Remembering Protest in the Forest of Dean, c.1612–1834
On 12 August 1831, Warren James appeared before the Assize sessions at the Shire Hall in Gloucester charged with leading disturbances in the Forest of Dean earlier in the summer. The first of the two indictments, relating to a charge of felony grounded in the Riot Act of 1715, declared that ‘Warren James, together with divers other unknown evil disposed persons to the number of 100 or more, with force of arms did unlawfully, riotously, routously and tumultuously assemble together to the disturbance of the public peace’. The dispute related to a perceived breach of the terms under which the forest had been ‘settled’ in 1668. The seventeenth-century Dean Reafforestation Act stated that half of the 22,000 acres of Dean’s central demesne lands could be enclosed to allow for the re-growth of trees planted, replacing those depleted by industrial practices and other uses. In 1831, the area that had been enclosed for the previous twenty years was due to be laid open in accordance with the Act of 1668. When it became apparent that this was not going to happen Warren James wrote to Edward Machen, deputy surveyor of the Forest, informing him that the controversial hedges, banks and fences would be removed. By this point, the banks and hedges had become well established in the local landscape. When no further action was proposed on the matter, James decided to publicise his plans for the commonalty of Dean to ‘open the Forest’ of their own accord.