In addition to the above nine walks, an older list" gives Fulwood (which perhaps may be included under Kirkby), Hemsley Rail, and Rufford Walk, and Clumber and Hardwick in the New park. Also the division of the forest called Thorneywoods, of which there were South and North Bayles; of this latter district, Major Rooke names the Earl of Chesterfield as the hereditary ranger, under a grant, in fee, made to John Stanhope, Esq., his ancestor, in 42d of Queen. Elizabeth.

The woods and timber belonging to the crown, Major Rooke tells us, were in his time under the care of the surveyor general of woods, who acted by deputy; the latter official having a fee tree annually, and a salary of twenty pounds a year paid out of the wood sales.

While speaking of the officers appointed for the conservancy of the forest, we should not omit one who is not named in the "Forest Books." It seems that the district, in early times, was much infested with wolves, which, no doubt, would make great ravages among the deer. And in order to drive these destructive creatures away, an officer was appointed and endowed with lands. For we find that as late as the 11th year of Henry VI. Sir Robert Plumpton held one bovate of land in Mansfield Woodhouse, called "Wolf-hunt land," by service of winding a horn, and chasing or frightening the wolves in the forest of Sherwood.

Under the guardianship of its various officers, this forest long preserved its eminence as a noble field for hunting, and abounded, beyond most other parts of the country, with remarkably fine timber, which effectually assisted in building up "the wooden walls of Old England." Of these, some specimens, though in a decayed state, are still preserved to us, which may serve to give us some idea of the grandeur of sylvan scenery in the days of yore. And in this immediate neighbourhood of Birkland we may observe some very striking examples, as for instance, one called the "Queen or Major Oak," measuring at four feet from the ground, 29 feet in girth; while another named "Simon the Forester," is about 22 feet in girth.

It is mentioned in an interesting and now scarce pamphlet, by Major Rooke, an eminent antiquarian and most careful observer of the things of the forest in which he long dwelt, that "in cutting down some trees in the hays of Birkland and Bilhagh, in Sherwood Forest, letters have been found cut and stamped in the body of the trees, marking the King’s reign." Of these he gives four plates which we have here reproduced, he says, "No. 1 has hollow or indented letters I and R, for James Rex. No. 2 has the same letters in relief, which filled up the interstices of the letters in No.1 before the piece was split. It is remarkable" he adds, "that where the bark has been stript off for cutting letters, the wood which grows over the wound never adheres to that part, but separates of itself when the wood is cut in that direction.

‘The piece No.3, has the letters W. M. with a crown, for King William and Queen Mary. No. 4, has the letter I, with an imperfect impression of a blunt radiated crown, resembling those represented in old prints on the head of King John; another piece cut out of an oak some years ago had the same kind of crown with 1. 0. and R. for John Rex. The piece of oak, No. 1, with the letters I and R, was about one foot within the tree, and one foot from the centre; it was cut down in the year 1786. That with W. M. and a crown was about nine inches within the tree, and three inches from the centre; cut down in 1786. The piece marked I, for John, was eighteen inches within the tree, and above a foot from the centre ; cut down in 1791."

William Kitchen, of Wellow, woodman to the Earl Manvers, in converting an oak felled in the forest near Ollerton Corner, into park-fence posts, in the year 1834, found at the depth of is inches from the surface, the initials C.R. impressed upon the wood. The piece was preserved and given to William Clutton, Esq., of Penge, who was at that time and for many years a resident in Sherwood Forest, and who now affirms that while there he frequently saw such marks on old trees.

Camden, who wrote in the time of James I., speaks of Sherwood "as formerly a close shade, with the boughs of the trees so entangled in one another that a single person could hardly walk in the paths of it. At present," he adds, "it is much thinner, yet it still feeds an infinite number of deer and branchy-headed stags."

We cannot wonder then that it should have been a favourite hunting-ground of our earlier monarchs, who often resorted to it for the pleasures of the chase, and for that purpose erected a residence or palace in its midst, at Clipston, the present remains of which we give as a tail-piece to this chapter. We have frequent evidences of their having sojourned, and even held their parliaments here. One example of this occurred in the year 1290, when Edward I. summoned a parliament to meet here on the 29th October; which, however, did not come together till the beginning of November of that year. An ancient oak, formerly in the park, now on the side of the road leading from Edwinstowe to Mansfield, has long been pointed out as the place where these parliaments assembled, hence called the "Parliament Oak."

The Parliament Oak
The Parliament Oak.

The trunk of this noted tree, which is of the species, Quercus Seriflora, of always short growth, was once 25 feet in circumference; what remains of it is only a shell in three or four parts, one of which is nearly round, and the growing bark has quite surrounded it, thus forming in itself a good round tree of about two feet diameter, and bidding fair to attain a good old age, and in all human probability it will be a fine stately tree when its neighbours, the Major and Greendale Oaks, will be gone for ever. This singular transition, having taken place in our day, from the old tree to the younger will be very different to that of the Charles’ Oak on Bosquabell Forest, which has grown from an acorn of the original tree, and been planted on the site of the old one; but the Parliament Oak, in ages to come, will be the real one, a portion of the same roots, wood, bark, and branches, as were growing on the spot when parliaments were held under it, in the i3th century.

Even within the space of little more than a century from this date, very considerable portions of the ancient forest still remained; for we are told by Major Rooke, that Mr. Wylde, of Nettleworth, who died in 1780, at the age of 82, said "that he well remembered one continued wood from Mansfield to Nottingham." While the deer, because both of their numbers. and depredations, formed a subject of serious complaint and remonstrance from the freeholders of the adjoining districts, during the last century.

The forest had, no doubt, long before that period been gradually denuded of much of its sylvan clothing; and had suffered, not only from a constant felling of its timber, for naval and other purposes, but also from wars, tempests, and even from fires.

An illustration of the latter calamity is afforded in an account of a conflagration which took place within its precincts in the year 1624, and which was related by an eye-witness. This is contained in a MS. preserved in the British Museum, which is so quaint and singular that we may quote a portion of it.

It seems that the writer, whoever he might be,— perhaps a Puritan divine,—was visiting his friends at Newark when the occurrence took place, and rode over from thence with his brother, to observe the devastation which he describes, apparently, in a somewhat exaggerated strain; though, no doubt, the mischief was of considerable extent.

This curious document takes the form of an address, one might almost say of a sermon, it being much interspersed with scripture quotations, and full of most fulsome flattery, directed immediately to the "British Solomon," James I. of whose wonderful prescience it professes to be an example. It seems that the king being in the city of London on Trinity Sunday, 23 May, 1624, thus reproved the Lord Mayor, Sir Martin Lumley, for the filthy state of the streets.

"My Lorde, I am complayned unto, by some, that the cittie streetes lyeth very noysum and foulle: especially Chepeside, in somuch that strangeres takes notis of it; therefore I command and charge you to looke unto it: that it may be keep sweete and clene:

for it will be a cause to breede infecciones for it is to be expected that we shall have a hot summer: for my lorde I did never knowe nor I thinke the oulldest of any of you so hot a latter end of an Aprill and a beginning of a May: but I will not proknostiket. But it is to be douted ther will followe a hot insuinge sommer :" to which our author adds, "and nowe since which time, let all men speeke experymentally whether or no thos sainges be come to pas." The consequence of this drought was not only a very unhealthy season, but also a great conflagration in the forest of Sherwood, which it seems was accidentally set on fire by some ill-slaked charcoal that was being carted away, falling among the ling; for "upon Munday the 23 of August beinge Bartholume eve," continues our author, "aboute nounetide as it shoulde seeme the brackin and lin and trees together were of a flame that it caused such an extreordenary smoke and the winde bringinge of it to vs warde: (i.e. to Newark, seven or eight miles distant,) "that it made such a greet mist in the aire that it did darken the sonne withall: that many peepell did come out of ther houses in greete wonderinge at such a sudden and feerefull fire: and most did coniceture it to be the sonne in the cliptes and others said noe it smellt like fire: the which proufed the most trueste: for presently vpon came ther commande from the Justeses to rayse the cuntery ther aboute: And to bringe pickaxes spades and shonelles to make dikes and trenches to breeke the fire in the forreste: And such a fire as was never knowne in manes memory: beinge 4 mille longe and a mille and a hallfe ouer all at once: And had it not plesed the Lorde to turne the winde at an instant when it was sesinge vpon a greet and longe wood that was betwene Mancefellde and Nottinggame: which if it had taken houllde but the Lorde prevented it: which to my knowelege which afterwards I did see: did run up vnder the hy trees above a stones cast which if it had got vp into the bowes and branches of the greet trees it was thought it woullde have burnte vp all the cuntry before it as far as Nottingegame :"

The poor deer, it seems, escaped the flames and were seen collected together for mutual protection, for the writer tells us, that "ridinge on his way throught the forrest homeward he saw of the other side of the sellfe sam hill a greete herde of faire red deere, and amonst them 2 extreordanary greet stages, the which he never saw the like."