New Forest & Hampshire County Show 2017

The ‘Heart of the Forest’ area of the New Forest Show is a great place to learn about the New Forest.

I recently attended the three-day New Forest & Hampshire County Show, where I spent a lot of time catching up with old friends and making new contacts. The organisers make every effort to maintain the show’s founding ethos, which was established after WW1, to support farming interests and encourage agricultural improvements by increasing the awareness and understanding of agriculture, breeding stock, forestry, equestrianism and horticulture to the widest possible audience. This emphasis has helped to maintain a large event that nevertheless retains a countryside focus and village atmosphere. I prefer to get to the show ground early, just as the traders are opening up their stalls, and leave when they are closing. This means that there is plenty of time to walk round and look at the cattle, pigs and sheep, talk to the livestock exhibitors about their animals, and watch the showing classes. My favourite part of the show ground is the ‘Heart of the Forest’ area, where the Verderers and Commoners Defence Association have a stand. There is always a warm welcome, lively conversation, plenty of laughs and, if you’re lucky, tasty refreshments to be had. It’s a great place to hear some of the old stories, learn about many of the Forest issues, and put faces to names.

Hedge tickets
All the New Forest related activities, such as the New Forest pony showing classes, are scheduled for the Wednesday, which harks back to the time when the show was a one-day event. Wednesday was early closing day in the district and by holding the show on this day organisers could expect a greater local attendance. In times past the show was held at Bartley Cross and entrance to the first show was charged at two shillings and four pence. The show was an immediate success, which eventually required it to move to the present, more accommodating location. Even from its earliest days, the show has been a popular local event and now attracts crowds from across the region. I got into conversation with one of the show organisers, an impressive-looking gentleman wearing a smart suit, Show Society tie, and bowler hat, who confessed to me that as a boy he used to cycle to the ground and enter on a ‘hedge ticket’, which involved gaining access via a suitable and unobserved hole in the fence. He wasn’t the only one. Many of the more senior patrons of the show – all now fine upstanding members of the community, I hasten to add – had similar stories to tell of how they had dodged paying for a ticket by one means or another, when they were children. I think it must have been a right of passage for a former generation – if you’ll excuse the pun. Security arrangements have improved vastly since then of course, but more than that; the New Forest Agricultural Show Society has been a registered charity since 1992, which means that by buying a ticket you are also supporting a very worthy cause. Dates for your diary: next year’s New Forest & Hampshire County Show will be held from Tuesday 24th July to Thursday 26th July 2018.

The New Forest & Hampshire County Show is now a popular regional event.

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New Forest: every day is a school day

Many varieties of grasses make up the meadow hay used for feeding the livestock over the winter.

The Londoners came to visit again this weekend. These are family members who live in our nation’s capital and, every now and then, when their busy social or work schedules allow, will leave the hectic pace of city-life, traffic jams, and air pollution behind and escape to the quiet of the country for a few days. As usual, the children, all pre-teenage, are keen to help around the smallholding or go off and explore the New Forest, to identify and count as many animal, bird and insect species as they can find. I’m taking advantage of their enthusiasm at this stage in their lives and trying to fill their eyes, hands, minds, and hearts with as much wonder and knowledge of the natural world, as I possibly can. In the New Forest, let’s face it; there is plenty of material to work with for encouraging the next generation of entomologists, ornithologists and botanists. I was also inspired by the New Forest Young Commoners and a backyard project that they have been developing, which I have tried to encourage my young visitors to copy. The lifestyle of the commoners means that they, like their ponies, generally stay in the same area, which they will know intimately. Turning out livestock onto the Open Forest, and checking them regularly, requires frequent visits to the haunts and shades where the animals dwell, and as a result the commoners will have a detailed knowledge of their part of the Forest, which will also include bird-nesting sites, rare plants, geological characteristics, and even stories of historical interest. The Young Commoners are aware of this boon and have been recording and charting the features in their own backyards, which encompass much of the Forest’s plant, insect and animal life, accumulating knowledge that they are able to share with others.

Every day is a school day
So, I have set my young visitors the task of collecting and identifying some of the vegetation around my own holding to get them to recognise and learn something about the natural wonders that can be found in one’s own backyard. Our explorations in the meadow have so far revealed some of the grasses that end up in the hay used to feed the livestock, such as sweet timothy, meadow fescue, and common couch; and an abundance of wild flowers in the hedgerows and copse, including wild chamomile, yellow pimpernel, and common sorrel. My young visitors love to see the woodpeckers, gold finches, and nuthatches that visit the bird feeders in the garden, but they are even more thrilled to hear or see the resident buzzards as they circle on the thermals above the paddocks. They certainly love to pet the field-kept ponies and play with the dogs, but to interact with wildlife seems to be much more thrilling. It is interesting how encouraging curiosity in the young can also provide opportunities to expand our own learning. As the old saying goes, “every day is a school day”, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have access to such an amazing class room as the New Forest.

The green woodpecker is a regular visitor to the garden.

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New Forest: ‘modern Vandalism’ in the C19th

In the nineteenth century the New Forest woods were prone to ‘modern Vandalism’.

In 1871 George Briscoe Eyre, the owner of the Bramshaw (or Warren’s) Estate, wrote that’ although a nation of tourists, the English are strangely apt to overlook the claims of their own country upon their attention and its exceptional variety of atmosphere, contour, and vegetation’.[1] He expressed no surprise, therefore, that a district like the New Forest should be comparatively little known, and its value to the nation in general, whether from an aesthetic or an economical point of view, be imperfectly recognised. Perhaps it was this ‘out of sight, out of mind’ state of affairs that had caused the Forest landscape during the mid-nineteenth century to lose several thousand acres, which were cleared, enclosed, and planted with soft woods, such as Scotch pine, at the sacrifice of some of its grandest old woods, and the wild picturesque beauty of whole districts.[2] In a policy described as ‘modern Vandalism’, Eyre describes how the old beech trees were felled and sold for firewood; the dimpled hollows, bared of their trees, were scored with parallel trenches; the winding streams straightened; and a dull monotony of fir plantation ‘will soon cover, with a not unkindly mantle, the last traces of ruined beauty’.[3] The surveyor, he believed, had undone the work of the artist, and replaced with hard outlines the soft irregularity of Nature.

Attempts to separate the commoners from the Forest
But the ancient landscape and ornamental trees were not the only features of the New Forest to be marked for destruction during this time. In December 1853, the Deputy Surveyor had written to the Chief Commissioners of Woods stating, ‘It appears to me to be important that the Crown should as soon as possible exercise its right of enclosing the 16,000 acres, because, exclusive of other advantages, by doing so all the best pasture would be taken from the commoners and the value of their rights of pasture would be materially diminished, which would be of importance to the Crown in the event of any such right being commuted.’[4] Later giving evidence before a Select Committee in 1875, Kenneth Howard, Commissioner of Woods, was asked about this policy and answered that rather than repudiating the statement in the letter he regretted that it had ever been made public. Indeed, he believed the sooner common rights were separated from the Forest the better.[5] While Briscoe Eyre believed that ‘the most intelligible and indisputable proof of the value of open spaces and common rights’ was the comparative absence of pauperism in the region.[6] The end of the nineteenth century represented a challenge to the Crown’s priorities for the New Forest.[7] Local and national campaigns to preserve the Forest, after the revelations of the Select Committee, culminated in the New Forest Act 1877, which laid the foundations for its contemporary management. Today commoning is recognised more for its contribution to the biodiversity of the New Forest landscape and its heritage value in sustaining traditional practices, which contribute towards a thriving tourist economy. Far from being ‘imperfectly recognised’ the New Forest is now the most visited National Park in the county. I wonder what Briscoe Eyre would think of that?

The practice of commoning, which has existed uninterrupted for over a thousand years, is still the dominant influence over the Forest’s ecology, economy and community.


[1] G. E Briscoe Eyre, ‘The New Forest: A Sketch’ in The Fortnightly Review, Volume. IX, January 1 to June 1, 1871 (London, 1871), p. 433.

[2] Ibid, p. 434.

[3] G. E Briscoe Eyre, The New Forest: Its Common Rights and Cottage Stock-Keeper (Lyndhurst, 1883), p. 12.

[4] Eyre, 1871, p. 447.

[5] Eyre, 1883, p. 30.

[6] G. E Briscoe Eyre, The New Forest: Its Common Rights and Cottage Stock-Keeper (Lyndhurst, 1883), p. 52.

[7] Victoria M. Edwards, ‘Rights Evolution and Contemporary Forest Activism in the New Forest, England’, in Thomas Sikor and Johannes Stahl (eds.), Forests and People: Property, Governance, and Human Rights (Abingdon, 2011), p. 135.

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New Forest: the sad story of the strange fish

The New Forest coastline is a valuable resource of important habitats and marine species.

While the New Forest is renown for its exquisite landscape of heathland, valley mires and Ancient and Ornamental woodlands, its 42km (26 miles) of coastal habitats are often overlooked. The New Forest coastline is a mixture of wildlife-rich shingle, saltmarsh, lagoons and mudflats, and has a strong maritime heritage.[1] With around 90% protected by some form of nature conservation designation, the New Forest coast is host to many important habitats and species.[2] Indeed, many of the marine species found in the coastal waters of the New Forest are among some of the most fascinating and seemingly exotic. I recently came across a disturbing news item from 200 years ago that made me wonder, if the incident reported had happened today what would have been the outcome?

Sighting of a ‘strange fish’
In 1798 a London magazine carried the story that a ‘fish’ of enormous size had been seen swimming in Southampton Water. Apparently, many fruitless attempts had been made to catch the creature; but when it swam into the River Itchen a soldier, Richard Evamy of the New Forest Rifle Light Dragoons, using his carbine, fired at it from a boat. The ball from the firearm, it was reported, went through eighteen inches of solid flesh in the fish’s side, causing it to dive into the water and disappear. The next day, however, the creature was discovered upon the mud, near the village of Marchwood, stranded by the outgoing tide. It was supposed that because of the great quantity of blood lost from the gunshot wound it was too exhausted to return to the water and escape its pursuers. In this vulnerable and weakened state three men in a boat approached and violently attacked it. They forced an iron crow bar down the creature’s throat, which caused it to lash its tail ‘to an astonishing height’ and the men narrowly escaped being crushed by the force of its tortured protestations. However, after repeated efforts with the iron bar the men eventually managed to kill it. When its struggles were ended they tied the animal’s body to the stern of their boat and hauled it away across the water to the village of Itchen. There it was identified as a whale ‘of the beaked or bottled-head species’, measuring some twenty-five feet (7.62 metres) in length and eighteen feet (5.49 metres) in girth. The magazine reported,

There is no division of head from the body, which is all in one; the eyes are remarkably small, and it has a snout like the beak of a bird; likewise two fins near the head, and two others towards the tail; the skin is very smooth, and of a beautiful lead colour, and the weight is supposed to be near six tons.

The men who had caught it, and were described as fishermen, exhibited the ‘uncommon natural curiosity’ to a large number of people who flocked in from the surrounding towns and villages, all wanting to see the strange fish. The men then sold the whale for a considerable sum to be made into oil which, it was believed, would have been plentiful, as the body was said to be fourteen inches (35.56 cm) thick with fat in many parts. When finally the whale’s carcass was taken away there were difficulties in moving it. Due to its enormous size, it was reported that the combined strength of eight horses and forty men could only drag it a distance of some forty yards. What an ignominious end for such a beautiful creature! I’m not entirely sure if the description of the creature was accurate because if the ‘strange fish’ was a bottlenose dolphin (Turnips truncatus) why didn’t the description mention the dorsal fin? (If anyone has any suggestions please let me know.) However, even today, visits from some cetacean species (whales, dolphins and porpoises) are not uncommon in the waters surrounding the Isle of Wight and stretches of the southern coast. Indeed, according to the Sea Watch Foundation the south of England is visited by species, such as harbour porpoises and bottlenose dolphins, which are associated with shallow continental seas as found within the English Channel. Hopefully though, any modern-day cetaceans meeting with humankind would receive a much kinder welcome.

Dolphins, porpoises and whales are known to visit the coastal waters of the New Forest.


[1] New Forest National Park Authority website, Beautiful Landscapes – Coastline:

[2] New Forest District Council website, New Forest Coastline:

News – True Briton (1793) (London, England), Thursday, September 20, 1798; Issue 1792. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

For more information:

About cetaceans in southern Britain visit: The Sea Watch Foundation.

For information about Marine Sightings visit: Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust

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New Forest: natural connections

The practice of commoning, which has existed uninterrupted for over a thousand years, is still the dominant influence over the Forest’s ecology, economy and community.

In the last few weeks it has been my absolute pleasure and privilege to be invited into the homes of several long-established commoning families and spend time in their company. Congregating in the kitchen seems to be the standard practice, where a never-ending supply of tea or coffee is served, often amongst a noisy confusion of adults, children and animals. A surreptitious glance around the room usually reveals a number of rosettes and trophies from local, county, or even national livestock or horse shows; and photos of children with beaming smiles, sat on their New Forest ponies – images often spanning several generations – are found on every surface. The evidence of a life lived close to livestock is usually present, provided in the form of stacked tubs of calf milk-formula or large sacks of farm animal feed in the porch; or coat racks that also contain pony bridles and head-collars, as well as the standard waterproof coats and hats. The life of a commoner is never dull and visitors can often find themselves roped in to help with chores, such as herding cattle into new pasture or holding ponies for the farrier, to earn their cuppa. When at last everyone is comfortably seated, with a mug in one hand and, perhaps, a biscuit or slice of cake in the other, everyone relaxes and the conversations become a mix of topical Forest issues, discussions about stock management, and general gossip.

Inter-generational exchanges
I find myself listening intently to the inter-generational exchanges of the commoners and realise that just being in such an atmosphere provides education by osmosis, where knowledge and information about commoning is imparted and assimilated through a gradual and unconscious process. Conversations about people who have lived in the New Forest are just as likely to include many of the animal residents too. Talks about who married who, how many children they had, and where they all lived, are mingled just as easily with discussions about pony pedigrees and stallion bloodlines. The management and conservation of the Forest is also a topic of conversation, as many of the commoners, particularly in former times, will have worked in agriculture or forestry and have an affinity with the landscape – much of which is passed down to the next generation. It never ceases to amaze me just how knowledgeable the young commoners can be about the ecology of the Forest. These are children who can identify and confidently explain about many of the trees, plants, insects and animals that live in their neighbourhoods. Commoning then, it seems to me, does so much more than preserve the ancient landscape through the use of traditional pastoral methods, such as depasturing livestock; it also keeps alive the practices of a close-knit community, maintains inter-generational ties, and monitors neighbourhoods that are home to non-human residents too. In a world filled with digital devices that enslave people to the Internet, it is comforting to know that such natural connections have not been lost.

The free-roaming New Forest ponies are an important part of the commoning community.

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New Forest: £5000 reward for finding ‘Hit & Run’ drivers

The Verderers Court sessions are open to the public each month – except August and December.

The Open Court sessions at the Verderers’ Court are a great way to learn about the Forest’s management and see one of its ancient institutions in action. Each month (except August and December) the public are welcome to attend and observe for themselves the administrative processes that protect the New Forest’s unique agricultural commoning practices; conserve its traditional landscape, wildlife and aesthetic character; and, safeguard a viable future for commoning. Members of the public can even make ‘presentments’ (formal statements of a matter to be dealt with pertaining to the New Forest), which the Court will later discuss and decide upon. One of the issues most regularly presented at Court are concerns about the numbers of commoning livestock killed or injured on the Forest roads. The free-roaming ponies, cattle, pigs and donkeys that belong to the commoners are a vital part of what makes the New Forest so special and the Verderers, along with many other organisations, are actively involved in supporting initiatives that attempt to reduce animal accidents in the New Forest. Therefore, the announcement at this month’s Court that the reward has been increased for information leading to the successful conviction of the driver (or drivers) found guilty of causing the death of or injury to Forest livestock as a result of a hit and run incident, was met with widespread approval. A cash injection, which was backdated to 1st January 2017, from the international charity Horse Welfare Trust, the Commoners’ Defence Association, the New Forest Pony Breeding and Cattle Society and the Verderers of the New Forest, has significantly enhanced the previous reward of £1000 to £5000.

Hits and run incidents
Hit and run incidents involving Forest stock are among the most heinous that occur on the Forest roads. Callous drivers who have been involved in a collision with the free-roaming stock have then driven off and not reported the incident, leaving the animal in agony and distress either with injuries requiring immediate veterinary attention or fatal injuries that would necessitate the animal to be put to sleep. Some of these animals run away in fear and panic, even on broken limbs, which makes the drivers falsely believe that the animal is unhurt and as a result the animal can suffer unnecessarily. It’s difficult to imagine how a person could be so cruel. On Wednesday 9th May, at about 7.30pm, for example, one of the Agisters was called to attend to an injured steer on the Linwood Road. On the way to the scene of the accident, the Agister found a pony with a broken leg. A witness had seen a white Audi hit the steer on the bridge near Appleslade car park. The pony was nearby, outside the Red Shoot Public House. It is quite possible that the same vehicle had hit both animals. The driver (or drivers) did not report either incident, and it was the witness who had called the Agister. Unfortunately the pony had to be put down.

Report accidents to the authorities
The Verderers state that, for whatever reason, if a collision with a Forest animal occurs, drivers are required to report it to the authorities as soon as practicably possible, and certainly within 24 hours. Drivers must not leave the scene of an accident (unless it is to call for help), particularly if the animal is still on the highway as it may cause a further accident. Anyone with information regarding a hit and run incident on the New Forest, involving a commonable animal, is asked to ring the Verderers’ Office on 023 8028 2052, or Hampshire Police on 101. The Official Verderer also announced to the Court that drivers on the New Forest roads can also expect to see more activity from the mobile traffic cameras, information that was received with hearty approval by all those in attendance.

Every free-roaming pony on the New Forest is owned by a local person with Common Rights.

Know who to call:


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New Forest: observing the month of deer defence

Fence month (or defence month) was the time of year during which people and their animals were not allowed on the New Forest, so as not to disturb the deer when they gave birth.

The commoning calendar holds many significant dates that reflect the seasons, and over time activities have developed that match the time of year. The most important of these are connected to the management of the commonable animals and include the stallion season (four weeks between May and June), and the pony drifts, or round-ups, held from August to November; whereas other dates signify the business end of commoning, such as the Beaulieu Road Sales, which are held at various times of the year and is where commoners can buy and sell ponies from a purpose-built sales yard. Attempts have been made, however, to impose certain dates on the commoners, such as ‘defence month’, better known as ‘fence month’. This date was fixed by Henry III’s Charter of the Forest in 1217, and ran from 15 days before Midsummer (Feast of John Baptist’s Nativity), to 15 days after, or more simply put – from 20th June to 20th July. During fence month no commonable beasts were allowed in the Forest, ‘no men or stray dogs’ were to wander in the Forest’ or persons permitted off the highways. Even people with fuel rights were forbidden to collect dead wood and fallen branches during this period. The reasons for such prohibitions were because at this time the fallow deer (Dama dama) give birth to their fawns. Deer were preserved for royal and aristocratic hunting, and Forest officers were required to defend them from disturbance at this particularly vulnerable time, by keeping watch night and day in their own bailiwicks. The Lord of the Manor of Fordingbridge, for example, was obliged to find ‘watch and ward’ upon the bridge that crosses the Avon, on account of its being one of the principle entrances into the Forest to ensure that the conditions of (de)fence month were observed.

New Forest Act 1877
Nevertheless, the commoners were able to avoid the exclusions of fence month and continue grazing their animals throughout this period on payment of a small quit rent, known as ‘month money’. Indeed, by 1670 it was stated before the Justice in Eyre, held at Lyndhurst, that ‘from time out of mind the commoners have had common of pasture for their cattle throughout fence month’. When the Crown wanted to profit from the growth of timber and the privatisation of the New Forest in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it saw fence month as a method of reducing the value of commoning. As a conciliatory gesture the commoners offered reintroduce quit rents for grazing throughout fence month, but the Crown refused to be mollified and used the offer as proof of the Crown’s superior claim in the matter. This caused much rancour and bitterness among the commoners. It wasn’t until the New Forest Act 1877 that the matter was finally resolved. The Act reconstituted Court of Verderers, which was given judiciary and executive powers over the New Forest, including responsibility for the payment of quit rent in respect of fence month. This landmark piece of legislation has ensured that the law protects the commoning way of life and that the ancient traditions and annual observances, so important to the cultural heritage of the New Forest, can continue into the future.

The practice of commoning, which has existed uninterrupted for over a thousand years, is still the dominant influence over the Forest’s ecology, economy and community.

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New Forest: medieval dog maiming

The New Forest was established in 1079 by William the Conqueror as a royal hunting venue.

I was interested to learn recently that the New Forest has more visitors per square kilometre than any other national park (7.5 visits/km2), and that dog walking was the most common reason for visiting the New Forest throughout the year.[1]  This would have been inconceivable when the New Forest was first created in 1079, because the Forest was preserved solely for the King’s hunting pleasure. Indeed, William the Conqueror established harsh laws, including blinding, castration and death, to anyone found guilty of disturbing the game animals (venison) and damaging the vegetation (vert) on which they depended for food and shelter. The Forest Laws he created to preserve his interests prohibited the setting of traps or snares; forbade anyone to carry weapons, especially bows and arrows; and, introduced a procedure to prevent dogs from chasing deer and other game animals by mutilating their front paws. This barbaric practice, known as ‘lawing’ or ‘expediting’, ensured that dogs kept by the people living in and around the Forest were lamed enough to prevent them from chasing and bringing down the venison, but not disable them so much that they were prevented from protecting their master’s home or person.

Rufus Stirrup
The instrument known as ‘Rufus Stirrup’ that hangs in the Verderer’s Court was used specifically to measure dogs.* If the dog was able to fit through the middle of the stirrup, which most small terriers would probably be able to do, they were not maimed, if, however, they were too big to pass through they were permanently lamed. The process of ‘lawing’, or ‘expediting’, is described by one chronicler as follows: ‘the mastiff being brought to set one of his forefeet upon a piece of wood eight inches thick and a foot square, then [a man] with a mallet, setting a chisel two inches broad upon three claws of his forefoot, at one blow doth smite them clean off’.[2] As well as having the middle three toes removed some dogs even had the heel-pad of each front foot removed too. However, the Charta de Foresta of 1217 (an extension of Magna Carta), known as the Commoners Charter, granted two major concessions to the commoners living under the oppressive Forest Laws. Firstly, it codified the forest laws and lessened their severity, substituting the loss of eyes and testicles – for people offending against the venison and vert – with imprisonment for up to a year and a day, with release at any time if bail could be made.[3] Secondly, the Charter reduced the custom of dogs being lawed to places where the practice had existed at the time of the coronation of Henry II. Nevertheless, exceptions could be made. In December 1279, for example, Isabel de Fortibus, Countess of Albemarle, made a plea that the dogs of herself and ‘her men of Old and New Lymington should be quit of the expeditation of their dogs.’[4] The court granted to her that up to thirty-two dogs were exempt from the mutilation of their forepaws.Lucky dogs!  In time the maiming of dogs could be avoided on payment of a fee, and this method seems to have become the standard practice. Over the years the enforcement of dog maiming was relaxed and eventually the barbaric practice was abandoned altogether. I have no doubt that our modern day canine visitors to the New Forest are vastly relieved with this development.

Rufus Stirrup was used to measure dogs – small dogs were left unharmed, bigger dogs were lamed.

*Rufus Stirrup is thought to be a Tudor replica and not the original measuring instrument.

For information about responsible dog walking download the New Forest dog walking leaflet.


[1] New Forest National Park website, ‘Facts and Figures – New Forest National Park Authority – 2007’:…/tourism_and_recreation_-_facts_and_figures [accessed 11th June 2017] NB: These figures are over 10 years old, and need updating, as they probably woefully underestimate today’s visitor numbers.

[2] John Manwood, Manwood’s Treatise of the Forest Laws (London, 1598), p.96.

[3] Emma Griffin, Blood Sport: Hunting in Britain Since 1066 (Yale University Press, 2007), p. 36.

[4] D. J. Stagg, New Forest Documents: A.D1244 – A.D.1334, (Trowbridge, 1979), 285, p.120.

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New Forest: impressive stallion pedigree

During the stallion season the dynamics of the herds change and the ponies get excited.

I recently had a chance to observe the stallion running in the area where my mares shade. He was chasing off a particularly annoying gelding and his harem of approximately 40 mares, some with foals at foot, was looking on excitedly. He was a handsome bay pony, probably standing about 14.2 HH, with a glossy coat that shone over a taut muscular physique. He was obviously an experienced stallion, because he was able to keep himself between the herd and the errant gelding, as the pair galloped furiously around the heathland. No matter how hard the gelding tried to get back to the herd of mares this stallion anticipated his opponent and was able to block him. The stallion’s low head carriage and threatening demeanour was a clear sign to all who witnessed the altercation that he meant business. I did not stay to see the outcome, but I have no doubt that the bay stallion came out on top. I was very impressed by the look and manner of this New Forest pony stallion and even more delighted when, a day or two later, a commoning friend informed me that one of my mares was seen in his company. My friend’s description left me in no doubt that my mare was interested in the stallion’s attention, as she was actively flirting with him. However, they only seemed to have stayed together in the same area for a short while, because the stallion moved on to a new territory and left my mare behind. Did they or didn’t they? Fingers crossed. I hope so.

Impressive pedigree
I was interested to discover more about the potential sire of a future foal born to my mare and looked up his pedigree. I was right about him being an experienced stallion because he was foaled in 2001, making him 16 years of age, (48 years old in human years). He has run on the Forest 11 times during the Stallion Season since 2003, and is obviously an established and popular sire. In fact, he has an impressive pedigree with bloodlines that stretch back to the 1690s, which was when William III (& II) and Mary II were on the British throne. Unless you know something about pony breeding it probably won’t mean anything to you when I tell you that this particular stallion has the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian and the Byerley Turk in his breeding. These are the three most influential stallions in English sporting history. He even has Eclipse, one of the most famous thoroughbred racehorses of all time, on both sides of his pedigree. Eclipse (foaled: 1 April 1764 – died: 26 February 1789) was an undefeated champion who won 18 races, including 11 King’s Plates. I was certainly captivated when I first saw the bay stallion running free on the Forest but now, having learned about his impressive lineage, I am hoping that his liaison with my mare will have been fruitful. I should have an idea by December whether or not my mare is in foal, as by then her belly will be showing tell-tale signs. What an amazing Christmas present that would be!

Eclipse is one of the most famous racehorses in history – an undefeated champion of the turf.

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New Forest: C19th waste land or allotments

In 1870 a meeting was held to discuss turning the New Forest into allotments for the working poor.

On this day (28th May) in 1870, it was reported in the Hampshire Advertiser that Southampton residents and those in the surrounding neighbourhood, had held a meeting in the Guildhall to discuss enclosing the New Forest for agricultural purposes. [In the following year the government placed a Bill before Parliament ‘to disafforest the New Forest’, meetings such as these were presumably held to test the waters for the government’s plan.] One of those attending the meeting, a Mr. George, who was described as a working man, declared that, the first and most important thing for the sustenance of the poor was that all lands fit for cultivation should be used to supply the people’s wants. In his opinion there were many thousands of acres of land lying waste that ought to be made available. Bringing such lands into cultivation, he believed, would remedy pauperism. His idea was that the New Forest should be divided into small allotments for those men willing to work for their daily bread. Under this proposal more produce would be brought into the market and ‘the capitalist would lose his power of controlling the prices in the markets’. Mr. George proposed that large tracts of fertile land in the New Forest be appropriated for cultivation, but not allowed to pass into private hands. He suggested that the land should be allotted on sufficiently long terms to ‘give a durable interest in the soil’, and the least fertile parts be still left open in a state of wild natural beauty.

Dairy imports
Other attendees at the meeting thought this a good scheme. Captain Mayse, R. N., agreed with the suggestions, as he believed that with the waste land under cultivation using ‘an enlightened land system’, the country would be able to ‘sustain treble its present population’. He also spoke of the ‘enormous amount of dairy produce imported into this country’, which he believed would not be necessary if small farming systems could be pursued, and remarked on the ‘evils’ of allowing large tracts of land to accumulate in the hands of private persons. His vision was one of small cultivators working together in co-operatives or as independent smallholders. Others attending the meeting were enthusiastic for this idea, with one recommending the cultivation of beetroot as a profitable crop. Another gentleman present, a Mr. Ashby, tried to curb the eager imaginings of his colleagues by reminding them that the poor people, who would benefit from this scheme and be given the allotments, would need a certain amount of capital to start with. This raised the issue of who would supply the funds required to start them off.

Rights of Commonage
Mr. Joseph Hill, on the other hand, had a different view entirely. He pointed out the great benefit to the people of Southampton and neighbouring towns, of the ‘very many’ tourists who came to visit the New Forest. He remind those at the meeting that the New Forest was subject to certain rights of commonage, pasturage, pannage and fuel, which would first have to be disposed of, and he could not see how this could be achieved without paying compensation. There was, he pointed out, other land nearer to Southampton, which had already been taken out of the Forest for cultivation and would be better for agriculture than the waste lands under consideration. His remedy to assist the working man was to abolish some of the inheritance laws, such as primogeniture and entail, which naturally favoured the rich landowners. Mr. Hill’s comments were roundly criticised by Mr. T. Falvey, who was in favour of the scheme for allotments on the New Forest, as he believed that this would be ‘a practicable scheme for the partial depopulation of their over-crowded towns’. The meeting was eventually adjourned and, although the majority of those in attendance favoured enclosing the New Forest and bringing it into agriculture, the scheme did not secure popular support. Attempts to enclose the Forest at this time were in fact met with nationwide condemnation and protest. Indeed, the outcry was so intense, from all parts of the country, that the New Forest was preserved by an Act of Parliament, which was passed on 23rd July 1877. The New Forest Act 1877 gave legal protection to the New Forest, reconstituted the Verderers Court to act as its guardian, and ensured that the rights of the commoners were preserved.

The practice of commoning, which has existed uninterrupted for over a thousand years, is still the dominant influence over the Forest’s ecology, economy and community.


PROPOSED ENCLOSURE OF THE NEW FOREST . The Hampshire Advertiser (Southampton, England), Saturday, May 28, 1870.

New Forest Act 1877:

See also:

Peter Roberts, Saving the New Forest (Lyndhurst, 2016). This book ‘explains how a small group of people in the mid-nineteenth century became seriously worried at the steady increases year on year in the enclosure of land in the Forest for timber production, and in 1867 decided in very British fashion to set up an association to rescue it. In 1871 the government placed a Bill before Parliament ‘to disafforest the New Forest’, which would have left just 100 of the 60,000 acres for the Commoners to exercise their rights and for the public to enjoy’.

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