lots of people, like myself, moving in from other areas who would be curious about the forest.

“In recent years, and in coping with the pandemic, there has been a growing interest in woodland and forests, walking in them, looking after their biodiversity, appreciating their beauty and feeling better for it. So I felt certain Horsham residents, and people who love trees and forests would be interested in my book.

“It has taken me a while, another six years to be precise, to write my research up in a friendlier style to that of the thesis and to find a publisher. I was so happy to come across Author’s Pen, Horsham’s new local publishers, who have been as enthusiastic as I am in getting the story of St Leonard’s Forest to a wider audience.

“I guess you could say that the starting point for my book was when I made my proposal to study for a doctorate in landscape studies at University of Sussex. I was nearing retirement from my work as a probation officer and practice teacher based in Goffs Park, Crawley.

“I had been doing an evening class for a BA in landscape studies, focusing on local history, and loved it so much I just wanted to continue. This was accepted as I had a previous MA in social work from Kent University which showed I could study to that level.

“My choice of subject was, of course, my local forest, mainly because I love forest landscape and have been a member of the Woodland Trust for ages, as well as The Sussex Wildlife Trust.

“What was intriguing was that there was so little written about the forest, who owned it, was it royal, how had it developed in time. Of course, it was a huge subject and I had to contain it in a specified area and historic period.

“Once I was awarded the doctorate I was determined to get the information out there to those who would be interested. I made things a bit more difficult for myself, as far as publishing went, by insisting on including my botanic paintings of forest leaves and one of my poems, both a result of the creative fun I have had since retiring. I am so delighted that it has all now come together. The St Leonard’s Dragon would be pleased I’m sure!

“There needs to be a sequel as I finish my forest story in the early 20th century, just before the First Wold War, and there are lots of subsequent developments, but whether I do this or another local historian, remains to be seen. It would also be good to see a natural history of the forest. So, lots of opportunities. I have a feeling I will try my hand at some creative writing, as well do more poetry and painting “

“This is my second book. I was looking for publishers to be interested in my forest book when Amberley Publishing asked me if I would write a book in their Secret Towns’ series. I said yes and put my forest book on the back burner whilst I researched and wrote Secret Horsham which was published in August 2019.”

Buy the new book from Waterstones, City Books (Brighton) W H Smith’s or Horsham Museum.