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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

Once the habitation of the Forest cabiner


appears from the quickness with which they detect the bearings of any pecuniary transaction, and their proneness to litigation. Many superstitions, however, still linger amongst them, such as the use of charms and incantations, a belief in witchcraft and an evil eye, a resort to "wise men," and even to the minister of the parish as being a "Master of Arts," or for some of the offertory money, out of which to have a charm-ring made. They are likewise inclined to give credence to tales of apparitions, and to regard sickness and accident as fated and inevitable. From their having been for so many generations an isolated and peculiar people, most of them are ignorant of the rest of the world, and have of course a correspondingly exaggerated idea of their own importance. It is pleasing to observe the sympathy they manifest towards the sick amongst them, or such as have been accidentally injured; and although most independent in their notions, and impatient of control, they seem always thankful for real kindness. What they chiefly lack is more generosity and candour towards strangers, and a clearer understanding of their duties as protectors of the national property, in respect of the crops of timber which grow around them. {151} In most mining districts the moral habits of the people are more or less in a low state, and they are certainly not worse here than elsewhere. One source of evil arises from the large ablutions which their working underground necessitates. The process of washing on their return from the pit is not performed as privately as it might be, and the effect of this upon the moral perceptions of the people, huddled together in their small cottages, is very injurious. It is a pity some arrangement is not made for having washhouses at the pits, where a supply of hot water from the boilers might be easily obtained for the purpose.

One half of the Forest population is understood to be employed at the coal-works, a fourth part at those of iron, whose red dresses make them easily known, and the remaining portion are employed in the quarries and woods, &c.

Horses of a bad breed, donkeys, mules, cattle, sheep, pigs, and geese abound, owing to the free pasture afforded by the open Forest, the three former having been used for many generations in carrying iron-mine, coal, charcoal, &c. Farming operations are necessarily very limited. Cider obtained from the styre apple used to be a common beverage; but that fruit has long been extinct, and malt-liquor is now mostly preferred. Gardening is little attended to, the colliers generally feeling indisposed to further exertion after returning from the pit. In few instances only are bees kept. Formerly much of the wearing apparel was made from home-spun wool, woven or knitted in the neighbourhood; but this is not now the practice.

The turf-covered cabin, resting on four dry walls, without windows, and pierced only by a low door, with a very rude fireplace and chimney in "the pine end," and partially paved with rough stones, once the habitation of the Forest "cabiner," is now almost entirely superseded by two-floored cottages, often containing not less than four apartments. In bygone days a few neighbours, taking advantage of a moonlight night, accomplished the erection of a cabin ere the morning dawned, in which case it was supposed that the keepers had no power to pull it down. To show the eagerness with which poor families sought to establish themselves in the Forest, it may be mentioned that they took possession of the ancient mine-caves, walling up the back and front, leaving a vent for the smoke in the former, and in the latter a gap as an entrance.


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