Edward Hunt's Forest of Dean Miscellany

Fact, Fiction and Fantasy

William Cobbett's Rural Rides

William Cobbett in The Forest of Dean

Wednesday 14th November 1826

Rode to the forest of Dean, up a very steep hill. The lanes here are between high banks, and on the sides of the hills the road is a rock, the water having long ago washed all the earth away. Pretty works are, I find, carried on here, as is the case in all the other public forests! Are these things always to be carried on in this way? Here is a domain of thirty thousand acres of the finest timber-land in the world, and with coal-mines endless! Is this worth nothing? Cannot each acre yield ten trees a year? Are not these trees worth a pound apiece? Is not the estate worth three or four hundred thousand pounds a year? And does it yield anything to the public, to whom it belongs? But it is useless to waste one’s breath in this way. We must have a reform of the Parliament: without it the whole thing will fall to pieces. —The only good purpose that these forests answer is that of furnishing a place of being to labourers’ families on their skirts; and here their cottages are very neat, and the people look hearty and well, just as they do round the forests in Hampshire. Every cottage has a pig or two. These graze in the forest, and, in the fall, eat acorns and beech-nuts and the seed of the ash; for these last, as well as the others, are very full of oil, and a pig that is put to his shifts will pick the seed very nicely out from the husks. Some of these foresters keep cows, and all of them have bits of ground, cribbed, of course, at different times, from the forest: and to what better use can the ground be put? I saw several wheat stubbles from 40 rods to 10 rods. I asked one man how much wheat he had from about 10 rods. He said more than two bushels. Here is bread for three weeks, or more perhaps; and a winter’s straw for the pig besides. Are these things nothing? The dead limbs and old roots of the forest give fuel; and how happy are these people, compared with the poor creatures about Great Bedwin and Cricklade, where they have neither land nor shelter, and where I saw the girls carrying home bean and wheat stubble for fuel! Those countries, always but badly furnished with fuel, the desolating and damnable system of paper-money, by sweeping away small homesteads, and laying ten farms into one, has literally stripped of all shelter for the labourer. A farmer, in such cases, has a whole domain in his hands, and this not only to the manifest injury of the public at large, but in open violation of positive law. The poor forger is hanged; but where is the prosecutor of the monopolizing farmer, though the law is as clear in the one case as in the other? But it required this infernal system to render every wholesome regulation nugatory; and to reduce to such abject misery a people famed in all ages for the goodness of their food and their dress. There is one farmer, in the North of Hampshire, who has nearly eight thousand acres of land in his hands; who grows fourteen hundred acres of wheat and two thousand acres of barley! He occupies what was formerly 40 farms! Is it any wonder that paupers increase? And is there not here cause enough for the increase of poor, without resorting to the doctrine of the barbarous and impious Malthus and his assistants, the feelosofers of the Edinburgh Review, those eulogists and understrappers of the Whig-Oligarchy? “This farmer has done nothing unlawful,” some one will say. I say he has; for there is a law to forbid him thus to monopolize land. But no matter; the laws, the management of the affairs of a nation, ought to be such as to prevent the existence of the temptation to such monopoly. And, even now, the evil ought to be remedied, and could be remedied, in the space of half a dozen years. The disappearance of the paper-money would do the thing in time; but this might be assisted by legislative measures. —In returning from the forest we were overtaken by my son, whom I had begged to come from London to see this beautiful country. On the road-side we saw two lazy-looking fellows, in long great-coats and bundles in their hands, going into a cottage. “What do you deal in?” said I, to one of them, who had not yet entered the house. “In the medical way,” said he. And I find that vagabonds of this description are seen all over the country with tea-licences in their pockets. They vend tea, drugs, and religious tracts. The first to bring the body into a debilitated state; the second to finish the corporeal part of the business; and the third to prepare the spirit for its separation from the clay! Never was a system so well calculated as the present to degrade, debase, and enslave a people! Law, and as if that were not sufficient, enormous subscriptions are made; everything that can be done is done to favour these perambulatory impostors in their depredations on the ignorant, while everything that can be done is done to prevent them from reading, or from hearing of, anything that has a tendency to give them rational notions, or to better their lot. However, all is not buried in ignorance. Down the deep and beautiful valley between Penyard Hill and the Hills on the side of the Forest of Dean, there runs a stream of water. On that stream of water there is a paper-mill. In that paper-mill there is a set of workmen. That set of workmen do, I am told, take the Register, and have taken it for years! It was to these good and sensible men, it is supposed, that the ringing of the bells of Weston church, upon my arrival, was to be ascribed; for nobody that I visited had any knowledge of the cause. What a subject for lamentation with corrupt hypocrites! That even on this secluded spot there should be a leaven of common-sense! No: all is not enveloped in brute ignorance yet, in spite of every artifice that hellish Corruption has been able to employ; in spite of all her menaces and all her brutalities and cruelties.

William Cobbett in Huntley

Huntley, between Gloucester and Ross - Tuesday 12th September 1826

From Stroud I came up to Pitchcomb, leaving Painswick on my right. From the lofty hill at Pitchcomb I looked down into that great flat and almost circular vale, of which the city of Gloucester is in the centre. To the left I saw the Severn, become a sort of arm of the sea; and before me I saw the hills that divide this county from Herefordshire and Worcestershire. The hill is a mile down. When down, you are amongst dairy-farms and orchards all the way to Gloucester, and this year the orchards, particularly those of pears, are greatly productive. I intended to sleep at Gloucester, as I had, when there, already come twenty-five miles, and as the fourteen, which remained for me to go in order to reach Bollitree, in Herefordshire, would make about nine more than either I or my horse had a taste for. But when I came to Gloucester I found that I should run a risk of having no bed if I did not bow very low and pay very high; for what should there be here but one of those scandalous and beastly fruits of the system called a “Music-Meeting!” Those who founded the Cathedrals never dreamed, I dare say, that they would have been put to such uses as this! They are, upon these occasions, made use of as Opera-Houses; and I am told that the money which is collected goes, in some shape or another, to the Clergy of the Church, or their widows, or children, or something. These assemblages of player-folks, half-rogues and half-fools, began with the small paper-money; and with it they will go. They are amongst the profligate pranks which idleness plays when fed by the sweat of a starving people. From this scene of prostitution and of pocket-picking I moved off with all convenient speed, but not before the ostler made me pay 9d. for merely letting my horse stand about ten minutes, and not before he had begun to abuse me for declining, though in a very polite manner, to make him a present in addition to the 9d. How he ended I do not know; for I soon set the noise of the shoes of my horse to answer him. I got to this village (Huntley - EH), about eight miles from Gloucester, by five o’clock: it is now half past seven, and I am going to bed (The Red Lion - EH) with an intention of getting to Bollitree (six miles only) early enough in the morning to catch my sons in bed if they play the sluggard.

The above text is from "Rural Rides"
By William Cobbett - 1830
(publisher: Penguin Classics)

Edward Hunt