Silson Nutters

This is another piece from the wonderful book “Old Oak”:

“While the Forest remained Crown property, theirs was the privilege of nutting. A good season brought hundreds of pounds into the parish. In other woods they were trespassers and, according to notice boards, in danger of man-traps, spring-guns, and all kinds of engines of mutilation fro the moment they crossed the boundary fence. Such warnings, however, were only a waste of paint. The people for whose instruction they were intended could never be brought to believe that hazel-nuts were only meant for squirrels, and towards the middle of each September fights as fierce as those between keepers and poachers were of frequent occurrence between watchers and nutters.

There lived about 4 miles from Silson a gentleman who was both squire and parse, and a magistrate withal. In his latter capacity he was celebrated for his ceaseless endeavours to suppress lawlessness by the savagest of sentences. It was to his woods the Silson nutters turned one bright moonlight night. They filled their sacks,a and the watchers who would have despoiled them of the fruits of their toil got a thorough good hiding for their trouble. Both sides were reinforced the next night; the fight was fierce and long, and the result the same. The news spread like wild-fire through the neighbourhood. Other forest villages sent contingents towel the ranks of their Silson cousins, and the third night saw the raiders start out a hundred and sixty strong. It wa only a few years after Waterloo, and there must have been old soldiers among them. Be that as it may, their organisation was very thorough. At the cry of “All hands to the pump!” they were to draw to of the wood, form up in two lines, and prepare for action. I ought to be ashamed to tell that some uncles of mine were out that night, and it was one of them who, over 50 years ago, told me the story. All was peaceful for a while; then, either from fear or devilment, someone shouted the watchword. The ext moment such a crashing was heard through the bush and brake as was never heard before. Everyone was n his place and ready. It was a false alarm, however, and well that it was, for the Pury men had brought knives, and, had the watchers attacked, there would have been murder ere morn and hangings to follow.

Still the Silson men were not “out of the wood” yet, even if they had disentangled themselves from the hazel bushes. The stubborn cleric obtained warrants for he arrest of the ringleaders, and proceeded to muster all the big men and the strong men, the wrestlers and the fighting men he could bribe in his own and the surrounding villages to “aid and assist” in their capture.

At Silson all was outwardly quiet. A load of waggon-staves was drawn up on to Stocks Hill; the keys to the church was borrowed from the sexton, who asked no questions; possibly there was a little excited conversation in each of the inns the night before the invasion – nothing more. The morning came, and with it the squarson and his warlike company with handcuffs and a cart for the removal of their prisoners. As became his dignity, the reverend leader did to himself enter the village, but took up his position at its entrance, orderings mighty men of valour to march in, round up the offenders, and bring them him. “ding-dong-dannel,” rang out the church bell, as if smitten with madness, and like a swarm of argy bees, grown men and women, young men and maidens made for the waggon, seized the first stave that came to hand, and few on the invaders. From where he sat on his horse the waiting squarson saw a great tumult, but knew not what it was: staves were rising and falling, curses and groans grew louder and louder as it came nearer, blood was pouring from heads and faces, and at last the horrid truth dawned on him that it was not the nutters but his own men who were being driven back on him.

Still, he was not dond withyet. The next act in the drama brought the notorious Bow Street Runners on the scene. Theirs was name that struck terror into the breasts of all ordinary evil-doers in those days, but, strangely enough, it did not seem to alarm Silson folk overmuch. The first man whom they sought to lay hands on was one Farmer, the butcher. They were told he was hiding n the attacks of a certain old house, so thither they proceeded to make their arrest. However, when they got there they found him astride the tiled ridge, armed with a scythe which some one had handed to him out of a garret window. They commanded him to come down: he invited them to come up, and, a the controversy was prolonged, a crowd began to gather. They were wise men, those Runners; the morrow, they agreed, would give them a better opportunity and it would be sheer foolishness to force matters that night. But very little forcing did they attempt the next day or the next. The air was pure, the ale good, the people civil, and caution very necessary. the farce, however, couldn’t  be carried on for her with expenses mounting fast ad the Law being brought into contempt. At last their Chief devised a scheme whereby the faces of both parties were saved; it involved a peaceful surrender on the part of the “wanted” nutters on condition that matters should not be pressed to Assizes, copious draughts of the “nut brown “ at his expense, and there were other considerations. Anyhow, nutters and runners parted the best of friends. My old Dad, who generally contrived to get mixed up in these affairs, went bail for the offenders, the few advisedly light fines eventually imposed were paid for the most part by sympathisers, 2 or 3 of the company were bound over to keep the peace and the whole business ended bloodlessly.

The butcher, however never forgave the squarson. The later was to with the hounds one day and, in taking a fence, was thrown into a deep and muddy dyke. Seeing his  old acquaintance near by, he asked, perhaps with too patronising an air, for a helping hand. “You want be warned afore next Sunday,” was the reply, “an’ fur all I keeur you can stay where y’are till then!”

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