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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

Lord Treasurer Godolphin consented to this proposal


In the year 1705, Edward Wilcox, Esq., Surveyor-General to the Royal Forests, having carefully examined the condition of the woods in the Forest of Dean, stated that he found them very full of young trees, of which two thirds were beech, overtopping the oaks, to their injury; and he recommended that one sixteenth part, or about 700 acres, should be annually cleared and fenced in, which would yield a profit to the Crown of 3,500 pounds a year, and leave the standard oaks and beech to grow to perfection. Lord Treasurer Godolphin consented to this proposal, and granted a warrant for carrying it into execution; but it was petitioned against by those who claimed a right of common, whose free-pasturage would thereby be lessened; at the same time, however, others were desirous that it might take effect, as they would get a living by cutting the underwood, and preparing it for the furnaces. At length on the 4th of July, 1707, the Attorney-General, Sir Simon Harcourt, decided--that "no claim or right of common could prevent the enclosing, keeping in severalty, or improving, as her Majesty should direct, the 11,000 acres mentioned in the Act of 20 Charles II., and preserving the same as a nursery of wood and timber only."

Another event of this year was the holding a Court of Mine Law, on the 1st of July, at Mitcheldean, but afterwards by adjournment at Coleford, before George Bond and Roynon Jones, Esqrs., deputies.

It confirmed the directions of a former court of forty-eight, that the law-papers produced at the late suit in the Court of Exchequer, with all the other records of the Mine Law Court, be collected forthwith, and consigned to the care of Francis Wyndham, Esq.; and that the law debts then incurred be at length paid, out of a 1s. rate upon every miner and mine-horse. The 20s. penalty for leaving pits unfenced was also reimposed. This "Order" bears the genuine signatures of nineteen out of the forty-eight jurymen, the rest merely making their marks.

In the next year, A.D. 1708, Mr. Wilcox, the Surveyor-General, represented to Lord Godolphin that the inhabitants of the neighbourhood had been stripping some of the trees of their bark, whereupon those trees, with any others not likely to be of any use to the navy, were ordered to be cut down and used for gates, stiles, and fences, or sold for the benefit of the Crown. Three years later a similar charge was preferred against certain colliers for cutting trees and wood, but we do not find that it came to anything.

Sir Robert Atkyns, to whom this Forest was well known, describes its condition at this time, as "containing only six houses, which are the lodges for so many keepers. There had been many cottages erected, but they had been lately pulled down;" not that there were literally no other dwellings in it, for the ancient "assarted" lands were probably so occupied, but the mining population lived for the most part in the surrounding villages. Speaking of the different Forest courts, he says--"the Swainmote Court is to preserve the vert and venison, and is kept at the Speech-house, which is a large strong house, newly built in the middle of the Forest for that purpose. There is another court called the Miners' Court, which is directed by a steward appointed by the constable of the Forest, and by juries of miners, returned to judge between miner and miner, who have their particular laws and customs, to prevent their encroaching upon one another, and to encourage them to go on quietly in their labour in digging after coals and iron-ore, with which this Forest doth abound." The room in which most of these courts were held retains its original character, only it has been floored with wood, and is no longer divided by rails into compartments for the jury and the accused. Stains of human blood once marked the ceiling over the north-east corner of the apartment, said to have dropped down from the room above, where an unfortunate poacher, who had been much injured by a gun, was confined. It is asserted that for many years no water could remove nor whitewash hide the unsightly marks.


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