Regency History

The Home Wood

photo Joe Everett

The undulations of a lawn shaved all summer by scythemen were broken by a cedar, and beyond the lawn the stems of beech-trees, outliers of the Home Wood, shimmered in wintry sunlight.

Sylvester or the Wicked Uncle by Georgette Heyer, p. 1

I had never come across the phrase “Home Wood” in my historical reading before Georgette Heyer, and though I figured I knew what it was, I wanted to be a good writer and do my research before I wantonly used an unfamiliar phrase in my own work.

So I looked…and looked…and looked. I could find no references–encyclopedic, botanical, or historical–using Home Wood. Well, Heyer has done this to me before–using a phrase no one else seems to have thought to document. The best I could find was a kind of obliquely comparative phrase: the Home Counties of England.

The Home Counties are most broadly defined as the counties surrounding London, and many historians consider only the five closest counties as included in the definition. The earliest use of this phrase was recorded in the 17th century, but no one seems to know where it came from or why it was perpetuated.

How does this have anything whatsoever to do with “Home Wood”? Well, call me desperate, but I think there is a connection in how the word “Home” is used in both phrases. The Home Counties surround, or are closest to, the principle city in the country, while the Home Wood surrounds, or is closest to, the principle seat in the area.

Though proud of my findings, I nevertheless thought them a pretty weak support for my using the phrase in my own work. But before giving up hope of finding anything more definite, I decided to use the Hathi Trust (the most amazing resource for language in the world–I am in love with it!) to search period writings for this phrase–and couldn’t find it. Well, at least not for a while. I found plenty of “home” and plenty of “wood” but never both used together as a title.

Until, at last, I came across a little history of Norfolk where it was used, not once, but TWICE!

The History and Antiquities of the County of Norfolk, V. 2, 1781 p. 91
The History and Antiquities of the County of Norfolk, V. 2, 1781 p. 119

(P.S. Half of the f’s in this book are actually s’s, because that’s how they used to do it until the turn of the 19th century. It’s called the long s, and is printed as an f without the crossbar (look closely in the above images and you can barely see the difference). The long s was used generally at the beginning and middle of a word (with a few exceptions), and as the first s in a double (as in succefs), while the round s (our modern s) was used everywhere else. Just had to geek about that for a minute.)

From these uses, it seems that Home Wood refers to the main, or Great, wood on a property or estate belonging to a landed family. Since the families in the above examples took their name from the wood, it stands to reason the wood was probably only referred to as the Home Wood by the family, or by members of the immediate community.

After all that, it seems that I was pretty well correct in my inferences, and I think I am safe to use Home Wood just as Georgette Heyer did.

Just for interest’s sake, I’ll include one more less helpful but still relevant use of home wood that I found via Hathi Trust (remember I love Hathi Trust):

General Report of the Agricultural State, etc. of Scotland, Rt. Hon. Sir John Sinclair, bart., v. 1, appendix

As one can see, this reference pertains to local wood that was preferred in the making of barrels for fish. While the connection here is slender at best, I still believe it pertinent, as “local” has the same connotation as “close” or “surrounding” in the example of Home Counties.

So, ye British, laugh me to scorn if you’d like, but since none of you saw fit to grace the internet or any reference books with an attestation to the fact that Home Wood is an accepted phrase, and how exactly it is to be used, I am forced to figure it out to the best of my poor ability.

And I think I did pretty good.