Edward Hunt's Forest of Dean Miscellany

Fact, Fiction and Fantasy

John Byng

The John Byng (1743-1813) was the son of a peer. He saw service in the army in the Seven Years' War before becoming a civil servant.

Although his life was spent in relative poverty, he eventually inherited the title of 5th Viscount Torrington but died within weeks.

He travelled Britain and kept a journal between 1781 and 1794.

Here are three excerpts from his diaries relating to the Forest of Dean:

On entering the forest (the New Forest- EH), a wood presents itself for the first mile, but not to compare with the timber and beauty of the Forest of Dean, which I visited last year and which exceeds everything I ever saw.

. . .

Poor Jock begins to flag, but he has behaved beyond my hopes; and this evening he harass'd himself on the scent of the hares in the forest (the New Forest - EH). I expected to have seen many deer in my ride of this evening but discover'd only four, and I also hoped to have found a-plenty of their flesh; but the waiter said it was very scarce, as being well watch'd: they tell a different story in the Forest of Dean, where a cut of venison pasty is always to be had.

. . .

The tide flows to Brockweir village, where were many small vessels on the stocks. As evening advanced, our stupor increas'd, nor did we rouse till we came in sight of Cheptow Castle and bridge, where we landed: when Mr Osborne, having heard me say that the tide sometimes rose here fifty feet, thought for truth's sake he might ask that question upon the spot, as he did again at the inn; and at both places received the same answer, sixty feet. So I stand, with him traveller of no exaggeration!

After entering our inn, Mr Osborn sent for his sub-collector at this port, Mr James, who supp'd with us and made his own punch; and whilst they conversed about vestry business, I finish'd part of this day's Tour; but not the whole of it till they had long left me. Mr James, tho' he brought a list of places worth our seeing, and a store of county knowledge, seem'd to know but a little way from his own door. He and Mr Osborn held one harangue about the increas'd price of provisions till I could bear no longer: "why then", said I, "do you advance your money on turnpikes and brag of your coaches? Plough up your roads, and this evil will cease!" On my enquiring of Mr James about harpers and morris dancers, he informed me that the latter yet existed in the Forest of Dean, whence they issued, as formerly, at Whitsuntide and, from what he could explain, in every ancient device (except that of the hobby horse), the Maid Marian and the Clown being preserv'd. As forests still retain, with their wild looks, some wild manners, these will probably extinguish at the sale of the Crown lands.

The above text is from Rides Round Britain by John Byng (publisher: Folio Society, 1996)

From the Torrington diaries: containing the tours through England and Wales of the Hon. John Byng (later fifth viscount Torrington) between the years 1781 and 1794

Edward Hunt