Monday, October 25, 2010


The New Enclosure Acts

Patrick Hennessy and Rebecca Lefort, "Ministers plan huge sell-off of Britain's forests," The Telegraph (October 23, 2010):
Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, is expected to announce plans within days to dispose of about half of the 748,000 hectares of woodland overseen by the Forestry Commission by 2020.

The controversial decision will pave the way for a huge expansion in the number of Center Parcs-style holiday villages, golf courses, adventure sites and commercial logging operations throughout Britain as land is sold to private companies.

Legislation which currently governs the treatment of "ancient forests" such as the Forest of Dean and Sherwood Forest is likely to be changed giving private firms the right to cut down trees....

Oliver Rackham, The History of the Countryside (1986; rpt. London: Phoenix Press, 2000), p. 139: "Forests were hard hit by Enclosure Acts, which gave landowning parties the power to do what they pleased and expropriated the rights of commoners and the Crown....When a Forest was enclosed, its wood-pasture, heath, etc., passed to private owners who, with rare exceptions, instantly destroyed them."

Among the poetical remains of Francis Noel Clarke Mundy (1739-1815) are two poems about the pending and actual enclosure of Needwood Forest in Staffordshire, which started in 1801. The first poem, in five parts, was published in Needwood Forest (Litchfield: John Jackson, 1776), pp. 3-44. The fifth part (pp. 41-44, here with the author’s notes), deals with the planned deforestation (or disafforestation, as the British call it):
Whence, NEEDWOOD, that tremendous sound!—
—Low dying murmurs run around,
A deeper gloom the wood receives,
And horror shivers on the leaves,
Loud shrieks the hern, the raven croaks—
Destruction's arm arrests thy oaks!
Onward with giant strides he towers,
Dooms with dread voice thy withering bowers,
High o'er his head the broad axe wields,
Stamps with his iron foot, and shakes the fields!

When from her lawless rocks and sands
Arabia pours her ruffian bands,
The village hinds in wild distress
Around some holy hermit press
Orb within orb, their wrongs declare,
And ask his counsel and his prayer;
All white with age, inspir'd he stands,
And lifts to heaven his wrinkled hands!

Destruction’s arm, etc.] By order from the Dutchy Court of LANCASTER, to which the forest of NEEDWOOD belongs, the timber is now felling under the direction of an officer of that Court.

So seems the affrighted forest, drawn
In crowds around this lonely lawn:
High in the midst with many a frown
Huge SWILCAR shakes his tresses brown.
Out-spreads his bare arms to the skies,
The ruins of six centuries.
Deep groans pervade his rifted rind—
—He speaks his bitterness of mind.
“Your impious hands, barbarians, hold!
“Ye pause! but fir'd with lust of gold,
“Your leader lifts his axe, and like
“Accursed JULIUS, bids you strike.
“Deaf are the ruthless ears of gain,
“And youth and beauty plead in vain.
“—Loud groans the wood with thick'ning strokes!
“Yes, ye must perish, filial oaks!
“In heaps your wither'd trunks be laid,
“And wound the lawns, ye used to shade;
“Whilst Avarice on the naked pile
“Exulting casts a hideous smile.
“Strike here! on me exhaust your rage,
“Nor let false pity spare my age!

Huge SWILCAR, etc.] SWILCAR Oak stands singly upon a beautiful small lawn surrounded with extensive woods, —it is of remarkable size, and supposed to be six hundred years old.

Accursed JULIUS, etc.] CAESAR cuts down a consecrated grove. LUCAN, lib. 3.

“No pity dwells with sordid slaves;
“'Tis want of worth alone that saves.
“Yes, ye will leave me with disdain
“A mouldring land-mark on the plain,
“Where many a reign my trunk hath stood
“Proud father of the circling wood.
“In freedom's dearest days I grew,
“And HENRY'S jealous nobles knew;
“I saw them pierce the bounding game,
“And heard their horn announce the claim.
“No more, beneath my favorite shades
“The forest youth and village maid
“Shall meet to plight their troth, and mark
“Their loves memorial on my bark.

“Yet, yet, fond Hope, thy distant light
“Beams unexpected on my sight;
“Lo VERNON hastes, the common friend!
“The affrighted forest to defend;

In freedom’s dearest days, etc.] The charter of HEN. 3. confirms the privilege to Lords of parliament of killing a Deer or two in any of the royal forests in their way to or from parliament, in the presence of the keeper, or on blowing a horn in his absence. —‘tis about six hundred years since that king reigned.

Yet, yet, fond Hope, etc.] Upon the above order from the Dutchy Court, Ld. VERNON proposed an inclosure of some parts of the forest, for the preservation of the young timber, and the beauty of the place.

“Bids the keen axe the saplings spare,
“And makes posterity his care.
“Yes, Joy shall see these scenes renew'd,
“Shall wake his sister Gratitude,
“Shall call on lawns and hills and dells
“The silent echoes from their cells,
“Long trains of golden years proclaim,
“And NEEDWOOD ring with VERNON's name."

He ceas'd, and shook his hoary brow:
Glad murmurs fill the vale below,
The deer in gambols bound along,
The plighted birds resume their song.

Thrice-venerable Druid, hail!
O may thy sacred words prevail,
May NEEDWOOD'S oaks successive stand
The lasting wonder of the land!—
And may some powerful bard arise,
Tho' heaven to me that power denies,
The POPE or DENHAM of his days,
Whose lofty verse shall match their praise.
Deforestation proceeded apace after the act enclosing Needwood Forest in 1801. There is an eyewitness description in Sir Oswald Mosley, History of the Castle, Priory, and Town of Tutbury, in the County of Stafford (London: Simpkin and Marshall, 1832), pp. 303-304:
Upon Christmas day 1802, the forest was disafforested, and a scene of melancholy devastation rapidly ensued; the trees which had hitherto clothed it in all the rich luxuriance of unrestrained nature, were felled in every quarter with little regard to size, although the act provided that none should be cut down under six inches in girth. The coverts and underwood were quickly cleared away, and a dreary waste appeared on every side, deformed still more by naked trunks and lopped branches strewed in various directions, and relieved only by a few picturesque groups of charcoal burners and woodmen....Troops of idle peasants, now restrained no longer by the terrors of the law, chased the affrighted deer from their accustomed haunts, and destroyed them without mercy; some more fortunate than the rest escaped into adjacent parks, and intermingled with the herds already reared there; while a few were found during several subsequent years lurking in the woods of Foremark and other distant places, where the yells and shouts of their ruthless pursuers had driven them, but could no longer assail their ears.
Mundy penned another poem deploring the enclosure and its effects, in The Fall of Needwood (Derby: J. Drewry, 1808), pp. 3-36. The second poem is too long to quote in its entirety, but here are two excerpts, the first from p. 8, and the second from pp. 17-18:
'Twas Avarice with his harpy claws,
Great Victim! rent thy guardian laws;
Loos'd Uproar with his ruffian bands;
Bade Havoc show his crimson'd hands;
Grinn'd a coarse smile, as thy last deer
Dropp'd in thy lap a dying tear;
Exulted in his schemes accurst,
When thy pierc'd heart, abandon'd, burst;
And, glozing on the public good,
Insidious demon! suck'd thy blood.
Detested ever be that day,
Which left thee a defenceless prey!
May never sun its presence cheer!
O be it blotted from the year!


Region, where all delights were found,
How look'st thou now a burial ground!
With sad memorials, here and there,
Of what was noble, free, and fair.
King's standing, with a tortur'd frown,
Marks its own splendour overthrown.
Whate'er of wood or lawn could please,
Whate'er of hills that rang'd with ease,
In grand assemblage broad display'd,
This far commanding mount survey'd.
How chang'd! those oaks, that tower'd so high,
Dismember'd, stript, extended, lie;
On the stain'd turf their wrecks are pil'd,
Where thousand Summers bask'd and smil'd;
In smouldering heaps their limbs consume;
The dark smoke marks their casual tomb;
From blacken'd brakes, the choak'd winds toss
The ashes of the golden goss;
While great with power, yon Wretch derides
And boasts the mischief, which he guides.
Benjamin West (1738-1820), Woodcutters in Windsor Park


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