HC Deb 10 August 1860 vol 160 cc1128-30

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the enclosure, which was rapidly going forward, of forest ground in the neighbourhood of London. He might say at once that he found, as usual, the blame shifted from one Department to another, so that he could not fully ascertain who really was responsible. The first question which he would ask the right hon. First Commissioner of Works was, by whose authority those enclosures were carried out? He wished to ask next, whether the Government intended to continue them. Epping, Hainault, and Wanstead forests formed a range of forest reaching up to within six miles of the east end of London. They were crossed by several lines of railway from different points of the East end. They were, therefore, singularly accessible to the hundreds of thousands of hard-worked shopkeepers and working men in that aggregation of great cities, Spitalfields, Whitechapel, Mile End, Stepney, Shoreditch, Hackney, and other parts, crammed with human beings, who were thus provided with noble and beautiful parks, which cost nothing to buy and cost nothing to keep up. He could speak from personal experience of the immense use which was made of them. He understood that last year upwards of 100,000 persons went down by rail alone to enjoy them, and nearly as many more by vans, carts, gigs, and other conveyances. He had spent many summer evenings in those forests, and could only say that he had never seen any spectacle that had given him greater satisfaction than the thousands upon thousands of pallid, over-worked mechanics, with their wives and families, enjoying themselves among these beautiful glades. On Sundays, especially, there used to he tens of thousands diverting themselves, some quietly, some noisily, but all happily and harmlessly, and inhaling health to body and soul. But all this was now rapidly coming to a close. These lovely forests had by ill-luck fallen into the hands of red-tapists of the deepest die. At the very time when they were spending hundreds of thousands of pounds to form and maintain parks for the people, at that very time the authorities, whoever they might be, had chosen to sell the Crown rights over these natural parks, the delight and comfort of hundreds of thousands of Londoners, and which cost nothing whatever for their maintenance, There might be some shadow of excuse if they had sold those rights for an important consideration. But the fact was that the Crown rights over Wanstead Forest—the loveliest part and the nearest to town—were actually sold for less than £3,000 to the EARL of Mornington. For that wretched pittance the Commissioners had for ever deprived the public of as delightful a part as could be found. He had visited Wanstead Forest the other day, and was filled with indignation to find the trees cut down, the ground ploughed up, and great palings erected to keep the public off from what they had lately possessed and so highly valued. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would put a stop to what ho considered one of the stupidest of the stupidities that had been done in the present day.



asked the Secretary to the Treasury on what principle the Woods and Forests having taken 1,873 acres of the King's Woods of the late Forest of Hainault, in full satisfaction of all Her Majesty's rights over the said King's Woods, now claim a further portion of the residue of the King's Woods that the Crown gave up for the benefit of the Commoners; and also on what grounds they included in the Bill, which they promised the Commoners of Chigwell and Lam-bourn to bring in for the division of the part of the King's Woods so given up by the Crown, the manorial wastes of Chigwell and Lambourn, and this without the consent of the Commoners of Chigwell and Lambourn?


said, it devolved on him, and not upon the First Commissioner of Works, to reply to the two questions put respecting these forests, because they were not public parks but private portions of the hereditary estates of the Crown. If they were public parks, he admitted that in many respects it would be desirable to preserve them for the purpose of affording recreation to the public. But being private property, very different considerations supervened. Those grounds were to all in tents and purposes the property of the Crown. That being so, it was the duty I of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests to manage those estates for the benefit of I the property, as might be the case with any other private property. As regarded the last question relating to the division of the forest of Hainault, it was partly a question of the rights of private property. The rights of the Crown were of two sorts. The Crown had a right of soil and a right of forest over a large portion of the forest known by the name of the King's woods, and the Crown was proprietor of certain enclosed land in the adjoining parishes, possessing the ordinary rights of common over the unenclosed land in the neighbourhood. Some time ago an arrangement was come to by which the right of soil and of forest in the King's-wood was commuted into a specific grant of upwards of 1,800 acres; but it was duly recited in the Act that the rights of common of the Crown were not in any way affected. In 1851 another Act was passed for apportioning a large mass of common land, in which the Crown obtained a certain interest as one of the landowners in the district. The Commissioner appointed under that Act made a certain award; but an appeal from his decision, raising the question of the legal right of private individuals, was now pending in the Court of Common Pleas. The case of Epping Forest was somewhat different. The Crown had no right there over the soil, but simply a right of forest. That right was for a long time quite unproductive, and the Commissioners of Woods thought it their duty to make it profitable for the estate of the Crown by selling it to the adjoining proprietors. They were doing nothing themselves to enclose any portion of the forest, hut by the sale of the right of forest they had indirectly put the adjoining proprietors in a position to obtain enclosures, which might not otherwise have been available. He admitted, however, that it was highly desirable that some portion of the district should be preserved for the use of the public, and, although he saw considerable difficulties in the way, he should be happy to communicate with the Commissioners for the purpose of ascertaining whether, consistently with the rights of the Crown, a satisfactory arrangement could not be made.