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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

The new Act of 1668 was soon brought into operation


The new Act of 1668 was soon brought into operation. Immediately after it had passed, upwards of 8,487 acres of open land were enclosed and planted, the remaining 2,513 acres being taken in some time afterwards. The following statement of Mr. Agar, then surveyor of the woods, shows that the cost of making the enclosures was raised as the Act directed. He said that he "received several sums of money by the sale of cordwood to Mr. Foley and divers others, and of the timber that did happen to arise out of the old oaks and beeches felled for the cordwood and other uses, and of wood that I _sold_ to the colliers for their pits, in the whole amounting to 5 pounds,125 8s. 9.25d., which money was expended in buying Cannope, &c., of Banistree Maynard, Esq., at 1,500 pounds; in setting up his Majesty's Enclosures in the said Forest, of 8,400 acres, with gates, stiles, &c., and some reparations of them; in employing a sworn surveyor to admeasure them; in building part of the Speech House; in divers repairs at Saint Briavel's Castle; in the charge of executing two several commissions, and other services in the said Forest."

In allusion to the item of timber _sold_ to the colliers, the commissioners, in their report of 1788, remark:--"Immediately after the passing of the Act of 1668, the colliers, who, it is said, now pretend to have a right to whatever timber they find necessary for carrying on their works in the Forest, without paying anything for it, then purchased it from the Crown." It seems also that "the Speech House" was then commenced, although it was not finished until 1682.

The _second_ existing Order of the Mine Law Court states that it met in 1674, on the 9th March, at Clowerwall, before Sir George Probert, deputy constable of St. Briavel's Castle, chiefly with the design of raising a fund for defending in a legal way the rights of the free miners, and affording them support when injured at their work.

To these ends a payment of 6d. per quarter was levied upon each miner, digging for or carrying mineral, if fifteen years of age, as also upon every horse so used, payable within fourteen days, under a fine of 2s. Six collectors were to receive the above payments, to be remunerated at the rate of 1s. per quarter for each pound they gathered. Twice a year they handed in their accounts, under a penalty of 5 pounds, and perpetual exclusion from any office of trust, if such were found defective. It appears therefore that the free miners valued their rights, and not only took thought for the morrow, but provided for it. They added a proviso that the servants of the Deputy Constable should have the benefit of always being supplied first at the pits, showing that they knew something also of public diplomacy. This "Order" has the names of forty-eight miners attached, all severally sealed, but written in one hand.

In this year also (1674) it was suggested that if the King would put the old iron-works of the Forest in repair, and also build one furnace and two forges, all which might be done for 1,000 pounds, a clear profit of 2,190 pounds could be made upon every 8,000 long and short cords of wood, of which the Forest was in a condition to supply a vast quantity. This proposal was nevertheless not acted upon, it being judged desirable rather to pull down the old iron-works than erect new, lest the waste in supplying the necessary quantities of wood should ultimately prove destructive to the Forest, now in a flourishing condition. Accordingly the iron-works then standing were ordered to be pulled down, and the materials sold. The greatest attention is admitted by the commissioners of 1788, who examined the office papers relating to this period, to have been given by the then Ministers of State, by Sir Charles Harbord, surveyor-general of the Crown lands, and by his son and successor Mr. William Harbord, to the protection of the young wood and the enclosures; and they affirm that "it is chiefly in those parts of the Forest which were then enclosed that the timber with which the dockyards have been since furnished from this Forest has been felled, and in which any considerable quantity of useful timber may now be found."


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