Park Wood was originally part of the Forest of Bere, a royal hunting forest established soon after the Norman Conquest. The Forest extended from the River Meon in the west, to the parish of Havant in the east, with its southern boundary represented by Purbrook Heath Road, and its northern boundary crossing the London Road to the north of Longwood Avenue. Like the New Forest, the Forest of Bere contained areas of open country, as well as wooded areas. Although the king had the exclusive right to hunt deer in the Forest, the tenants of surrounding manors possessed the right to depasture livestock in the Forest in the same way that New Forest commoners do today.
In 1792, a Royal Commission, which had been set up to report on the state of the Forest, reported that its economic potential was not being realised. They recommended that the land within the Forest should be enclosed and parcels of land given to the landlords and their tenants to compensate for the loss of their common rights. Other plots were sold to pay for the cost of enclosure. Between 1812 and 1814 a large parcel of land north of the Waterlooville crossroads, and bounded by the London Road on the east, was acquired by William Friend, a member of a prominent local family whose contribution to and impact on the development of the area has been overlooked in the past.
By 1838, when the Tithe Map of Catherington Parish was produced, William Friend had enlarged his landholding to over 400 acres, forming the Hart Plain Estate. The estate included his residence, Hart Plain House, arable and pasture land, and woodland, including Park Wood. A relic of the ancient woodland, Park Wood was not managed intensively for timber production, but maintained as a pleasure ground for the enjoyment of the Friends and their guests. A walled garden constructed within the Wood, near the Lodge House on the London Road, probably provided vegetables, fruit and flowers for the estate. Members of the Friend family lived in Hart Plain House until the death of Ann Friend in 1899, after which time the estate was sold piece by piece.
The western half of Park Wood was purchased in 1910 by Dr F E Beddow, a doctor of science who had moved to Portsmouth from the Sheffield area to take the post of Head of the Department of Chemistry in the Municipal College. He built a house in the Wood, on the site of the present Park Wood House, in 1911, and purchased the remainder of the Wood from the Hart Plain Estate in three lots, the last (the eastern meadow) in 1922. Dr Beddow was an important figure in early 20th century Portsmouth. He became a City and County Councillor, a Justice of the Peace, Chairman of the Portsmouth Gas Company, and a member of the Boards of many charitable organisations. Dr Beddow maintained his estate in very good order, employing a housekeeper, a housemaid, a gardener and a chauffeur-handyman. Park Wood continued to be managed as ornamental woodland, and the walled garden was carefully tended.
Dr Beddow lived at Park Wood until his death in 1953 at the age of 92. In his will, he left the majority of his estate, including Park Wood house, in trust for the benefit of his housekeeper, Miss Ellis, during her lifetime. After her death, the trustees were required to sell the estate, and offer the proceeds to Portsmouth City Council for the construction of a public library, either in Waterlooville (if the village had by then become part of the City), or otherwise in Milton in Portsmouth. If the Council declined to accept the fund, or if any part of it remained after the library had been constructed, the University of Southampton was to benefit.
Miss Ellis lived in Park Wood house until 1970, when it was sold to a local couple, and the Trustees started to exercise their responsibility to sell the estate to create the library fund. Their 1974 application for permission to build 95 houses on Park Wood was refused by Havant Borough Council, primarily because the proposed development did not meet the local planning requirements for access and amenity space. The Trustees appealed to the Secretary of State, who considered written submissions, but the Council's decision was upheld. Following a successful application in 1978 by a local builder to develop land at the end of Wallis Road adjacent to Park Wood, and by the Trustees to build 8 houses at the western end of the Wood itself (after which local residents saved a number of mature trees from felling), the Trustees submitted a revised planning proposal in 1981 for a slightly less intensive development of 80 houses on the remainder of the Wood. Again, this application was refused by the Council, this time because they wished to maintain Park Wood as an amenity area and an area for nature conservation. The Trustees appealed, and a Public Enquiry was held at Havant. Local residents joined with the Council in putting the case to the Inspector for the preservation of Park Wood as an amenity and conservation area, and, in his 1983 ruling, the Secretary of State upheld the Inspector's recommendation in the Council's favour.
Following discussions between the Trustees and Havant Borough and Portsmouth City Councils, it was eventually agreed in 1986 that the Trustees should be allowed to build a further 8 houses at the western end of the Wood to raise funds for the library. The remaining area of 3.5 hectares was designated as a local amenity, and leased to the Borough Council for 3000 years. The requirements of Dr Beddow's will were satisfied in full when the freehold of Park Wood was transferred to the University of Southampton in 1989, and the Beddow Memorial Library was opened in the corner of Milton Park by Portsmouth City Council in 1990.
The condition of Park Wood started to deteriorate following the death of Dr Beddow, and especially after 1971, when the Trustees envisaged that the site would be developed. The walled garden became overgrown, paths were no longer maintained, and the meadows were not cut regularly after the late 1970s. The great storm of September 1987 caused considerable damage, especially in the central area of the Wood, where a number of mature beech trees were blown over. This allowed the laurel, which had been underplanted as an ornamental shrub, to spread unchecked to the point where it covered over a fifth of the Wood's area in impenetrable growth, of little use for wildlife. Sycamore grew quickly throughout the Wood, and threatened the development of the indigenous trees. A positive result of the storm damage and the limited management regime was that the resulting standing and fallen dead wood was left in place, providing a habitat for invertebrates and fungi, and the creatures which depend on them.
Havant Council sublet the Wood to the Woodland Trust as management agents for 199 years in 1991; some paths were opened and some limited laurel clearance was carried out during the mid and late 1990s, but more effort was needed to improve the amenity and biodiversity values of the Wood. In May 2000, a local group, The Friends of Park Wood, was formed to aid the Trust in its care of the Wood, and a successful application was made for a Local Heritage Initiative grant to fund its initial restoration to a self-sustaining condition. A programme of laurel and sycamore clearance, and path restoration, was carried out, and seats and information boards were added. The Wood as you see it today is the result of these efforts.