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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

Or as to making the Forest parochial

The above disturbance shows that an unsettled state of feeling existed in the minds of the foresters with regard to certain supposed rights of free-common, and which prevailed also on other points, such as the nature and extent of the coal-gales, and the fact that the various works were fast passing from the hands of the native free miners into those of the foreigners; all which grievances a mischievous periodical called 'The Forester,' published at Newnham, set forth in an exaggerated and exciting manner. Under such circumstances the Act of 1831 (1 and 2 Gul. IV., c. 12), authorizing the appointment of Commissioners to investigate such complaints, was well timed. The Commissioners were instructed to ascertain the boundaries of the Forest and the encroachments thereon; to inquire into the rights and privileges claimed by free miners of the hundred of St. Briavel's, the constitution, powers, jurisdiction, and practice of the court held there, as well as respecting a court called "the Mine Law Court," and to report on the expediency of parochializing the Forest.

It appears from the annual Report of the Commissioners of Woods, &c., dated the 8th August, 1831, and signed by Lord Duncannon, Wm. Dacres Adams, and Henry Dawkins, that no new works were commenced this year, except the erection of a water-mill for grinding ochre, near Sowdley, arising probably from the unsettled condition of the district. It states, however, that the Crown had created an endowment of 30 pounds per annum towards keeping the three existing churches of the Forest in repair, the congregations using them being considered too poor to do so.

On the 21st January, 1832, the following gentlemen were appointed to act as Commissioners of Inquiry under the late Act:--

Robert Gordon, Esq., M.P., Kemble. Ebenezer Ludlow, Esq., Serjeant at Law. Charles Bathurst, Esq., Lydney Park. Edward Machen, Esq., Whitemead Park. Henry Clifford, Esq., Over Ross, Herefordshire. _Clerk_, Thomas Graham, Esq., Mitre Court, Temple. _Surveyor_, Mr. John Hosmer.

They held most of their sittings at the Bear Inn, in Newnham, although they also sat occasionally at Coleford, the Speech House, St. Briavel's, and Westbury. They were thus occupied most of the days in the months of February, March, April, and September, in hearing evidence "as to St. Briavel's Court and Prison," or "as to making the Forest parochial," or "as to the rights and privileges claimed by free miners," and "as to the rights to open or work quarries."

Of all these sections of inquiry, the only one which the Commissioners found they could at this time bring to a close was that having reference to St. Briavel's Court, respecting which it appeared in evidence that out of the 402 suits brought into it during the last twelve months, all but five were for debts mostly under 5 pounds, to recover which a charge of 6 or 7 pounds might be incurred.

The prison attached to the Court is thus described:--"There is only one window, which is 1 foot wide, and in a recess. It does not open. The size of the room is 16.5 feet by 17.5 feet; 13 feet high; three corners cut off. In one corner is the doorway, 2.5 feet broad, but no door, leading into the passage about 6 feet long, out of which the privy opens. There is a door at the outer end of the passage, and in it a hole which is considered necessary for air. The floor and ceiling are of wood, and in the former are several crevices and holes. There is a space between the ceiling of the parlour beneath and the floor of the prison-room above, which is so filled with fleas and dust that in summer time it cannot be got rid of by any cleanliness. The privy is a dark winding recess, about 6 feet from front to back, taken out of the solid castle walls. It leads to a hole going down to the bottom of the building, which is always inaccessible for cleaning, but which till six years ago had a drain from it into the moat; the air draws up through it into the passage and room. There is no water within the prisoners' liberty, and they are therefore obliged to get some person to fetch it for them. The Courtroom is in a bad state."

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