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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

The gaveller considers himself obliged to give


"In days of old 'twas here and there a cot, Of architecture they'd little knowledge got; None but a few free miners then lived here, Who thought no harm to catch a good fat deer, Or steal an oak--it was their chief delight. Old foresters, I'm told, did think 'twas right To steal an oak, and bear it clean away; But caught, the jail a twelvemonth and a day It was their doom, or else must pay a fine, The which to do they did not much incline.

* * * * *

"But noble miners there have been, I ken, By their old works, stout, able-bodied men; They'd not the knowledge then that now they've got, To work by steam--hand-labour was their lot. But I am told that many ages back A foreign army did our land invade, And blood and carnage then was all the trade; They pitched their tents, and then without delay They waited anxious for the bloody fray; But our bold miners underneath did get, And many a ton of powder there did set; So up they blew the unsuspecting foe, Their shattered limbs came rattling down below. Our land thus cleared, our liberty thus saved, Our noble miners dug the caitiffs' grave. The King with honour did them so regard, Made them free miners as a just reward; The Forest Charter to them granted was, And firm and sure were made the Forest laws. In former times

they gloried in the name, But now the foreigners have got the game.

* * * * *

"The Forest now is numerous got of late, Since moneyed men come here to speculate Where once a little turfen hut did stand, You'll see a noble house and piece of land. Deeper the pits than any here before, The lowest vein of coal for to explore. They were but shallow pits in days of old, They'd not the knowledge then, as I am told; But though there was not then great learning's store, It was much better for the labouring poor; Men loved their masters--masters loved their men, But those good times we ne'er shall see again."

A mining population is generally found to have peculiar customs and privileges of its own, and such is more especially the case with the free miners of the Forest of Dean, who have had hitherto their own Court of Justice, with the exclusive occupation of the district, and the sole control of its mineral wealth. Their claims are thus specified by the Dean Forest Commissioners:--"Every free miner duly qualified by birth from a free father in the hundred of St. Briavel's and abiding therein, having worked in the mines a year and a day, claims the right to demand of the King's gaveller a 'gale,' that is a spot of ground chosen by himself for sinking a mine, and this, provided it does not interfere with the works of any other mine, the gaveller considers himself obliged to give, receiving a fee of five shillings, and inserting the name of the free miner in the gale-book. The gaveller goes to the spot selected with the free miner making the application, and gives him possession with the following ceremonies:--The gaveller cuts a stick, and, asking the party how many verns or partners he has, cuts a notch for every partner, and one for the King. A turf is then cut, and the stick forked down by two other sticks, the turf put over it, and the party galing the work is then considered to be put in full possession. The free miner, having thus obtained possession, is compelled to proceed with the work by working one day in the following year and day, and a day in each subsequent year and day (forfeiting the gale if he fails so to work), and to pay an annual sum of two guineas to the gaveller for each vein of coal he intends to work, till he gets at the coal, after which he agrees with him for the amount of the composition to be paid to the King in lieu of his fifth, which, in case of their not agreeing, must be taken in kind by the King's putting in a fifth man. The right to the gale is considered by the free miner to carry with it that of timber for the use of the works; this seems to extend no farther than to the offal and soft wood; and the mode of obtaining it is for the miner to apply to the keeper of the walk in which his mine is situated for an order, which he takes to the clerk of the Swainmote Court, who, on receiving a fee of one shilling, as a matter of course gives him another order directed to the keeper of the walk in which there is timber fit for the purpose," in the following form:--


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