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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

And turn their cow into Cockshoots Enclosure

CHAPTER VII. A.D. 1831-1841.

Riots--Sessions of the Dean Forest Commissioners relative to St. Briavel's Court--Free miners' claims--Foreigners' petition--State of the woods--Perambulation--Rights of Commonage--Relief of the poor--Free miners' petition--Parochial divisions--Fourth and Fifth Reports of the Dean Forest Commissioners--Acts of 1838 and 1842--Award of the coal and iron mines--Enclosures thrown open, and new ones formed--Provision for the poor--Mr. Machen's memoranda.

The year 1831 is chiefly remarkable for the riotous destruction committed on the fences and banks of the enclosures, recorded by Mr. Machen as follows:--"In May, 1831, several of the single trees planted near Parkend, and on Breem's Eaves, were wilfully cut off in the night, and no discovery was made of the offenders. In the end of May a part of the wall of Oaken Hill Enclosure was thrown down in the night. When the workmen were rebuilding it, some of the colliers passing by threw out hints that it would not stand long, and in one or two instances horses and cattle were turned into the enclosures, and the woodmen were told that they had been shut up long enough, and they ought to be thrown open. The gates of several plantations had been broken in the night. On Sunday the 5th of June I saw Henry and Richard Dobbes pull away the bushes out of a gateway, and turn their cow into Cockshoots Enclosure, and when I went and expostulated with them they said they had been deprived of their rights long enough. Warren James had for some time been urging others to join him in the recovery of their rights, which they considered to be usurped by foreigners, in whose hands the principal coal-works of the Forest are, by purchase or lease from free miners; and on the 3rd June he had a hand-bill printed, calling upon all persons to meet and clear the Forest on Wednesday June 8th. I spoke to him on the 5th, and told him in the presence of numbers the folly and danger of his proceedings; but he paid no attention, and said the Forest was given up to them in Parliament the year before; that he had a charter, which he would bring and show me. I published a notice, warning all persons not to join an unlawful assembly, and on Tuesday the 7th Mr. Ducarel and I issued a warrant to apprehend him; but it could not be executed. We swore in a number of special constables, and with the woodmen mustered about forty at the scene of action where they were to begin; but the rioters mustered nearly 200, with axes, &c., and began their work of destruction about 7 o'clock, and we found it useless to attempt to stop them. They were soon joined by others, and supplied with cider, and continued their work Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, in which time they destroyed nearly one-third of the fences in the Forest, the reparation of which cost about 1,500 pounds. On Sunday military arrived, and they all dispersed. Warren James was apprehended and sentenced to transportation for life, and seven or eight others to different periods of imprisonment from one month to two years. {111} Those who escaped suffered by lying in the woods and concealed where they could, and I believe all now repent and see the folly of their conduct. I suppose altogether nearly 2,000, including children, were employed in the work of devastation. None of the trees in the enclosures were injured, and where the cattle and sheep that were let in had eaten the grass in the drives and open places, they went back into the unenclosed Forest, and would not remain amongst the trees. In 1838 a pardon was sent out to Warren James, but he is not yet come home (June, 1839), and he has not written to any one. (1848: nothing heard of or from Warren James.")

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