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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

Henry Melborne and William Wolseley


This

"order" likewise informs us that the instructions given in 1674, to pull down the King's iron-works in the Forest, had been so thoroughly executed, that all the furnaces were ere this demolished, leaving such only to be supplied with ore as were situated beyond the Forest limits. These furnaces seem to have taken about 600 dozen bushels of ore at one time, during the delivery of which no second party was allowed to come in. It is signed by fourteen out of the forty-eight free miners in their own hands, which is so far an improvement; but if the iron trade was unpromising, owing to the course which the Government felt constrained to take, lest its development should endanger the timber, it was not so with the coal, the getting of which the Crown would obviously regard with favour, in the hope that it would relieve the woods from spoliation. Accordingly, we shall find that from about this period on through the next century coal-works were constantly on the increase, so as eventually to throw the getting of iron-ore into the shade. This last "order" cancelled an agreement passed by the Mine Law Court on the 9th of March, 1675, to the effect that a legal-defence fund be raised; but it confirmed the decree of a former court forbidding any young man to set up for himself as a free miner unless he was upwards of twenty-one years of age, and had served by indenture an apprenticeship of five years, and had also given a bond of ten pounds to obey all the orders of the said court.

style="text-align: justify;">One of the most minute of the various perambulations of this Forest dates from about this time, and serves to identify several spots, the early names of which have long passed away. On this occasion nineteen "regarders" went the rounds, preserving much the same course as the bounds of 28 Edward I.

The next, or _fifth_ session of the Mine Law Court was held at Clearwell, on the 19th of September, 1682, Henry Melborne and William Wolseley, Esqrs., acting as joint deputies for the Marquis of Worcester, constable of St. Briavel's Castle.

It confirmed, for the most part, the "orders" already issued, and further exacted the payment, within six days, of 6d. from every miner thirteen years of age and upwards, and an additional 6d. for every horse used in carrying mineral, "for raising a present sum of money for urgent occasions," and required all coal-pits which had been wrought out to be sufficiently secured. Only fourteen signatures are attached to this "order," the remaining thirty-four free miners making their "marks."

In the course of the next year, A.D. 1683, a scheme resembling that proposed ten years before was started by Sir John Erule, supervisor or conservator of the Forest. His project was to raise 5,390 pounds a year for the Crown, upon an outlay, in the first place, of no more than 1,000 pounds, to be spent in building iron-works, and an annual consumption of 8,000 cords of wood out of the Forest, care being taken that no oak or beech-tree, fit or likely to become fit for shipbuilding, be used. The Lords of the Treasury referred the plan to Mr. William Harbord and Mr. Agar, to be investigated and reported on. They rejected it however, as was done in the former case, and for the same reason, namely, that if carried out it would prove injurious to the woods and timber.

The _sixth_ order of the Court of Mine Law records that it assembled on the 8th of December, 1685, at Clearwell, before William Wolseley, Esq., deputy to the Duke of Beaufort, constable of St. Briavel's Castle.

Its principal design seems to have been that of confirming the former 6d. rate, and authorizing the same to be raised to 10s., if necessary, towards keeping up a fund for supporting the miners' claims at law, which of late they had been obliged to do in the Court of Exchequer against Mr. Beck and others. The order concludes with the following direction: "That one-half of the jury should be iron-miners, and the other half colliers," so rapidly had coal-mining advanced, and so important had its condition become. An examination of the original document shows this order to have been signed by one person writing down the names of the forty-eight free miners, since they all exhibit the same hand-writing.


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