Title - History - 1189-1681

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A synopsis:


1189-1199
Richard I
Photograph of cattle in Longcross Pond
Cattle in Longcross Pond
A process of disafforestation (removing land from Forest Law) was begun to raise money for foreign activities. Richard demanded money for "assarts" - turning Forest into cultivated land by cutting forest wood and thickets, ploughing and cultivating the soil. He also sanctioned encroachments after payment of fines for unofficial assarts. He imposed very heavy fines - there was a far more rigorous enforcement of Forest Law.

"With horned cattle of course, the forest, like all other large wastes, abounds; and this is a source of great picturesque beauty.....We see them often in large herds; and in the summer, the season of landscape, they are drawn in numbers, to favorite spots, particularly about pools, and rivulets; where a choice may be made among the various combinations, and attitudes they form, of such as are the most beautiful and picturesque."
(William Gilpin, 1791)."

1199-1216
John
John disafforested some of his Forests within the country (Essex, Cornwall) but enlarged the boundaries of the New Forest. He was a frequent visitor - a keen hunter (principally with hawks).
1216-1272
Henry III
There were grievances at all levels of society against Forest Law - barons & peasants. Henry disafforested land that King John and Henry II had afforested. The Charter of the Forest in 1217 relaxed Forest Laws - there was no more death and mutilation for Forest offences.
Photograph of Church Place, Sloden
Church Place, Old Sloden.
Lit by the sun is a low, wasted embankment;
this is part of a small rectangular earthwork
in Sloden named Church Place.
The embankment is believed to be the eroded
enclosure embankment and ditch of a 14th
century royal hunting lodge. There are other
"Church" places within the Forest and
excavations have revealed small fragments of
Purbeck and Cornish slate tiles at these sites.
The lodge would have been a modest timber
frame and plaster structure for the
accommodation overnight of hunting parties.
It is known that Edward III gave instructions
in 1358 for 4 lodges to be constructed in
the Forest.
The earliest known formal perambulation (survey of the boundaries of land subjected to Forest Law) was undertaken in 1217-1218. Throughout the country, afforestations undertaken by Henry II were reviewed. Many areas in the country were returned to cultivation, but the poor soils of the New Forest led to retention as a hunting area under Forest Law.
There was a shift of emphasis from the deer to the vert (greenwood) and interference with the vert such as felling of saplings, lopping of boughs was dealt with vigorously by the Justices of the Forest. Some of the land around the New Forest was re-afforested - there were complaints against the rigours of Forest Law, and its administration.
1272-1307
Edward I
In 1278-1279, a perambulation of the Forest was made to address complaints against re-afforested boundaries - "the metes and bounds of the New Forest from the first time in which it was afforested". The perambulation was written, not mapped:

"...from thence as far as Christ Church bridge as the sea flows; from thence as the river Averne [Avon] as far as Moletone [Milton at Breamore], thence by the river Averne to North Chardeford and Sechemle [?] and so in length by one ditch which runs to Herdeberwe [?]."

At this time, the Forest extended from the River Avon to Southampton Water, and from the coast to the Wiltshire downs. Edward enforced Forest Laws with vigour.
1297 Under pressure of cultivation, the Forest boundaries were reduced, and a fresh perambulation undertaken.
1300 Further reductions in the Forest boundary - these boundaries remained until the 22nd year of the reign of Charles II. A perambulation was undertaken in 1300-1301.
1306 Ordinance of the Forest stated:

"the People of our Realm are by the Officers of our Forests, miserably oppressed, impoverished and troubled with many wrongs, being everywhere molested."

The excesses of the Forest officers - foresters, verderers, agisters - were controlled. Sworn juries were introduced for cases of trespass of the vert or venison.
1483 The demands for timber and underwood in the preceding decades and encroachments for cultivation placed the Forest under renewed threat. It was recognised that once trees such as hazel, ash and underwood were cut, the grazing of animals inhibited the growth of saplings. This led to an Encoppicement Act in 1483 to allow enclosure of cleared areas for 7 years, in order to keep animals out. The enclosures had a ditch and bank topped with palings. Thorns were planted on the inner aspect to exclude animals. This was not systematic timber production - it was aimed at preserving the underwood for domestic fuel and charcoal.
1537
Henry VIII
The "Orders and Rules of the New Forest" outlined the management of the Forest, and described common practices (currently formalised as Common Rights) and identified a hierarchy of officers in the Forest. It specified procedures for all types of activity within the Forest - including a Royal hunt:

"And if it shall please the Kings Majesty to hunt within the Forest, the Lord Warden may command his Rangers to Summon all the Country, as well within the Forest as upon the Borders of the Forest, to come unto a Place assigned to wait upon the Lieutenant and other Fosters to wendlas [windlass - intercept] the Deer, and to bring them to such places as the Kings Majesty may take his Pleasure, and the same People shall compass and stand in a Stable until such time as the hunting be done."

In practice, most hunting was undertaken by professional hunters.
1544 The "Statute of Woods" in this year was a management plan for coppices; this was the first formalisation of silviculture. The post of Deputy Surveyor was created - a post still extant.
1558-1603
Elizabeth I
In 1570, Elizabeth made the practice of "encoppicing" imperative in Royal Forests - a system of enclosures in which an area of growing trees (with seed for natural regeneration) was selected and then fenced to keep out the deer and stock. At a census of the enclosures ("encoppicements") - there were 5,800 acres encoppiced. To conserve supplies of timber (presumably for ship building), she passed a law to stop the felling of standing trees for charcoal (for iron smelting).
1603-1625
James I
By now the Forest system was considered to be anachronistic; it was principally a source of timber for the Navy. James aimed to restore the Forest legal and land management system as a source of income, and for hunting. He reclaimed assarts, and imposed heavy fines. He planted oak. However, he gave the privileges of windfall away. His officers applied to him for leave to pay troops with trees.
1608 J Norden's survey of coppices in the New Forest was published. Plans of 14 coppices were produced outlining the quality and quantity of underwood, value, rent etc.
Photograph of ponies near Ridley Wood
Ridley Wood in mist Ridley is a magnificent old wood,
mentioned in Norden's 17th century survey of coppices.
Coppices were leased to tenants for exploitation of
the underwood only. In 1571, the tenant of Ridley
Coppice was accused of pollarding 200 trees and
selling the cut wood, thus exceeding his rights. To
compound his crime, he also cut young oak to make
fences.

They were let to woodcutters who cut the underwoods and pollards, but not saplings. The irregular boundaries of the coppices can be traced on the ground today (particularly in Ridley Wood and Sloden). North and South Bentley Inclosure boundaries follow the line of the old coppice. Of Ridley, Norden said:

"There be manie younge sapline okes, which by noe means are to be cutt, for when the underwoodes are gone they will growe bigger and prove timber trees for future ages."

1611 The first mention of the demands of timber for the Navy - 1,800 oaks were supplied.
1625-1649
Charles I
Charles continued disafforestation in the kingdom; he leased Forests to raise money to support his foreign policy. The New Forest was in decline and evidently in a shameful condition.
1660-1685
Charles II
The decline continued. Charles gave woods away to those at Court. On a positive note, he did authorise a John Norton to enclose 300 acres in 1669 for young oak; the expense was defrayed by the selling of decayed wood. Charles was the last monarch to hunt in the Forest.
1670 The submission of claims for Common Rights - under Forest Law, possessors of Rights had to make periodic claims before the forest courts.
Photograph of  Sloden
Old Sloden.
Sloden was one of the coppices surveyed by
Norden in the 17th century. The coppice
comprised holly and blackthorn underwood
with oak and ash; the original coppice
embankment can still be traced on the ground.
Sloden was enclosed in 1775 for the planting of
timber trees, and thrown open some 50 years later.
It is a remarkable wood now comprising principally
oak and yew (the latter thought to have been
planted as nursery trees for the oak). Many of
the yew are dying. Old Sloden has a spirit unlike
any other wood in the Forest.
Last of the ancient Forest courts was held at Lyndhurst - The Forest Eyre - at which barons, earls, senior clergy and all who held land in tenure within the Forest had to attend.
A perambulation of the Forest was undertaken - the boundaries remained largely unchanged until 1963.

"....Sloden, with its thick wood of yews, standing, massive and black, in all their depth of foliage mixed, in loveliest contrast, with clumps of whitebeams" (John Wise, 1895)

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