The arden is an area of forest that has long been part of Warwickshire and Staffordshire. Its name is believed to be derived from a Brythonic word, ardu meaning “high” or “highland”, and was once thickly forested and known as the Forest of Arden.
The arden has been called a place of “silence and great beauty.” It is said that Shakespeare named his play “As You Like It” after the arden, an homage to his mother, Mary Arden. The arden is also an important part of the history of England, as it was the site of many battles and key engagements during the English Civil War of 1642 – 1651.
A National Trail traces old paths and routes through rural areas of the arden. The arden has a number of historic towns and villages such as Henley-in-Arden, Coleshill, and Ulverlei.
Several rivers run through the arden including the River Avon, which flows through Stratford-upon-Avon; the River Cole, which runs through Droitwich; and the River Blythe, which runs through Knowle. There are also a number of ancient hill forts and Roman ruins that can be found throughout the arden.
Arden Sandstone is a distinctive Triassic white heterolithic sandstone quarried in the area and used widely in local buildings. The sandstone has a high calcium carbonate content (‘lime’), and is coloured reddish-brown by the growth of a special type of algae.
The arden has been home to the Woodmen of Arden since 1758, an exclusive archery club taking its offices from medieval Royal Forest court positions such as Verderer and Warden. This organisation claims to be a successor to an older organization of woodmen, but there is very little evidence that forest law ever applied in the arden.
As a result, it is believed that the arden was more of a wilderness than a royal forest. It was therefore subject to fewer laws than other forests of the time and was viewed as a frontier, where people might live and work.
Settlement in the arden started around the eleventh century, as a result of peasant land hunger from settlements to the south and seignorial encouragement by lords wanting to expand their holdings and political power. It was only after this that more wide-scale settlement began, with the formation of a number of plantations in the eleventh and thirteenth centuries.
In the sixteenth century, many families from arden had resisted the Reformation and retained their Catholic sympathies. These ancestors may have been responsible for the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Robert Catesby led a revolt against the government in London, and many other key engagements during the civil war.