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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

Further stated that numberless encroachments


The

attention of Parliament was directed at this time to the best means of increasing the supply of timber to the Royal dockyards. A committee formed for investigating the matter produced the clearest evidence of decrease of navy timber throughout the kingdom, to the extent of at least two-thirds within the last forty years, according to the experience of thirty different dealers. The annual amount of such timber supplied from Dean Forest is stated to have averaged at this time about 2,000 loads. Probably the most correct view of the disposition of the woods, plantations, &c., and of the district in general, is afforded by Mr. Taylor's map of the county of Gloucester, published in 1777. It indicates the enclosures formed since the beginning of the century, as well as a considerable extent of woodland; indeed we know, from the return made to a Parliamentary survey taken in 1783, that the Forest contained 90,382 oak-trees, amounting to 95,043 loads, besides 17,982 beech-trees, in which were 16,492 loads; to protect which more effectually, Mr. Pitt instituted the place of "watch-man," attaching to it a dwelling-house on Oaken Hill, and a small quantity of land, with a salary of 10 pounds, and any fines or rewards obtained on the conviction of timber stealers.

Very mischievous devastations and encroachments were nevertheless still continued. For instance, Mr. Slade, the purveyor to the navy, stated to the Treasury, that "he had discovered and was

informed of most shameful depredations of the oak timber, which was cut every day by persons living round the Forest; and that for some years it had been the custom to steal the body of the tree in the night, and cut it into cooper's wares, leaving the top part on the spot, which the keepers took as their perquisite; and that whole trees were conveyed every spring tide to Bristol; and that when he was at Gatcomb, in one day there were five or six teams came with timber, planks, and knees, winter-felled, and other timber, among which were several useful pieces for ships of fifty and sixty-four guns." It was also stated by Mr. Pitt, the Surveyor-General, that "everything in his power had been done to put a stop to them, but that the offenders had become so desperate and daring as to bid defiance to his deputies, and render every attempt of his in a summary way totally ineffectual," adding that, "not long before, a number of persons in disguise had openly cut down two large timber-trees at Yorkley, in Dean Forest, and wounded several keepers who attempted to oppose them." Mr. Colchester likewise informed the Government that "the greatest part of the fine timber this Forest has been so famous for has been cut down, and the large and extensive tract of land formerly covered with the noblest timber is now become a barren waste and heath."

Mr. Thomas Blunt, the deputy-surveyor, also reports, in allusion to this period, that, "having formerly pulled down and destroyed many cottages, fences, and enclosures, he had latterly been obliged to desist, fearing his life and property were endangered by the repeated threats and insults of the encroachers and their party." He adds that "about 1000 loads of oak timber were annually being felled for the use of the miners, of which at least one-fifth part was fit for naval purposes; and that the great waste, spoil, and destruction of timber and wood on the Forest is and hath been occasioned by an improper application of the timber delivered to the miners for the use of their works, one-half of which would have been more than sufficient, for that he had frequently seized large quantities of offal timber, and such other timber as the miners could not use in their works; and in particular that on or about the 28th of January, 1783, he seized and took 586 feet of oak-timber, and more than 200 cleft pieces of oak, called kibbles, from one George Martin, who acknowledged that they had been stolen. He had also seized at the Fire-Engine in the Forest between two and three waggonloads of timber, hewn up and converted by the colliers into cooper's wares for market, as the neighbourhood, being a great cinder country, would require." Joseph Pyrke, Esq., a verderer and deputy-constable, further stated that "numberless encroachments, enclosing one, two, or three acres, were taken in for gardens by the idle poor, and also by people in good circumstances," and that "nothing short of a capital offence would ever preserve the remaining timber."


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