The arden is a name for an area of land in England, specifically in Warwickshire and Staffordshire, which consists of thickly forested areas, many of which are now uninhabited. It was a rich area, as well as being a large and important source of timber.
The forest was a major source of income for the medieval lords of the area, who made use of it as a source of timber and for growing crops such as wheat. It was also a source of income for the towns and villages that grew up around it, such as Henley-in-Arden and Tanworth-in-Arden, and the larger cities of Birmingham and Coventry.
In the past, the forest was much more dense and inhabited than it is today. It was bounded by a number of Roman roads, including Icknield Street and Watling Street as well as a salt track that stretched across the forest to Droitwich, though no road penetrated the densely forested areas of the forest itself. The forest was also surrounded by a number of former Iron Age hill forts and Roman forts, most notably Henley-in-Arden, which was once the largest settlement in the area.
During the medieval period, the forest became more and more enclosed with farms growing crops and animals being raised there. However, the area still remained a wild and untamed place, with the possibility of encountering bears and wolves.
There was an ancient mark stone known as the Coughton Cross that lay at the southern boundary of the forest and it was believed to be a site where travellers would pray for safe passage into the forest before entering. The forest was still very large and the dangers of it were real, so it was not surprising that the Forest of Arden did not become a royal forest in the same way as other forests were.
Some locals retained Catholic sympathies during the Reformation and Robert Catesby, a leader of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, was a native of Lapworth in Arden. During the Civil War of 1642 – 1651, many key engagements took place in and around the forest.
The arden is also home to an exclusive archery club, the Woodmen of Arden. It claims to be a reincarnation of the medieval Royal Forest court and was founded in 1758.
The distinctive white heterolithic sandstone quarried in the arden has an unusual reddish hue that develops due to a type of algae which grows only on lime-bearing stone. It is used in a number of buildings in the arden, including temples and churches.