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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

The moiety of all cord wood of stolen timber


We

obtain information on the subject of pit-timber from Mr. Hartland's evidence before the Parliamentary Commissioners. He says that "the sorts of wood or timber delivered to the miners were oak and beech, and none other; chiefly oak in the summer, more pits being sunk in the summer than in the winter, and the keepers having the bark; more beech is allowed in the winter than oak. But oak timber is necessary, and is always allowed, for sinking the pits, and for making what the miners call the gateway, or gangway, from the body of coal to the pit, and also for the gutters in the levels, for draining off the water; but beech, birch, orle, holly, or any other kind of wood, would serve for the purpose of getting coal, and supporting the earth after the coal is taken away, but none is ever delivered to them but oak and beech." He goes on to say that "the evil of the colliers misapplying the timber served to them by the keepers could only be remedied by refusing it for the future to such parties as had been detected therein. Fining them was found impracticable, owing to the difficulty of proving the timber to have been the King's, without which proof the justices could hardly act."

Rewards of 20 pounds, and in gross cases of 50 pounds, were offered to any persons making a discovery whereby any of the offenders should be convicted; but without much effect, for the sufficient reason, as stated in the official report of 1788, that the resident officers

derived advantages from the continuance of the abuse. Thus the Deputy-Surveyor took as perquisites the tops of all timber rejected by the navy, as well as of all stolen timber; all trees found felled by wood-stealers; one moiety of the cord-wood made from the offal-wood of timber delivered to the miners, and of stolen timber, besides from four pence to six pence for every tree felled for the use of the miners; whereby his salary was raised from 50 to 500 pounds a year. It was much the same with the six keepers, who received one shilling on every order for delivery of timber to the miners or colliers; the moiety of all offal-wood of timber cut for the miners; the moiety of all cord-wood of stolen timber; all lengths or pieces of trespass, and the bark of timber delivered to the miners, stolen timber called kibbles, and of all stolen timber found within their respective walks, by means of which their stipends were increased 100 pounds a year each.

Mr. Miles Hartland, the assistant-deputy-surveyor, in his examination, on the 15th of May, 1788, before the Dean Forest Commissioners, also stated that "he believed the cottages and encroachments in the Forest have nearly doubled within the last forty years. The persons who inhabit the cottages are chiefly poor labouring people who are induced to seek habitations in the Forest for the advantages of living rent free, and having the benefit of pasturage for a cow or a few sheep, and of keeping pigs in the woods; but many encroachments have been made by people of substance. The cattle of the cottagers are impounded when the Forest is driven by the keepers, as all other cattle are; and when the owners take them from the pound, paying the usual fees to the keepers, they turn them again into the Forest, having no other means of maintaining them. The greater number of the cottagers are from the neighbouring parishes; but there are also a great many from Wales, and from various parts of England, remote from the Forest. They are detrimental to the Forest by cutting wood for fuel, and for building huts, and making fences to the patches which they enclose from the Forest; by keeping pigs, sheep, &c., in the Forest all the year, and by stealing timber."


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