Saturday, 6 June 2015

Gloucestershire and the Game Laws: Part 2 of 3

Enclosure and the Game Laws

Squatters and cottages with their curls of smoke
Drifting from a new roof before dawns first light
('Door shut, hearth lit and smoke coming from the chimney)',
Were hated by 18th century agricultural 'improvers',
Just as the common lands were hated by them too:
'Nests of sloth, idleness ... Hovels ...
Materials purloined from adjacent woods...
Idle, useless and disorderly people',
As Charles Vancouver so succinctly put it.

Be that as it may, for many of the labouring class
The choice was whether to remain a low paid pauper,
Or augment a poor family diet as a poacher,
As enclosure and the game laws pauperised,
And criminalised the agricultural working class.

Even Arthur Young, such an enthusiast of enclosure,
Thought 'that by nineteen in twenty enclosure bills,
they are injured, in some grossly'.
No wonder John Clare's pen wrote that
'Enclosure came and trampled on the grave
Of labour's rights, and left the poor a slave.'
Thomas Hood wrote of Home Counties poachers,
And their errant, but successful, ways,
But our local version runs thus:

Each field is wandered inch by inch,
But when the keepers were near Stroud,
He poached and trespassed up near Minch -
His footfall never loud,
And when he went to Stroud, alas!
They often came to Horsley;
And even Avening used to wish
That he would leave quite shortly.

So what of Stroudwater and its hills and valleys?
Did the collectivism of an industrial workforce
Mean that individual acts of poaching were the norm?
A sort of rural anachronism?
Or did the traditions of food and wage riots by weavers
Mean that our locality saw organised, collective acts of poaching?
There is no reason not to think so, a priori.

The Berkeley Vale is only just down the road,
And we have seen what happened there in 1815 and 1816;
The Captain Swing riots kicked off in the county, too,
So Gloucestershire doesn't appear to be that deferential -
Were there poaching wars here?
'Pheasant versus Peasant?'
We just dont know.
There is research needed.
 Collective research.
This is an unwritten story.

William Cobbett, 1823: ' The ill-blood created by these game laws is beyond the power of description. There are no bounds to it. The heart-burning is incessant ...' 'The sight of so many hundreds of Englishmen dragged to prison, and so many thousands of women and children reduced to pauperism ... The transporting or hanging of their husbands, sons, brothers and friends ... '
Lord Byron, 1823: ' For what were all these country patriots born?
To hunt, and vote, and raise the price of corn.'
The Annals of Sporting, 1828, reporting about Gloucestershire and other nearby counties: 'a man who is even suspected of being a poacher is treated as an outlaw... '
John Bright: ' tens of thousands of the peasantry have been sent to gaol, and hundreds of them have been transported ... and scores have been sacrificed that game might thrive…’

The first three verses of Robert Burns’ ‘Westlin Winds’

Now westlin winds and slaughtering guns
Bring autumn's pleasant weather,
The moorcock springs on whirring wings
Among the blooming heather,
Now waving grain, wild o'er the plain
Delights the weary farmer,
And the moon shines bright as I rove at night
To muse upon my charmer.

The partridge loves the fruitful fells,
The plover loves the mountains,
The woodcock haunts the lonely dells,
The soaring hern the fountains,
Through lofty groves the cushat roves,
The path of man to shun it,
The hazel bush o'erhangs the thrush,
The spreading thorn the linnet.

Thus every kind their pleasure find,
The savage and the tender,
Some social join and leagues combine,
Some solitary wander,
Avaunt away! The cruel sway,
Tyrannic man's dominion,
The sportsman's joy, the murdering cry,
The fluttering gory pinion.

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