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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

Before Sir Baynham Throckmorton


over an interval of three years, we come to the date of the _third_ of the Mine Law Courts, held on the 8th September, 1678, at "Clowerwall," before Sir Baynham Throckmorton, &c., whose favour it shows the free-miners were most anxious to preserve, since, upon understanding that the former order of 1668, forbidding any foreigner to convey or deliver minerals, had proved prejudicial to him and his friends and tenants, they now revoked the same, allowing any foreigner to carry fire or lime coal for his own use; besides which, they constituted the Marquis of Worcester, the then Constable of St. Briavel's Castle, as well as Sir Baynham Throckmorton, his Deputy, "free miners to all intents and purposes."

This same Court decided that "the Winchester bushell, three of which were to make a barrell," should be the constant measure for "iron ore and coale," 4d. being the smallest price allowed to be taken for "a barrell of fire coale." Pits having become numerous, they decreed that "none should presume to sink a pit within 100 yards of one already made without the consent of the undertakers, under a penalty of 100 dozen of good fire coale" (which is the earliest regulation for protecting coal-works). Lastly, six "barganers" were to fix the price at which iron ore should be sold or carried to the different works. The names of forty-eight miners are appended to this "order," all written in the same hand opposite

their respective marks.

The importance of securing a supply of timber for the navy led to frequent Commissions of Inquiry, and the issue of Instructions, with respect to the royal forests. The Marquis of Worcester, Warden of Dean Forest, made a Return, on the 23rd of April, 1680, minutely describing the condition of the older trees, as well as of those planted ten years before, together with the state of the fences surrounding the new plantations. Parts of several of the enclosures are reported to have trees which were grown up out of the reach of cattle, and therefore fit to be thrown open, an equal quantity of waste land being enclosed instead, which was accordingly done by warrant, dated 21st July, 1680, not more than eleven years from the time they were taken in: consequently the young trees must have grown with rapidity, or else were left to take their chance very early. With the design as it would seem of making room for the new plantations, it is further stated that "there were remaining about 30 cabins, in several parts of the Forest, inhabited by about 100 poor people, and that they had taken care to demolish the said cabins, and the enclosures about them." It should be remarked that these poor people must not be classed with the "free miners" of the Forest, although "they had been born in it, and never lived elsewhere," but as "cabiners," who had to work seven years in the pits before they could become "free."

[Picture: The Speech House]

The _fourth_ Record of the Mine Law Court informs us that it sat before Sir Baynham Throckmorton on the 27th April, 1680, at the Speech House, yet barely completed, unless it were the spacious Court-room, devoted to the public business of the Forest, for which it has been used ever since. The "Order" then passed implies, that although the last Court had appointed six "bargainers" to deal with the difficult question of valuing the minerals offered for sale, inconvenience was yet experienced on this head.

It was therefore decreed that a dozen Winchester bushels of iron ore should be delivered at St. Wonnarth's furnace for 10s.; at Whitchurch, for 7s.; at Bishopswood, for 9s.; at Linton, for 9s.; at Longhope, for 9s.; at Flaxley, for 8s.; at Gunsmills (if rebuilt), for 7s.; at Blackney, for 6s.; at Lydney, for 6s.; at those in the Forest lately demolished (if rebuilt), for the same as before; at Redbrooke, for 4s. 6d.; at the Abbey, viz. Tintern, for 9s.; at Brockweare, for 6s. 6d.; at Redbrooke Passage, for 5s. 6d.; at Gunspill, for 7s. So also no house or smith's coal was to be delivered on the banks of the Wye, below Huntsam Ferry, for less than 8s. a dozen bushels, or for 4s. 6d. if only lime coal; and if above Huntsam, 3s. 6d., on a forfeiture of 100 dozen of good iron ore, the one half to his Majesty, and the other to the miner that will sue for the same, together with loss of "freedom" and utter expulsion from the mine-works--a very heavy penalty for such an offence, showing the arbitrary power assumed by the court, at one time conferring free-minership upon strangers and foreigners, and at another deposing the free miner merely for an over or even an under charge.

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