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Though large herds of deer do much harm to the neighbourhood, yet the injury to the morals of the people is of more moment than the loss of their crops. The temptation is irresistible ; for most men are sportsmen by constitution : and there is such an inherent spirit for hunting in human nature, as scarce any inhibitions can restrain. Hence, towards the beginning of this century all this country was wild about deer-stealing. Unless he was a hunter, as they affected to call themselves, no young person was allowed to be possessed of manhood or gallantry. The Waltham blacks at length committed such enormities, that government was forced to interfere with that severe and sanguin. ary act called the “Black Act,”* which now comprehends more felonies than any law that ever was framed before. And, therefore, a late Bishop of Winchester, when urged to re-stock Waltham Chase,t refused, from a motive worthy of a prelate, replying "that it had done mischief enough already."
Our old race of deer-stealers is hardly extinct yet: it was but a little while ago that, over their ale, they used to recount the exploits of their youth ; such as watching the pregnant hind to her lair, and, when the calf was dropped, paring its feet with a penknife to the quick to prevent its escape, till it was large and fat enough to be killed; the shooting at one of their neighbours with a bullet in a turnip-field by moonshine, mistaking him for a deer; and the losing a dog in the following extraordinary manner:
* Statute 9 Geo. I., cap. 22.
+ This chase remains unstocked to this day; the bishop was Dr. Hoadly.
Some fellows, suspecting that a calf new-fallen was deposited in a certain spot of thick fern, went, with a lurcher, to surprise it; when the parent-hind rushed out of the brake, and, taking a vast spring with all her feet close together, pitched upon the neck of the dog, and broke it short in two.
Another temptation to idleness and sporting was number of rabbits, which possessed all the hillocks and dry places : but these being inconvenient to the huntsmen, on account of their burrows, when they came to take away the deer, they permitted the country-people to destroy them all.
Such forests and wastes, when their allurements to irregularities are removed, are of considerable service to neighbourhoods that verge upon them, by furnishing them with peat and turf for their firing ; with fuel for the burning their lime; and with ashes for their grasses; and by maintaining their geese and their stock of young cattle at little or no expense.
The manor-farm of the parish of Greatham has an admitted claim, I see (by an old record taken from the Tower of London), of turning all live stock on the forest, at proper seasons, “bidentibus exceptis.
presume, why sheept are excluded, is, because, being such close grazers, they would pick out all the finest grasses, and hinder the deer from thriving.
Though (by statute 4 and 5, W. and Mary, c. 23) " to burn on any waste, between Candlemas and Midsummer, any grig, ling, heath and furze, goss or fern, is punishable
* For this privilege the owners of that estate used to pay to the king annually seven bushels of oats.
+ In the Holt, where a full stock of fallow-deer has been kept up till lately, no sheep are admitted to this day.
with whipping and confinement in the house of correction ;" yet, in this forest, about March or April, according to the dryness of the season, such vast heath-fires are lighted up, that they often get to a masterless head, and, catching the hedges, have sometimes been communicated to the underwoods, woods, and coppices, where great damage has ensued. The plea for these burnings is, that, when the old coat of heath, etc., is consumed, young will sprout up, and afford much tender brouze for cattle ; but, where there is large old furze, the fire, following the roots, consumes the very ground; so that for hundreds of acres nothing is to be seen but smother and desolation, the whole circuit round looking like the cinders of a volcano; and, the soil being quite exhausted, no traces of vegetation are to be found for years. These conflagrations, as they take place usually with a north-east or east wind, much annoy this village with their smoke, and often alarm the country; and, once in particular, I remember that a gentleman, who lives beyond Andover, coming to my house, when he got on the downs between that town and Winchester, at twenty-five miles distance, was surprised much with smoke and a hot smell of fire, and concluded that Alresford was in flames; but, when he came to that town, he then had apprehensions for the next village, and so on to the end of his journey.
On two of the most conspicuous eminences of this forest stand two arbours or bowers, made of the boughs of oak; the one called Waldon Lodge, the other Brimstone Lodge: these the keepers renew annually on the feast of St. Barnabas, taking the old materials for a perquisite. The farm called Blackmoor, in this parish, is obliged to find the posts and brush-wood for the former; while the farms at Greatham, in rotation, furnish for the latter; and are all enjoined to cut and deliver the materials at the spot. This custom I mention, because I look upon it to be of very remote antiquity.
On the verge of the forest, as it is now circumscribed, are three considerable lakes, two in Oakhanger, of which I have nothing particular to say; and one called Bin's, or Bean's Pond, which is worthy the attention of a naturalist or a sportsman. For, being crowded at the upper end with willows, and with the carex cespitosa, * it affords such a safe and pleasing shelter to wild ducks, teals, snipes, etc., that they breed there. In the winter this covert is also frequented by foxes, and sometimes by pheasants; and the bogs produce many curious plants. (For which consult Letter XLI. to Mr. Barrington.)
By a perambulation of Wolmer Forest and the Holt, made in 1635, and the eleventh year of Charles I. (which now lies before me), it appears that the limits of the former are much circumscribed. For, to say nothing of the farther side, with which I am not so well acquainted, the bounds on this side, in old times, came into Binswood ; and extended to the ditch of Ward-le-ham Park, in which stands the curious mount called King John's Hill, and Lodge Hill; and to the verge of Hartley Mauduit, called Mauduit Hatch; comprehending also Short Heath, Oakhanger, and Oakwoods ; a large district, now private property, though once belonging to the royal domain.
* I mean that sort which, rising into tall hassocks, is called by the foresters torrets ; a corruption, I suppose, of turrets.
NOTE.—In the beginning of the summer of 1787, the royal forests of Wolmer and Holt were measured by persons sent down by government.
It is remarkable that the term purlieu is never once mentioned in this long roll of parchment. It contains, besides the perambulation, a rough estimate of the value of the timbers, which were considerable, growing at that time in the district of the Holt; and enumerates the officers, superior and inferior, of those joint forests, for the time being, and their ostensible fees and perquisites. In those days, as at present, there were hardly any trees in Wolmer Forest.
Within the present limits of the forest are three considerable lakes, Hogmer, Cranmer, and Wolmer; all of which are stocked with carp, tench, eels, and perch : but the fish do not thrive well, because the water is hungry, and the bottoms are a naked sand.
A circumstance respecting these ponds, though by no means peculiar to them, I cannot pass over in silence; and that is, that instinct by which in summer all the kine, whether oxen, cows, calves, or heifers, retire constantly to the water during the hotter hours; where, being more exempt from flies, and inhaling the coolness of that element, some belly deep, and some only to mid-leg, they ruminate and solace themselves from about ten in the morning till four in the afternoon, and then return to their feeding. During this great proportion of the day they drop much dung, in which insects nestle ; and so supply food for the fish, which would be poorly subsisted but from this contingency. Thus Nature, who is a great economist, converts the recreation of one animal to the support of another ! Thomson, who was a nice observer of natural occurrences,