Vol. 80: The Ashdown Forest Dispute 1876-1882



Editor: Brian Short
Volume: Volume 80
Published 1997
ISBN: 978 085445 041 1

This volume presents a revealing case study in the environmental politics of Victorian England. On 13 October 1877 John Miles was cutting litter (bracken, heather, gorse etc.) on Ashdown Forest on behalf of his landlord Bernard Hale, barrister, J.P, Deputy Lieutenant of Sussex, and Ashdown commoner. William Pilbeam, one of Earl de la Warr’s keepers, approached him and told him to stop cutting. Miles later recounted ‘I went on cutting’, thus initiating the Ashdown Forest case, brought by Reginald Windsor, seventh Earl de la Warr as Lord of the Manor of Duddlewell against Hale and Miles, to test the extent of Hale’s common rights. Expensive legal opinion was hired by both sides since many commoners were titled and wealthy landowners; and William Augustus Raper, a Battle solicitor, was engaged to assemble evidence on behalf of the defendants. Some of this evidence is transcribed as the main body of text in this volume – over 100 depositions collected by Raper in 1878 and 1879 from elderly Forest residents.
Raper’s visits to his informants’ cottages were recorded in five small notebooks whose contents are not easily deciphered. This volume presents their full transcription, together with a contextualising introduction to the Forest and its customs and to the complex legal actions of 1876-1882. A short biography of each of the elderly deponents has also been included

These narratives are invaluable sources for the history of Sussex, for genealogy, and for environmental, legal, economic, social and cultural history. Herein are recounted the main environmental and local political themes of this surviving area of Victorian open Forest, seen quite unusually from the perspective of rural working people.

Brian Short is Reader in Human Geography and Dean of the School of Cultural and Community Studies at the University of Sussex. He is the author of many works dealing with the historical environment and rural society of Sussex and with the evaluation of historical sources relating to rural life in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The cover illustration of litter collecting on Ashdown Forest was kindly provided by Mr Peter Kirby