Friday, November 30, 2018
Annals of Arboricide: Edward Drax Free
In March 1811 the College [St John's, Oxford] wrote to the Bishop of Lincoln enquiring whether he or his officials had given the Rector permission to cut down trees at Sutton. The Bishop replied that not only had no such application been received, but if it had been he would have appointed a person to ascertain whether there were any trees in a fit state to be cut down for 'useful and necessary repairs or improvement of the premises'. He emphasised that incumbents did not have the right to cut down and sell timber, using the purchase money to repair buildings. The timber itself had actually to be used on the premises. If Dr Free had been exceeding his powers, then the patrons must proceed against him as having committed 'waste', and he advised the College to take legal counsel on this.Hat tip: Eric Thomson, who writes:
No immediate action appears to have been taken by the College, until in June 1812 they received a request from a solicitor employed by Free, asking for the remaining £150 to be paid to him. Their reply was that the remainder would be handed over when the College surveyor had certified that the repairs and alterations were finished 'according to the Plan'.
In October 1812 Mr Hudson made his way to Sutton where 'Dr Free ... refused him admission into the House', so that the surveyor could not ascertain what repairs or improvements had been under-taken. He made enquiries in nearby Biggleswade, however, where he learnt that very little work had been done in the Rectory and that only a few fences around the glebe had been repaired. When Hudson was previously in Sutton, moreover, there had been a copse near the Rectory full of fine young timber. By 1812 most of this had been chopped down and taken away. The man who bought this timber from Dr Free admitted to the surveyor that 'they were the finest thriving Trees he had ever seen, and that it was a shame to cut them'. Hudson believed that there had been between two and three hundred oaks, elms, ashes and alders, worth about £20, and now only about a dozen of the smallest were left. In addition to this, Hudson thought that from twelve to fifteen large ash and fir trees, worth about £6o, had disappeared from the churchyard. Fifteen ash trees, taken from other parts of the glebe, were lying by the roadside waiting to be carted away.
He was killed by a cart as he was coming out of a tavern. So the words used of fifteen felled ash trees – 'by the roadside waiting to be carted away' – come full circle.
If we take OED free in senses III 18 a and b, I think we'd have to say it's an aptronym.
a. Acting without restriction or limitation; showing a lack of moderation in doing something.
b. free with (also †of): using without reserve or restraint.