The Old Forest

Some more from ‘Old Oak’:

“Old Silverstone – or Silson, as it has always been called by its inhabitants – lay on the edge of Whittlebury Forest in Northamptonshire. This used to be one of he largest Royal Forests in the kingdom, with an area of over 20,000 acres, and, though it had steadily diminished in size with the centuries, yet, when my father was a young man, it was still of vast extent, and one might walk for miles n a summer’s day and never leave the shade of a woodland tree. The King’s red deer ran wild down its rides and herded among its leaves and bushes, even as their progenitors had done long ere Harold, Gurth and Leofwin left the case to defeat the northern invader and the die gloriously on Hasting’s field, all in the space  of a breathless three weeks. The badger, the wild cat, and the fox bred and fed among the bracken, while British birds of almost every sort and kind found refuge n the branches of the gnarled oaks or in the undergrowth beneath. With its tree-fellers and hewers, its sawyers and hurdlers, its spoke-choppers and faggoters, its lath-renders, rake- and ladder-makers, and what not, the forest fond food for hundreds of families, where the cleared land now scarcely furnishes employment for 30 or 40 people .

For centuries there had been no “big house” in the village to hold sway over the bodies and souls of its inhabitants, s ws t he use in so many neighbouring villages. All were more or less independent and Jack was as good as his master the whole parish through. The man who lost his job at one place could find one at another, or he would start n business on his own. No defence was due or paid to the local nobility or squirearchy by the men of Silson. A fierce, upstanding race were the Forest folk, and, with their physique and muscles developed by constant axe and saw-work in the open air they were antagonists not to be lightly taken on in the hardy days of our grandfathers, when every village had its champion and fist-fighting was the outstanding national pasttime. And all, even the women, possessed a knowledge of woodcraft and shared in common a love of venison as strong as that which ruled the lives of Robin Hood and his eery forest men

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