The landscape of Shotover has changed throughout its history – and is still changing.
Shotover was part of a Royal Forest from the time of the Domesday Book until the Civil War in the 1640s. Nobleman used it as a hunting ground; local people used the land for grazing and the wood for fuel. The oak trees provided timber for many of Oxford’s historic buildings; the coppiced hazels in Brasenose were used for local fencing ad sheep hurdles as well as fuel – and still are coppiced to this day.
In 1660, Shotover ceased to be a Royal Forest and became open farmland that was grazed or cultivated.
Until the end of the 18th century, the main road to London (known today as Old Road in both Headington and Wheatley) passed across Shotover Plain. Travellers were ripe pickings for highwaymen here, particularly because the steepness of the hill meant slow progress. John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was accosted by a highwayman while he was in Oxford in the 1730s.
From the late 1930s, Oxford City Council started to manage Shotover as a park and two wardens were employed to look after it. During the first half of the 20th century, farming ceased at Shotover and the woods began to grow to become the established woodlands they are today.
During the Second World War, Slade Camp in Brasenose Woods was part of Cowley Barracks and provided a temporary home for soldiers who took part in the D-Day landings. You can still evidence of the barracks today.
At the same time, Shotover Hill was used for military training and tanks built at Cowley were tested there. From the late 1970s, work started to clear woodland to restore heath, grassland and marsh habitats.
It was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1986.