Brush Hill Nature Reserve The Chiltern Society

Common conditions

Strict rules existed for those who exercised their ‘commoners rights’ and severe fines were imposed on anyone breaking them.

For example, court records detail the fairly regular occurrence of unauthorised enclosure of the Common in order to increase the area of individually-owned plots. This practice was punishable by a 40 shillings (£2) fine.

To put this into perspective, around the middle of the 1700s an agricultural labourer could have expected to earn about 28 shillings (£1.40) per month.

A hint of industry

Along the Common’s eastern boundary the remains of clay pits can be seen. These pits were dug around the 1820s to produce bricks and tiles in what used to be a flourishing local industry.

Some of the houses around the Common, such as Kiln Cottage and Old Kiln House, give a clue to this past heritage. The picture shows part of a disused kiln building on Marlow Common at some time during the 1930s.

For more information about the geology of Marlow Common and the brick, tile and architectural ceramic industry which was there until the beginning of the 20th century, click here (for a 1MB PDF – right-click to download to your device).

About Marlow Common

Marlow Common (North) Local Nature Reserve consists primarily of English oak and silver birch with an understorey of bracken.

The glaciation effect

At the end of the ice age, ‘glacial wash’ consisting of gravel and clay, was deposited in thick folds. These deposits mask the underlying chalk geology and help make the soil acidic, which is unusual for the Chilterns.

History and culture

The soil type is responsible for the Common’s character and richness in culture, history and wildlife. Because of its poor soil, the Common was only fit for rough grazing. Records from 1746 reveal that sheep once grazed the land as a right of Common, granted by the Lord of the Manor to his tenants.

Landscape With Sheep. Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)

In addition to grazing their sheep, tenants also had rights to gather firewood and to ‘lesser housebote’ – that is, use the timber from the Common for household repairs.


From at least the early 1700s until the 1870s the Common was a heath – grasses, heather and patches of gorse thrived on the poor soil and there were hardly any trees. Today, many oaks of around a hundred years old fill most of the Common and surround a few patches of heath.

In England only one sixth of the heathland present in 1800 now remains, because of its rarity, lowland heathland is a prlority for nature conservation in Buckinghamshire.

Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) are designed to be of importance for wildlife, geology, education and public enjoyment. To find out more about them, visit the LNR pages in Natural England's website.