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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

How the colliers obtained these requisites


Nine years passed away before another full Mine Law Court is recorded. This was on the 12th November, 1728, by adjournment, at the Speech House, before Maynard Colchester, Esq., and William James, Gent.

The following gentlemen were made free miners:--Thomas Wyndham, of Clearwell; Maynard Colchester, of Westbury; William Hall Gage, son and heir to Lord Viscount Gage; William Jones, of Nass, Esqrs.; William Jones, of Soylewell, Gent.; Robert James, of the same place, Gent.; Thomas Wyndham the younger, of Clearwell, Gent.; Thomas Pyrke the younger, of Little Dean, Gent.; and William Lane, Deputy Clerk. A forfeit of 10 pounds was laid upon any miner who had received a "forbidment" from another, if he persisted in carrying on his work in that place. The distance of 300 yards, which, by a former order, made in 1692, protected every pit from interruption, was now enlarged to 500 yards in all levels in all parts of the mines called "beneath the wood," under the same penalty; and further, the giving away of coals was forbidden under a fine of 5 pounds. Twenty-two original signatures appear at the foot of this Order; the other names are merely marked.

The extension of the Forest coal-works, in depth and underground operations, as indicated by the enlargement of the protective distance, effected a corresponding change in the kind of timber required for propping the mine. That is, as the pressure from above increased, owing to the workings being carried deeper, stronger stays and supports were necessary than cordwood or saplings supplied. Nothing less than the stems and main limbs of timber trees would suffice. How the colliers obtained these requisites, the particulars given in the following complaint, made in 1735 by the Surveyor-General, show:--"A practice has prevailed among the colliers of boring large holes in trees that they may become dotard and decayed, and, as such, may be delivered to them gratis for the use of their collieries." The only notice, it cannot be called a remedy, which this evil obtained, was that, for the future, directions were given that "such bored trees as appeared to be dead and spoiled shall be felled, taking care that none be cut down that may be of use to the navy."

It is, however, further stated, that the colliers frequently obtained from the keepers the best trees in the Forest, although their claims merely extended to pit-timber. The existence of so serious an evil proves that many things were going wrong, and we are prepared for the representations made the next year (1736) to the Treasury by Christopher Bond, Esq., Conservator and Supervisor of the Forest. He reported that "after the Act of the 20th Charles II., 11,000 acres had been enclosed; that the officers were duly elected, Forest courts held, and offenders prosecuted and punished, to the successful rearing of a fine crop of wood; but that within the last 30 years these elections had been neglected, the Courts discontinued, and offenders left unpunished; the Officers of Inheritance had grown remiss and negligent, so that some enclosures, and those of only a few acres of the 11,000, were kept up, and these not carefully repaired; a great number of cottages were erected upon the borders of the Forest, the inhabitants whereof lived by rapine and theft; that there were besides many other offences committed, such as intercommuning of foreigners, surcharges of commoners, trespasses in the fence month and winter haining, and in the enclosures; keeping hogs, sheep, goats, and geese, being uncommonable animals, in the Forest; cutting and burning the nether vert, furze, and fern; gathering and taking away the crabs, acorns, and mast; and other purprestures and offences; carrying away such timber trees as were covertly cut down in the night time; by which practices several hundred fine oaks were yearly destroyed, and the growth of others prevented; and that it was feared that some of the inferior officers of the Forest, finding offenders to go on with impunity, were not only grown negligent, but also connived at, if not partook in, the spoil daily committed."


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