On the 1908 Ordnance Map the Refuse Depot had not extended far beyond the railway siding, and the rest of the site including the woods was owned by Sir William Chance, the lord of Hartley Manor. By the next map of 1936 the refuse depot had extended to much its present size with tracks to carry the rubbish round the site.
The disposal of rubbish is a necessity that everyone agrees upon, but never wants it close to them! It was not popular at Walworth. A writer to the Times (1 June 1885) wrote "the loathsome, disease spreading, and shameful trade of manure making, for the refuse of the houses and the streets is converted into what is, by a euphemism, termed 'Newington mixture', a compound of nastiness carried down by the adjacent railway to country fields". Nor was it always very welcome at Longfield. In 1899 Archibald Dobbs of Hartley Manor complained of the smell and health risk from the open trucks of "every foul and fetid matter". Newington for their part said the manure was used on farms and had been cleared by the health authorities (Times 11,17 & 24.10.1899), and a writer to the South London Mail on 25.9.1895 said Newington's system was praised by other London councils. Similar concerns were expressed by Longfield Parish Council in 1950 ("a menace to the health of the people in the area.... a breeding place for flies and all kinds of vermin..... The stench is almost unbearable... during windy weather filthy paper allowed to blow about." Minutes 30.3.1950).
Newington Vestry was abolished in 1900 when it became part of the newly created borough of Southwark, who own the wood and tip site to this day, although from 1965 refuse disposal was the responsibility of the former Greater London Council. Quite when they purchased the wood is a mystery and they have lost the deeds themselves. It was certainly after 1912 for in the valuation office survey of that date, the woods and most of the future tip site were still owned by the Lord of Hartley Manor, Sir William Chance. It is unlikely that there was any public access then, as the valuation office were meticulous in reducing the value of the site if that were the case. It was valued at £3,000 for the sporting rights though.
The tip closed in July 1974 (Reporter 8.3.1974). In later years a layer of rubbish was deposited and then covered with a layer of earth. In the 1980s Southwark Council created a campsite there, and issued leaflets showing the land and the woods as places where they allowed people to walk. The meaning of the leaflet which was distributed in both Hartley and Southwark is disputed now, as to whether it constitutes the permission to walk which would defeat a village green application. In the 1980s KCC wanted to site a gypsy site there, but this was opposed by both Hartley and Southwark.
In the 1990s, Southwark agreed to sell the woods to the Woodland Trust, and £22,000 was raised from people in Hartley and Longfield in 1995. However the negotiations foundered on the issue of possible contamination from the tip site. The Woodland Trust wanted to be indemnified by Southwark for any potential pollution. Southwark, no doubt thinking of their ratepayers, refused, although some people claim that under the legislation at the time they would have still be responsible (see letter).
That was the last time the woods were up for sale. In 2005 the council decided to apply for village green status just on that part of the wood (but not the remainder of the wood owned by Hartley residents). Once they heard of the application and faced with the costs of maintaining a village green if they lost, like any other landowner Southwark attempted to fence the land, but the fence posts were vandalised. Hartley PC issued a statement which did not condemn this, but said attempts to fence the land had been "thwarted".
The case was heard at Kent County Council in November 2007. They gave Southwark a short notice of their recommendation to accept, and so Southwark said they would take the matter to judicial review. KCC then decided they should give them more time to reply and deferred the matter until 21 February 2008. Southwark submitted a counsel's opinion supporting their case. KCC felt that it was an arguable case and that it would be unwise to register without a public enquiry. In the meantime Southwark have written to offer properly managed access to the woods.
The decision to convene a public enquiry has clearly concerned the parish council, and so they took the decision at a secret meeting on 14 April that "residents be encouraged to support the parish council .. by convening a public meeting..." and by publication of "a special newsletter encouraging residents to support the Parish Council with its village green application". The newsletter claimed Hartley Wood was "under threat", but did not appear to present any case of a clear and present danger.
The meeting on May 7th was attended by about 100 people, however what appeared to be the usual fire register that people are asked to sign turned out to be a petition in favour of the parish council.
The meeting began with presentations by Cllr Gaywood. He said they have "every chance of success", but needed more evidence. He said neither they nor Southwark council will have to pay anything, and that Southwark will have no more responsibility if it became a village green than they do now. The council will meet with Southwark in two days time.
Cllr Alford said the land is a liability to Southwark and they would have liabilities for ongoing maintenance of the wood. In the 1970s there was a camp site which "wasn't a success" due to vandalism, and plans by Kent County Council for a gypsy site. He claimed when the Woodland Trust tried to buy the land in the 1990s, negotiations foundered over an indemnity clause Southwark wanted for the bordering contaminated land (see above). He thought the parish council "had no option" but to embark on this course. Once the application was in, he said (to laughter from a small section of the audience) Southwark tried to fence the land. At this point Cllr Gaywood interjected that the council did not approve of the vandalism of Southwark's property.
Cllr Mrs Oxtoby reported on the hearings in November 2007 and February 2008 at Kent County Council. She rejected the evidence submitted against the claim (which included a press release from the parish council itself in 1993), and said KCC only sent it to public enquiry to be legally safe.
The meeting was then opened to public questions, everyone who spoke appeared to be in favour of retaining public access, but there were differences of opinion on strategy, with applause for both.
Mr Gibbons said the scouts had used the woods in the past. Mr Tucker said Southwark had fenced the land when they first moved to Hartley for public safety when the tip was still working. He thought some of the paths had been there since 1872. He said Southwark have said they have no intention of stopping public access.
The main concerns related to land management and the rare flora in that part of the woods. Mr Glover said the key question was "who is going to look after it". He supported a comment from Mrs George that a nature trust should take over. There is a risk that non-managed access destroys woods, as it has done elsewhere in the area. Mr Austin didn't think Southwark had managed the woods, and Mrs Laister said there had been fires there.
Mr Goss spoke of management plans, he said it was important to remember it is a small wood with a variety of habitats, large scale intervention could damage to five nationally endangered plants there.
Mr Mayer enquired why the council has not dedicated any of their land as village greens? After all a future council could sell the land, he claimed the council is discussing selling part of Gorsewood. Mr Gaywood disclaimed knowledge of this, and said he wouldn't be bounced into making statements when Mr Mayer asked him to deny this publicly.
Mrs Want raised the fencing in Hoselands Wood. Cllr Gaywood said the land had been offered to the council and they were still considering it.
One resident suggested Hartley take over the management of the woods to relieve Southwark of the burden. Cllr Gaywood said he didn't want it to be a "nuisance" to Hartley.
Mrs McMahon raised the question of the remainder of the wood. Could they stop access. Cllr Gaywood said the bulk was owned by Gorsewood Farm and they have said they will never stop people walking through there.