I was out surveying around Watton in Norfolk recently, and found these wonderful coppice Hornbeams in a field hedge.
According to Edward Milner's Trees of Britain and Ireland (2011), the prime use of Hornbeam was as firewood, and he cites the 17th century arborist and gardener John Evelyn as reporting that it burns "like a candle". I don't know if the poles resulting from cutting these specimens would have been used in such a way. The coppice effect may just be the outcome of the hedge having been laid many times in its past, and then being neglected at some point; presumably if the main function of a hedge is to be stockproof, the poles would have been laid rather than harvested. Alternatively, some hedges were managed by coppicing, especially if their primary function was not for containing animals; so perhaps this hedge was essentially only a boundary marker, and so has been managed by coppicing for a long time.
It seems from Oliver Rackham's Ancient Woodland (2003, 2nd Ed.) that Hornbeam is relatively rare in hedges. He states in Chapter 14 that "in a few places hornbeam grows in ancient hedges, particularly in the Harleston [Norfolk] hornbeam area". Interestingly, in the recent Flora of Suffolk (Sanford & Fisk, 2010), the authors suggest that in that county, hedges with Hornbeam are often the remaining "ghostly" edges of long grubbed out woods. Suggestively, this hedge was accompanied by a ditch, a common boundary marker of ancient woodlands.
Hornbeam was only occasional to rare in the hedges of this site near Watton, but the glorious, fresh, colours of the leaves, coupled with the twisted, degrading bases, was a real treat.