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Weald

From Academic Kids

A weald once meant a dense forest, especially the famous great wood once stretching far beyond the ancient counties of Sussex and Kent, England, where this country of smaller woods is still called "the Weald." Now that most English forests have been cut down, the word may refer to open countryside or to the special clays found in the Weald. Weald descends from an ancient Indo-European root meaning "forest" or "wild." It is closely related to the German Wald and Old Norse völlr, both of which descend from the same Indo-European root; both German and Old Norse are sister languages of English.

The Weald

As a geographical term, the Weald is a particular area in the South of England that is situated between the chalk hills of the North Downs and South Downs, and that extends across the counties of Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex and Surrey.

The High Weald of higher hills, ridges and valleys is part of the Wealden anticline, once layered rock that later rose up and folded upward into an arched incline, as well as steep slopes falling away in certain parts of the area. It covers an area of 500 mile² (1,300 km²) and has been declared an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Lower parts of the Weald form a gentler rolling countryside which is especially popular with ramblers. The Weald has kept its wooded character to this very day, the forest still covering 23% of the area, one of the highest levels in England. Despite the population pressure in the South of England, it has not resulted in any major urban environment. Small towns such as Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, Crawley, Sevenoaks, etc., are local centres which have attracted a certain number of commuters into London without having lost their character of old.

The area was the centre of the Wealden iron industry from Roman times until the last forge was closed in 1820. The use of its timber for the furnaces, but also for the medieval cloth industry and for the use by the shipbuilders on the Thames and Medway, might well have denuded its landscape, but now that all three industries use other raw materials, the Weald remains one of the most heavily wooded areas of England. It is also one of the most important regions whence many English yeomen came to settle the lands across the sea which have since become the United States.

Other English Wealds

Wooded areas other than those which are situated between the Downs and which have the name Weald are North Weald Bassett in Essex, and Harrow Weald in northwest London.


Compare wold, which is from the same root as weald, and which originally meant "forest" or "wildlands." It now most often means open countryside or moorlands and especially the rolling uplands known in the North of England as the Yorkshire Wolds. These are among the beautiful Yorkshire Dales which veterinarian James Herriot made famous in his nostalgic All Creatures Great and Small and sequels.

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