The Natural History of Wiltshire eBook

John Aubrey
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 257 pages of information about The Natural History of Wiltshire.

I will first begin with beastes of venerie, whereof there hath been great plenty in this countie, and as good as any in England.  Mr. J. Speed, who wrote the description of Wiltshire, anno Domini [1611], reckons nine forests, one chace, and twenty-nine parkes.

This whole island was anciently one great forest.  A stagge might have raunged from Bradon Forest to the New Forest; sc. from forest to forest, and not above four or five miles intervall (sc. from Bradon Forest to Grettenham and Clockwoods; thence to the forest by Boughwood-parke, by Calne and Pewsham Forest, Blackmore Forest, Gillingham Forest, Cranbourn Chase, Holt Forest, to the New Forest.) Most of those forests were given away by King James the First.  Pewsham Forest was given to the Duke of Buckingham, who gave it, I thinke, to his brother, the Earle of Anglesey.  Upon the disafforesting of it, the poor people made this rhythme:-

“When Chipnam stood in Pewsham’s wood, Before it was destroy’d, A cow might have gone for a groat a yeare- but now it is denyed”.

The metre is lamentable; but the cry of the poor was more lamentable.  I knew severall that did remember the going of a cowe for 4d. per annum.  The order was, how many they could winter they might summer:  and pigges did cost nothing the going.  Now the highwayes are encombred with cottages, and the travellers with the beggars that dwell in them.

The deer of the forest of Groveley were the largest of fallow deer in England, but some doe affirm the deer of Cranborne Chase to be larger than Groveley.  Quaere Mr. Francis Wroughton of Wilton concerning the weight of the deer; as also Jack Harris, now keeper of Bere Forest, can tell the weight of the best deere of Verneditch and Groveley:  he uses to come to the inne at Sutton.  Verneditch is in the parish of Broad Chalke.  ’Tis agreed that Groveley deer were generally the heaviest; but there was one, a buck, killed at Verneditch about an┬░. 165-, that out-weighed Groveley by two pounds.  Dr. Randal Caldicot told me that it was weighed at his house, and it weighed eight score pounds.  About the yeare 1650 there were in Verneditch-walke, which is a part of Cranborne Chase, a thousand or twelve hundred fallow deere; and now, 1689, there are not above five hundred.  A glover at Tysbury will give sixpence more for a buckskin of Cranborne Chase than of Groveley; and he saies that he can afford it.

Clarendon Parke was the best parke in the King’s dominions.  Hunt and Palmer, keepers there, did averre that they knew seven thousand head of deere in that parke; all fallow deere.  This parke was seven miles about.  Here were twenty coppices, and every one a mile round.

Upon these disafforestations the marterns were utterly destroyed in North Wilts.  It is a pretty little beast and of a deep chesnutt colour, a kind of polecat, lesse than a fox; and the furre is much esteemed:  not much inferior to sables.  It is the richest furre of our nation.  Martial saies of it —

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The Natural History of Wiltshire from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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