New Forest - Encyclopedia

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NEW FOREST, one of the few woodland regions left in England covering about 93,000 acres in the south-west of Hampshire, between the Solent, Southampton Water and the river Avon. About two-thirds of it is crown property, and is preserved more or less in its natural condition as open woodland interspersed with bogs and heaths. The trees principally represented are oak and beech, with some newer plantations of Scotch fir. The trees were formerly felled for building the ships of the navy and for feeding the iron furnaces of Sussex and Hampshire. Pigs and a hardy breed of ponies find a good living in the forest; and in spite of an act in 1851 providing for their extermination or removal, a few red deer still survive. Foxes, squirrels, otters, snakes (smooth snake, grass snake and adder), butterflies (some of them peculiar to the district), and an occasional badger range the forest freely. The tract derives its name from the extensive afforestation carried through in this region by William the Conqueror in 1079; and the deaths of two of his sons within its confines - Richard killed by a stag, and William Rufus by an arrow - were regarded in their generation as a judgment of Heaven for the cruelty and injustice perpetrated by their father when appropriating the forest. Rufus's stone, near Lyndhurst, marks the supposed spot where that monarch fell. About onefourth of the area is under cultivation by private owners and tenants. The principal village within the forest is Lyndhurst (pop. 2167 in 1901); its church contains a fresco by Lord Leighton, and here is held the verderers' court, which since 1887 has had charge of the crown portion of the forest. On the western outskirts lies the town of Ringwood. Brockenhurst and Beaulieu are the villages next in importance. Beaulieu, at the head of the picturesque estuary of the Beaulieu river, which debouches into the Solent, is famous for the ruins of Beaulieu Abbey, founded by King John for Cistercians. The gatehouse is restored as a residence, and the Early English refectory as a church. There are considerable remains of the cloisters, chapter house and domestic buildings. The New Forest gives name to a parliamentary division of the county.

The New Forest is one of the five forests mentioned in Domesday. It was a hunting-ground of the West Saxon kings, but, as already stated, was afforested by the Conqueror, whose cruelty in the matter is probably exaggerated by the traditional account. One of the chief sources of the wealth of the forest in early times was the herds of pigs fed there. The New Forest,.

being under the forest laws, was affected by the forest clauses of Magna Carta and by the Forest Charter (12r7), which mitigated their severity. The chief officer of this, as of other forests, was the justice in eyre who held the justice seat, the highest forest court and the only court of record capable of entering and executing judgments on offenders; the lower courts were the Swainmote and Wodemote, the former of which is still held, in a modified form, in the Verderers' Hall of the King's House at Lyndhurst. The circuit of the justices in eyre, or their deputies, continued down to 1635; they were virtually ended by the Act for the Limitation of Forests (1640), though Charles II. attempted to revive them, and they were not legally abolished until 1817. The lower officers of the forest, who held merely local appointments, were the verderers, the regarders (one of whose duties was that of seeing to the expeditation of "great dogs"), the foresters, the woodwards and the agisters. There was also a lord warden, who was usually a nobleman and performed no judicial functions. The Deer Removal Act (1851) resulted in the almost total extinction of the forest deer. Under the act of 1877 the forest is administered rather as a national park than for the growing of timber on commercial principles.

See J. R. Wise, The New Forest (4th ed., 1883), with over sixty engravings by W. J. Linton and a dozen etchings by H. Sumner; and R. D. Blackmore, Cradock Nowell (1866).

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