When Mondrem’s Director, Mike, told me he wanted a history of Mondrem forest I felt excited. A budding historian, this was the perfect start to my life at Mondrem. But I also felt nervous.
My mind was bursting with ideas, but what if I stumbled into a pit of horror? I feared uncovering a Blitzy version of events that would crumble the foundations Mondrem CIC stood on. What if I found out that Mondrem was home to an insidious cat murderer? Or what if Mondrem was the hunting ground of a cannibalistic jungle tribe? Worse still, what if the word Mondrem translated to mean “man-slayer”? How could I possibly tell my new employers that their company had a squeamish history? I could always lie, try and spin it into a story of redemption… No, Bob, that is not an option, I told myself. Honesty was a desideratum.
Luckily, there were no ruinous stories of cat murderers or cannibals. And after reading a dizzying amount of Cheshire history, I could rest assured knowing that the Mondrem story was, omitting the occasional axe-swinging earl, a joyous one.
At the top of my to-do list was to find the meaning behind the word Mondrem. And this was not a task that could be accomplished alone. I would need help. So, I whizzed off an email to the English Language department at Keele University. No more than 24 hours had passed before Russell Clark, Keele’s Academic English Programme Director, sent a comforting reply. After consulting his sources, Russell revealed that Mondrem was Old English for “man-dream.” This confirmed my own findings. He touched upon connotations of humanity and happiness, before uttering the words ‘bird song’. My toes jiggled with excitement. This was Russell’s unintentional magnum opus. A literary masterstroke. Mondrem was a forest filled with bird song – the purest of sounds, the happiest of sounds. Mondrem was a happy place.
With this understanding of the word Mondrem, I could then delve deep into the history. I swept the library shelves clear before waddling home like a tortoise with an abnormally large shell. Now it was time to research.
Desk lamp on and with the musky whiff of old pages colonising my nose, I got to work reading and note taking. Initially, my research centred upon broad historical works about medieval forest laws, before moving to more digestible studies of medieval Cheshire history.
Learning about medieval forest laws revealed much about the significance of forest land along with its uses. While family histories of the earls of Chester gave me an understanding of those who ruled over Mondrem.
Speaking with Tina Johnson and Peter Clarke of the Weaverham Historical Society was invaluable. I was left fascinated as Tina wrote, “Weaverham at one time was known as ‘Weaverham Alba’. One theory is that this is because the white nuns of Chester owned Weaverham Wood.” The Society were a fount of knowledge and their expertise helped me to draw up a map of Mondrem.
Christopher Saxton’s 1579 map of Cheshire and The Historical Atlas of Cheshire by Dorothy Sylvester and Geoffrey Nulty were heavily consulted in the map drawing process. By this point, lots of scrawls, scribbles and spots littered my paper map of Cheshire. I wanted to roughly sketch out the boundaries of Mondrem, before converting these sketches into a map of Mondrem on Adobe Photoshop.
But, perhaps the most welcomed source was the Harleian Collection of manuscripts, which lists the settlements that were within the boundaries of the twin forests of La Mara and Mondrem. When I came across the manuscripts, I began to rattle with childish glee. The extent of Mondrem forest became comprehensible. A map could be drawn, outlining the boundaries of the forest in the 14th century. And, to my knowledge, it would be the first map of Mondrem in its isolation.
Then came the writing imbroglio. The most difficult stage in the process – how to condense masses of research into a simple narrative. Planning is important here. Outlining the key themes of the research, creating a timeline of events and decided what is relevant and what is tangential.
Plan in place, I could then construct the story of the forest, referring to sources where necessary. I find that once you have the prelude, the rest comes naturally. A good story writes itself.
If you would like to read the history of Mondrem forest, please click here.