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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

Before Richard Machen and William James


[Picture: Court Room in "the Speech House."]

In the Commissioners' Report of 1788 it is said that about this time (1712) the Forest was probably in its best state, although its courts had not been so regularly held since the Revolution as before, yet that the greatest attention had been given to it by the different authorities under the Crown. And as the commissioners deplore the unfavourable change which had subsequently taken place, we may contrast the state into which the Forest had then fallen, with its present condition, so much more hopeful and lucrative than it had been at that the brightest period of its past history. There are no public documents relating to this Forest to be met with for many years from this time; indeed it is hardly ever mentioned in the book of the Surveyor-General of the Crown lands, which only contained warrants for felling timber for the navy or for sale. The produce was for the most part directed to be applied to the repairing of lodges, roads, or fences, or the payment of salaries to officers, or fee-gifts from the Crown. The proceedings of the Court of the Miners, on the contrary, remain recorded, and serve to fill up the interval. They show that one was held at the Speech-house on the 7th of January, 1717, before Richard Machen and William James, Esqrs., deputies.

By it a 6d. levy was made on every miner, and on every working horse, towards meeting

any law expenses which the Society of Miners might incur in defending their rights; and should more money be required, authorizing a jury of only twelve miners, with the consent of the two deputy-constables, to order the paying of the same. It further imposed a fine of upwards of 30 pounds on any miner who should sue another respecting any matter relating to the mine in any other court. It also constituted the Honourable Matthew Ducie Morton, Thomas Gage, John Wyndham, Richard Machen, William James, and Christopher Bond, Esqrs., free miners, "out of the due and great respect, honour, and esteem borne towards them." We need not call in question the truthfulness of such protestations; but doubtless, had these worthy miners perceived the inconsistency of such admissions, they would not have so readily dispensed with the ancient regulation which restricted the fellowship of the mine to those who had worked therein. They were well intended at the time, but long afterwards weakened in a legal point of view the free miners' rights. This "Order" exhibits only eleven original signatures, the thirty-seven other jurymen making their marks.

Only two years intervened between the holding of the Court just mentioned, and the one which followed it, held at the Speech House, on 10th November, 1719, before Richard Machen and William James, Esqrs., Deputies.

On this occasion certain previous orders were cancelled, and in their stead it was determined that no one living out of the Hundred of St. Briavel's should convey any coal out of the Forest unless he belonged to the Forest division of the county, and carried for his own private use. A penalty of 5 pounds was imposed upon any person under twenty-one years of age carrying ore or coal. All traffic in coal, either up or down the Wye, was to stop at Welch Bicknor, between which and Monmouth Bridge no coal was to be pitched. At Monmouth, fire-coal was to be sold at 9s. the dozen bushels; smith's-coal at 8s.; and lime-coal at 5s. 6d. Above Lydbrook, on the Wye, fire-coal was to be sold at 8s. a ton, or the dozen barrels; smith's-coal at 6s.; and lime-coal at 3s. One free miner was not to sell any fire-coal to another under 5s. per ton of 21 cwt. Roynon Jones and Edmund Probyn, Esqrs., were made free miners. Lastly, any former orders in private hands, together with all writings relating to the Free-miners' Court, were to be delivered to William James, Esq., to be kept in the said miners' chest, at the Speech-house. Perhaps this direction was, with few exceptions, complied with, not, it would seem, in every case, as several of those alluded to in the existing orders of the forty-eight cannot be found. Nineteen signatures made by the parties themselves occur at the end of this Order; the rest are only marks.


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