But calamities of this kind, and the desolations of war, were not the only agents which denuded the forest of Sherwood of its sylvan honours. Large quantities of timber were from time to time felled and carried away, partly for the use of the royal navy, but still more largely, perhaps, for the benefit of persons who obtained grants to that effect. An example of this remains in the form of a petition from the inhabitants of Edwinstowe, A.D. 1670-80, for permission to appropriate 200 oaks, of the value of £200, out of the hays of Birkland and Bilbagh, for the repair of their parish church, then in a ruinous condition, occasioned principally by the fall of its steeple.

The petition was entertained, and on a survey being made for that purpose, it was found that "although there were yet standing many thousand trees, few of which there were but what were decaying, and very few useful for the navy.

Major Rooke gives the result of several surveys, which show the rapid diminution in the quantity of timber in this neighbourhood. In 1609, on a survey. there were found in Birkland and Bilhagh 49,909 trees, and the trees in general even then passed their maturity; while in 1686 there were in the same district 37,316, including hollow trees, so that in 77 years (1609—86) 2,593 trees had disappeared.

From a survey again made in 1790, it appears that there were then in Birkland and Bilhagh together only 10,117 trees, which at that time were valued at £17,147 15s. 4d., so that in 104 years (from 1686-1790) 27,199 trees had gone.

Thoroton says that the forest in his time (1677) had "wonderfully declined," and that there was then and had long been a justice seat, not yet finished, held under the Duke of Newcastle, Justice in Eyre of all the king’s forests north of Trent, when his Deputies or Lieutenants allowed such and so many claims, "that there will not, very shortly, be wood enough left to cover the bilberries, which every summer were wont to be an extraordinary great profit and pleasure to poor people, who gathered them and carried them all about the country to sell."

In other parts of the forest the same process of denudation had also been going on for ages, while no care was taken to replace the lost timber by planting.

This operation was reserved for a later age, when the forest had become private property, since which large tracts have again been clothed with wood by the chief proprietors of the soil, and by none to a greater extent than by the late Duke of Portland.

No doubt, even from early times, the system of assarting, as it was called, or reducing to cultivation, portions of the Forest, and which could only be done under licence from the crown, had been going on. We frequently meet in ancient documents of the "assart of such a one," but in later days a much more extensive practice of disafforesting, under grants or sales, had become common.

Thus we find that in the year 1683, in this immediate neighbourhood, 1,270 acres out of the hays of Bilhagh and the White Lodge, after being duly valued by the officers of the crown, were sold to the Duke of Kingston, in order that he might enclose the same into a park at Thoresby; and this, with adjoining property which he already possessed at Perlthorpe and Thoresby, formed the present extensive park of Thoresby, and was the occasion of a mansion being erected on a more extended scale than had before existed. This Thoresby House, which is spoken of in a letter addressed from C. Townley, Esq., to Ralph Thoresby, A. D. 1703, as "my Lord Kingston’s great new house," was totally destroyed by fire in 1745. It seems, however, that there was an earlier house, for Thoroton, writing in 1677, speaks of Thoresby as the residence of the Hon. W. Pierrepont, Earl of Kingston’s second son.

At the beginning, also, of the last century a considerable portion of the forest, to the extent of about 3,000 acres, was enclosed to form a park, for the preservation of the deer. This was done under the auspices of the then Duke of Newcastle, warden of the forest, who was himself a keen sportsman, and lost his life while following the chase. This portion of the forest was called the "New Park, in which," says a document of that date, "are Clumber and Hardwick." In fact it is represented by the present Clumber Park; and the keeper or forester’s lodge there, formed the nucleus of the ducal mansion at that place. At the general alienation and disafforestation of the district, this became the property of the ancestor of the present possessor.

The part of the forest which still remained to the crown, were the hays of Birkland and Bilbagh. These, however, were granted, about 70 years ago, to his grace the late Duke of Portland, in exchange for the perpetual advowson of St. Mary-le-Bone, London. Birkland was afterwards conveyed by the Duke to the late Earl Manvers, in exchange for the manors Holbeck and Bonbusk, which are near to the Duke’s domain at Welbeck.

Several Inclosure Acts were passed between the years 1789 and 1796, for Arnold Forest, Basford, Sutton-in-Ashfield, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Lenton, and Radford, and thus about 8,248 acres were brought into cultivation. By these means it has come to pass, that in this district, with the exception of Birkland and Bilhagh, and a few ancient trees scattered here and there, and besides what are included in the parks of the nobility and gentry, scarcely a vestige of the Ancient Forest of Sherwood now remains except in name. And, however much, the lover of sylvan scenery, or those who could enter into the spirit of the poet, who says

"How sweet in the Woodlands
With fleet hound and horn,
To awaken shrill echo,
And taste the fresh morn,"

may lament the loss of the vert and venison, from so large a portion of this once pre-eminently woodland region; yet the change cannot but commend itself to the mind of every practical lover of his country; inasmuch as large tracts, which in truth had become of little value for the profit either of the crown or of the subject, have thus been devoted, by being brought into cultivation, to the sustenance and comfort of our greatly increased population.

It is indeed evident that at the beginning of the last century, the maintenance of such parts of the forest, as then remained, had become an intolerable burden and injury to the neighbouring landholders, from the great damage and consumption caused by the deer, which in consequence of being better fed, by preying upon the corn and other crops around, had increased to an unreasonable number. Petitions and addresses, as we have already intimated, were agreed to and signed by a large body of the sufferers, and were forwarded to the crown and the House of Commons. And, although, these representations, for a while, met with little encouragement, yet eventually justice and reason prevailed, and led to the general system of disafforesting and enclosure already alluded to.

It is evident indeed, that the Forest of Sherwood had long ceased to be a source of profit to the crown; for wherever a fall of timber took place the expenses attending the operation, together with the numerous fees and perquisites of the various officers, swallowed up the value of the wood, and not unfrequently left the owner on the debtor side of the balance sheet. A large annual expenditure, moreover, was incurred for the preservation of the deer, and for maintaining a considerable hunting establishment. A thousand pounds per annum was in the reign of Queen Anne granted for those purposes; out of which £200 was applied to the expenses of keepers’ wages and other necessaries, for the use of the New Park at Clumber. The rest was expended on the forest in general, where 40 couple of hounds were kept, with two huntsmen and a considerable staff of grooms, keepers, and horses; it furnished also a supply of hay for the deer in winter.

The following statement may, perhaps, be interesting to the friends of the chase.

"Account of the expenses and allowances intended for the sup. port of Sherwood Fforrest, when Lord Oxford was Treasurer.

  £ s. d.
Allowed from the Crown for the maintenance of the Forest of Sherwood and the New Park, per annum. 1000 00 00
Allowed for keepers’ wages, hay, and other necessaries for the use of the New Park, per annum 200 00 00
Carried over . . 800 00 00
Remains for the use of ye Forrest of Sherwood 800 00 00
Keeping 40 couple of hounds at £3 3s. per week, viz. 4 loads of meale at 12s. per load, and 5 horses at 3s. per horse, amounts per annum to 163 16 00
To Mr. Charles Palmer, as huntsman, deputy ranger, and forest keeper, per annum. 60 00 00
To Charles Palmer, junr., as second huntsman 30 00 00
To Cornelius Short, as foot huntsman and feeder 06 00 00
His board wages, at 4s. per week 10 08 00
Four forrest keepers, at £25 each 100 00 00
Two hunting grooms to ride in with the hounds for themselves and horses, being four at ye least 80 00 00
For six hunters, for the deputy warden or other officers in chief, with two grooms 150 00 00
Seventy load of hay, for the forrest dear, at 30s. 1 per load 105 00 00
Carriage of hay, at 3s. 6d. per load 12 05 00
For coal and straw, with all other necessaries and 1 utensils, for the service of the dogg kennel 50 00 00
  £807 09 00

But all these means failed to keep up the glories of old Sherwood’s deer hunting. The times and circumstances of the neighbourhood no longer tolerated it, and although traditions of its existence and of the stir and excitement which it caused around, have not yet quite died away, aged persons having lived in our own early days who remembered it well, and were wont to relate various anecdotes respecting it, yet it gradually sunk and has become a thing of the past, to be replaced, indeed, by a no mean substitute, and one better suited to the present day, though carried on in pursuit of a more ignoble game. Allusion, of course, is made to the famous pack of foxhounds which now hunt this county. With the hounds and horns of these, the precincts of old Sherwood’s Forest oft ring as merrily as in days of yore, and many as gallant a steed and as fearless a rider pursue their cry as ever were seen in earlier times.