The Royal Forest’s of Dorset

in his book ‘The Royal Forests of England’ published by Methuen & Co. 1905, John Charles Cox states that ‘The county of Dorset had three royal forests at the time of the granting of the Forest Charter of Henry III. — Gillingham, Blackmore, and Poorstock’.  This is his description of them.


‘Gillingham was the most important of the three, in the extreme north of the county; it was originally one of the divisions of the great Somersetshire forest of Selwood. Leland gives its dimensions, in the time of Henry VIII., as four miles long by one broad. Material for the history of this and the other forests of the county is abundant. In the third edition of Hutchins’ History of Dorset, the boundaries of several perambulations of Gillingham forest, from Henry III. to Elizabeth, are set forth, as well as abstracts of the proceedings relative to its disafforestation (ii. 620-4, 649). It was disafforested and the deer removed in 1625.

The wood sale accounts of Richard Cressebien and Mathew Vynyng of the forest of Gillingham for 1402-3 are extant, still enclosed in the leather pouch in which they were forwarded to London. Mention is made in these accounts of the sale of many “rothers,” varying in price from 8s. to 16^.; this term was a variant for roers or robora. Many details are given of the expenses occurred in repairing lodges. Pleas of the forest of Gillingham were held at Shaftesbury on 2nd September, 1490, before Sir Reginald Gray, Edward Chaderton, clerk, and Richard Empson, as justices pf the forest of Elizabeth, Queen of England, on both sides the Trent. Those appearing were Sir John Luttrell, sheriff of the county; William Twynyho, esquire, lieutenant of the forest; William Goodwyn, ranger; Gilbert Thomson, forester-of-fee; two other foresters, the launder, the servant of the lieutenant, the bailiff and his fellows of the hundred of Redlane, and also of the manor of Gillingham, the two verderers, eight regarders, and the reeves and ” four-men ” of each of the townships of Gillingham, Motcombe, and Brayton.

The business transacted chiefly consisted in assigning the perquisites of oaks, roers, and bucks to the officials, and the registering of liberty claims within the forest. The jury of the hundred of Redlane presented a list of various persons who had felled oaks, but in almost each instance they knew not the number nor the warrant.

One of the questions discussed at these pleas was the right to a deer-leap, which formed part of the fence of a small park three miles distant from the bounds of Gillingham Forest. The nature of the saltatorium, or deer-leap, has been explained in the sixth chapter. In this case the justices ordered its removal, as a jury, after an inquest, decided that it had been erected since the last eyre, and without any licence.


A large tract of the north and western parts of the county, comprising several hundreds, known as the vale or forest of Blackmore, was all forest in early Norman days; but much of it passed from under the forest laws in the time of Henry II., and still more through the Forest Charter of Henry III. Nevertheless, a considerable district remained forest, and was known as Blackmore forest until a much later period. The Close Rolls, etc., of Henry III. show that the king made many gifts of red, fallow, and roe deer out of this forest, as well as timber. In 1230 an oak was granted for the repair of the bridge of Corfe Castle. In the same year the forest bailiff was instructed to supply the distant Bishop of Durham with seven does against Christmas; and in the following year to furnish the Bishop of Exeter with ten does towards stocking a park. Camden says that it used to be known as the White Hart Forest, and gives the following story to account for the name. Henry III., when hunting here, ran down several deer, and finding a beautiful white hart amongst them, caused its life to be spared. Shortly afterwards a neighbouring gentleman, man, one Thomas de la Linde, with his companions, hunted this hart and killed it at a bridge, thence called Kingstag bridge, in the parish of Pulham. The king, in his wrath, not only punished the offenders by imprisonment and fine, but severely taxed all their lands, “the owners of which yearly, ever since to this day, pay a sum of money, by way of fine or amercement, into the Exchequer, called White Hart Silver, in memory of which this county needeth no better remembrance than this annual payment.” Leland says: “This forest streatchid from Ivelle unto the quarters of Shaftesbyri, and touchid with Gillingham Forest that is nere Shaftesbyri.” The ancient bounds and a few other particulars are set forth in the third edition of Hutchins’ Dorset (iv. 516-19).


In the parish of Poorstock (between Beminster and Bridport) and the adjacent country was the old royal forest of Poorstock. John de la Lynde held the bailiwick of this forest in the time of Henry III. It was of comparatively small extent; the perambulation of 1300 shows that it had one forester-of-fee, Walter de la Lynde, and one verderer, Robert de Byngham. This perambulation is set forth in Hutchins’ Dorset (ii. 317).’


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