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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

In her poem on the Forest of Dean


_Yet

to be found on the rolls_--Preeste, Smith, Addis, Burt, Hopkine, Tyler, Roberts, Parsons.

Similar traces of Saxon or Norman influence appear in the words Staunton, Newnham, Newland, Ayleford, Coleford, &c.; those of a Norman stamp being apparent in St. Briavel's, Ruerdean (_i.e._ riviere Dean), Lea, Coverham (Covert), &c., or in the family names of Baldwin, Waldwin, Chivers, &c. To which may be added the circumstance that in most of the ancient churches adjoining the Forest there are portions of Early Norman, viz., Newnham, Staunton, English Bicknor, Ruerdean, Woolaston, St. Briavel's, &c.

Assuming that "the customs and franchises" of the miners of the Forest were first granted to the inhabitants by William I., they certainly show, for that early period, a highly creditable appreciation of justice, order, and right feeling. Their skill in the use of the bow, and in excavating the soil, is proved by the attendance demanded of them at various sieges during the first half of the 14th century; but their outrageous interruption of vessels navigating the Severn in the reign of Henry VI., and in one instance even so late as in that of George III., illustrates the common truth that "every field has its tares." Probably the troubles of the Great Rebellion would have little affected them, had they been left to themselves, their warmth of feeling being chiefly manifested when they apprehended danger to their "customs

and franchises:"--hence Dr. Parsons's character of them:--"The inhabitants are some of them a sort of robustic wild people, that must be civilized by good discipline and government." Such was no doubt their state and condition 150 years ago. In 1808 they were described as "not very orderly;" in 1810 as being in a condition "nearly as wretched as anything now existing in Ireland," and as "exceedingly excitable," prone to make unlimited demands in opening and carrying on their works, destroying the timber for such purposes, so as ultimately to leave hardly a tithe for the supply of the Royal dockyards, perpetually at strife amongst themselves, so jealous of any "foreigners" coming into the Forest as to deter most persons, and highly suspicious of any efforts to improve the property of the Crown, even when intended for their personal good, repeatedly destroying the new plantations, and terrifying the adjoining districts by forming riotous mobs. Yet the Chartists from Newport and places adjacent, in 1840, met with no sympathy from the Foresters, who drove their delegates away.

Happily for all parties these evils have almost entirely disappeared, through the good success which Providence has vouchsafed to the late judicious laws for regulating the mines, settling the relief of the poor, and establishing churches and schools in every part of the Forest. The former state of things was in fact the effect of the exclusive and protective rights, with corresponding usages, of which the well-meaning but short-sighted inhabitants thought so much; and hence their Magna Charta, as they were wont to call their book of "Dennis," was rather a mischief than a benefit. Their general feelings are characteristically described in the following lines from the pen of worthy Kitty Drew, the self-taught Forest poetess, in her poem on the Forest of Dean, dated 1835:--


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