Since the Ice Age

Scroobys Landscape History

Graham Robbins


The geological nature of a landscape is determined by the formation of rocks under different conditions, which gives different character; e.g. hard volcanic rocks, seabed limestone, river or delta pebbles and sands, wind blown sands. Once formed, rocks are subject to deformation by horizontal movement of earth's crust.

Scrooby's landscape is underpinned by a North-South banding of geology running through eastern England. From the Peak District to the Trent Valley the rocks are: Carboniferous Limestone, Millstone Grit, Coal Measure Sandstone, Magnesian Limestone, Sherwood Sandstone, Mercia Mudstone. Scrooby sits on the Sherwood Sandstone.

Sherwood Sandstone

250 million years ago there was one continent, the earth saw the first mosses, flies and cone-bearing plants. Our geology is one of sand and gravels deposited at the edge of this continent by fast-flowing rivers. Nowadays the Sherwood Sandstone is quarried for building sand, and can be seen in quantity at Scrooby Top Quarry.

Fast forward now to a series of Ice Ages which saw mulitple episodes of glacial ice scouring the landscape and depositing further sand and gravel as outwash from the ice.

The Last Ice Age

By the end of the last Ice Age, our region was an open landscape of sedge and grass. Around 13,000 - 10,200 BP (BP stands for 'before present') the warming of the climate lead to the spread of birch woodland and herbaceous ground flora.

The climate warmed and cooled in cycles, leading to a series of landscapes dominated by birch and juniper respectively. The flora was often composed of dwarf species, e.g. birch, willow.

The last Ice Age ended around 10,000 BP, and was followed by our environmental period, known as the Holocene. We live in a warm period or 'interstadials' between ice ages; the ice will return one day!

Lake Humber - 11,000 BP

At the end of the last ice age, ice sheets blocked the Humber gap, glacial melt water backed up forming 'Lake Humber'. Lake Humber covered the whole of the region around the Humber, down to Scrooby's area.

Lake Humber survived the melting of the ice c13,000 BP, as the Humber gap was blocked by glacial deposits.

Humber Plain and Braided Rivers 11,000 - 10,500 BP

Around 11,000 BP Lake Humber infilled with sediment creating a gently sloping plain. Braided rivers flowed across the plain between 11,000 - 10,500 BP (next one and a half thousand years). These rivers deposited sandy levees or banks, which can still be seen on the Isle of Axholme.

Channel Incision 10,000 - 8,500 BP

About 10,000 BP, the Humber glacial plug was eroded, and the rivers incised very steep and deep valleys to around 20m below our sea level; that is the contemporary sea level.

Rapid climatic warming between 10,200 and 9,500 BP encouraged birch woodland with some pine and willow.

Between 9,500 - 9,000 BP soils matured and trees spread. The birch woodland was invaded by hazel, pine and elm.

Channel infilling 8,500 - 5,000 BP

After about 8,500 BP the river valleys began to become infilled with alluvium and peat following a rise in sea level. By about 5,000 BP sea level was at the level we know today.

Between 9,000 - 6,300 BP the forest mosaic developed with the beginnings of regional differentiation.

  • Generally there were mixed woods of equal elm, pine, oak and abundant hazel. Oak increases latterly.
  • On floodplains, willow dominated.
  • On drier areas and forest edge, hazel was abundant.
  • Pine colonised the sand and gravel terraces and ridges. Pine and hazel dominated the Sherwood Sandstone, with a resultant natural forest fire cycle.
  • Beyond the floodplain, oak, elm and birch dominated, e.g. heavier soils of Lake Humber deposits and Mercia Mudstone.

Between 6,300 - 5,200 BP increasing wetness on the floodplains lead to domination by alder, ousting pine, and eventually extensive alder carrs developed.

Lime reached the region, to become one of the most important tree species.

Pine remained dominant, and possibly formed pure stands, on the sandy podzolic soils of the Sherwood Sandstone, glacial sands and gravels and the blown sand deposits.

Floodplain deposits 5,000 BP - present

Sea level, infilling of river channels and the impact of forest clearance lead to flooding and rising water tables.

The large area of the Humberhead Levels which had previously been a dryland landscape were converted to mire. There is a drowned woodland landscape beneath the peat.

Large areas are covered by alluvial deposits on river floodplains.

Elm declines, and there are some vegetational indicators of agriculture after about 5,200 BP; tree cover began to fluctuate, probably caused by small-scale clearances for pastroral agriculture and subsequent regrowth including light-loving hazel and ash.

3,600 BP, Bronze Age

Around 3,600 BP there was a sudden decrease in pine, lime, elm and oak. This was probably due to early to middle bronze age human activity. There is an increase in grass, plantain, braken and nettle; all associated with pastoralism. Trees still represent 80% of pollen from land species (known as 'total land pollen' or TLP). The presence of hazel and ash are indicative of opening-up of the forest cover. Pines buried under the peat at Crowle Moors dated to 3,500 BP show signs of deliberate felling and burning.

After about 3,000 BP the mires on the Humberhead Levels were increasingly isolated from the fresh water of the rivers and the water table, leading to acidification and the development of raised bog with sedge and heather.

Iron Age and Roman

Between 2,335 - 1,445 BP, Middle Iron Age to Late Roman period, there was massive vegetation changes. Herb and grass give over 80% TLP and include cereal and clearance indicators. This was regional deforestation on a massive scale for mixed farming. By the Late Roman period the landscape was as open as it is today.

The Late Iron Age saw the establishment of regular extensive field systems in the Scrooby region. Settlement was unenclosed during the Iron Age; groups of houses in the corner of fields and pastures. During the early Roman period settlements were enclosed by large ditches and banks. Crops included barley, oats, wheat and hemp; for example at Rossington.

Scrooby Mill Field 2009, giving some
impression of the character of a wet
carr landscape

Remains in the ditch of the Fourth Century AD Roman fort at Scaftworth indicate alder carr on the floodplain surrounded by an open farmed landscape of mixed arable and pastoral (plantain, dandelion, thistle and mallow).

At Scrooby Top a First to Fourth Century AD enclosed settlement was excavated in 1997 ahead of the quarry expansion. Soil samples from the enclosure contained botanical remains and provided evidence for the later stages of crop processing of barley and spelt (a type of wheat). The soil samples also contained flax, which could have been grown for its seeds or stems for the fibres used to make linen. There was also heather present which may have been collected for animal bedding and this was mixed with the residue from crop processing, suggesting animal stalling and feeding.

There was much flooding and alluvial deposits in the river systems of the Idle, Ryton and Don in the Late Third and Fourth Century AD (the late Roman period), when the environmental balance was upset by use of more efficient ploughs, more intensive or extensive arable farming, and possibly the introduction of winter wheat. There was large-scale soil loss and flooding, leading to podzolisation and impoverishment of the area's soils.


After the Roman period there was a marked decline in herbaceous species, trees and shrubs rise to 65% of TLP (80% of dryland pollen). This probably indicates agricultural decline and woodland regeneration. This in turn was possibly due to soil exhaustion, or post-Roman nucleation (drawing together) of settlement. The name Scrooby is of Danish (Viking) origin and dates to the Ninth Century AD. In 958 AD the whole of the Scrooby and Sutton area was given by King Edgar to the Archbishop of York.

Late arrivals, Hornbeam and maple, spread to the region.

After 1,000 AD herbaceous species increase to 80% of TLP, indicating agricultural intensification. Agriculture was mixed, as in earlier periods, but the emphasis was now on arable; particularly rye, wheat, hemp, and flax.

The Sherwood area remained sparsely populated.

Scrooby's church is built in 13th century fabric. There was absolute control of Scrooby by the Archbishop of York, which continued into the late Medieval period. Brewster Snr, as his steward, held absolute power over his 'fiefdom'.

Farming in the medieval period was organised communally, with strict control of timing by the community or by a lord of the manor, e.g. harvest, sheep folding. The landscape was divided into very large fields for arable agriculture, subdivided into strips farmed by individual families. Livestock would have been turned out onto these fields after the harvest, to feed the livestock and just as importantly manure the soils. In Scrooby these fields ran down the sandy ridge to the west of the Great North Road to Ranskill, and to the immediate east of the road. The names of these fields were recorded in the Eighteenth Century as: Bradley Field, Hill Field, Butt Field, Hempland Field, Pease Field, Middle Field, Farr Field and Folly Field (where we get the name Foll Nook Lane). Scrooby was a riverside settlement. The Mill and the Manor both stood on and used the river. There were extensive meadows, cut for hay once or twice a year. These lay on the river floodplains and again we have the names recorded: West Bear Meadow, Bradley Meadows, Otter Pitts, Ings Meadow. Other areas of low-lying riverside land remained carrs.

There are also several commons. The largest runs north from the village along the old course of the river, through what is now called The Winz, out onto the higher drier expanse of Scrooby and Harworth Common. Extended right into the heart of Scrooby, occupied by the Parish Cottages in the 18th Century. A second lower-lying wetter common runs from the east of Scrooby southward to Scrooby Top.

Timber and cob houses were replaced in the 17th and 18th Century by the red brick now characteristic of North Nottinghamshire.

In 1777 the major land owners in the parish gained an Act of Parliament to abolish the old communal open fields and commons. They planned a new landscape of private enclosed fields. The commons, useless to a rich man, were swept away. The landscape was reorganized; consolidating land holdings into extensive and cohesive blocks of fields; the fields we know today. Hawthorn or 'quickthorn' hedges were planted to delineate the new fields and tracks; these are the hedges we know today. Formal rights of way were established by the Act of Parliament; and these are the rights of way we have today.

Enclosure was undoubtedly good for the major land holders, but many poorer people could not make a living without the commons and the old fashioned communal agriculture. In the years that followed, many villagers drifted from such enclosed villages to industrial towns and cities to find work. There are just a few remnants of the pre-enclosure landscape: the Mill Field and the two parts of the Winz being the most valuable; rare fragments of the old commons landscape which have not been taken into modern agriculture.

The turnpiked road was laid out in 1776, with its causeway, bridges, and tollhouse.

The railways arrived in the Nineteenth Century. As well as the villas of professional families which begin to be built, along with the appearance of leisure gardens. The villas tend to be found on the outskirts of the village and across the Turnpike road.

The Twentieth Century saw the slow decline of agricultural involvement in the village, and infilling and conversion of agricultural buildings and yards. There was an increase in grass land for horses, and less maintenance of hedges and verges.