[from Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol 4 #3 1939]



8th February, 1940.

The title of my paper is rather vague, as reference to the King's Forest" does not convey very much to the majority of people in the Isle of Man to-day. What I mean by the "King's Forest" is all those hill lands formerly held by the Lord of Mann, comprising about 25,113 acres, which include all the Hill lands now held by the Crown (administered by the Crown Receiver for the Commissioners of Crown Lands), the Common Lands Board (formerly the Commons Trustees, incorporated by the Disafforesting Act of 1866), various private owners who were granted portions of the Forest by Licence from the Lord (generally intack lands adjoining the mountains), and all those lands (called Sale Allotments) purchased from the Disafforesting Commissioners in 1865, after the King's Forest had been disafforested.

In their Report the Disafforesting Commissioners described the Forest as comprising four Sections, viz.:

1. The Northern Mountains.
2. The Southern Mountains.
3. The Ayres, and
4. The Mooragh.

The total area was given as 25,113 acres. As the total area of the Island is approximately 140,000 acres, you will at once see that a very considerable proportion of the Island was "King's Forest" (just less than one-fifth of the whole), and was in charge of the King's Forester, who lived at the Forester's Lodge. These figures refer to the area of the unenclosed Forest at the date of disafforestation, but during the period prior to 1860, no less than 22,000 acres of the Forest (now known as Intack) had been enclosed on Licences issued by the Lords of Mann, making the total area of unenclosed Forest to, be 47,000 acres--one third of the area of the Island;.

The Lord's tenants have from time immemorial enjoyed grazing and other rights (Estovers) on and over the Forest of which I will mention later.

I do not think it would be of value to speculate on the origin and early history of the land divisions of Mann. At whatever date or by whom the land divisions of parishes, treens, and quarter lands were originally carried out, they were careful to arrange as far as possible that Quarterland or Farm divisions should have one end at or near the Sea shore, and the other end as near the Mountains as possible. The reasons for this lay-out are obvious. Nor am I going to attempt to fix the date when the people of the Island first acquired their rights on the King's Forest. In 1417, when our first Statutes are recorded, such rights were fully recognised : the many references to the Forest. and the payment of certain Statutory fees to the Forester establishes this fact.

It does not take a very vivid imagination to visualise these two fine stretches of open -Mountains - the Northern one from North Barrule, Slieau Managh, Dreim Gill, Pairk-ne-Earkin, Maughold, Slieau Lhean, Snaefell, Mullagh Auyr, Slieau Lhost and Keppel, Bein-y-Phott. The Rheast, Slieau Dhoo, Slieau Curn, Slieau-ne-Fraughane, Sartfell, Colden, up to and including Greeba Mountain; and the Southern one from Slieau Chiarn. Archallagan, Granite Mountain, Glen Rushen, South Barrule. Eairey Stane, and Crowk-ne-Arrey-Lhaa.

From and during the time when the Stanleys were Kings of Mann (1406) the Lord's tenants fully exercised their rights of pasturage, cutting of turf, ling, etc., on the Forest.

Passing over a long and uneventful period up to about 1765, when the Duke of Atholl sold his Sovereign rights to the Crown, during which period Licences were granted by the Lord to enclose certain portions of the Forest, it being generally regarded as a condition that the Great Enquest should first view the premises and give its approval, and, report that such enclosure would not be prejudicial to any Public ways, watercourses or Turbaries.

Subsequent to the re-vestment (1765) great resistance appears to have been offered by the people to any further enclosure of waste lands," as all portions enclosed lessened the area over which the people had grazing and other rights. In 1777 the Great Enquest was abolished, and in the subsequent years the Duke of Athoïi (who had still retained his Manorial rights) granted Licences to several persons to enclose portions of the Mountain or waste lands. the people strongly objected, and in several cases broke down the fences which had been erected. These attempts to enclose portions of the Forest resulted in legal action being taken and decisions given that such Licences were illegal, and an infringement of the people's rights.

The office and duties of the Great Enquest were revived in 1793, and from that date to 1823 (when the Duke sold his Manorial righs to the Crown) no Licence of importance was approved, although in 1813 the Duke contemplated enclosing a large portion of the Commons, but finally abandoned such intention.

During the years 1832-1835 public opinion on the "Commons" question became very tense. The Commissioners of Woods and Forests-through the then Crown Receiver, Mr James McCrone-had received numerous applications for Licences to enclose portions of the Forest, including one from Mr. T. A. Corlett to enclose a large tract of the Northern Mountains; also a number of competitive offers for other portions, to such an extent that finally Mr McCrone advised the Commissioners to offer for sale by public auction the whole of the Forest or Commons. To quote from a letter of Mr. McCrone, dated 5th July, 1834, he says (inter alia):

If this proposition of selling the whole by auction should not be approved of, then the next best plan would be to accept Mr Corlett's proposals and take up his case and maintain it to the end. The idea that the Crown are now going to dispose of them has not only created many applications for liberty to enclose, but has brought forth multitudes of individuals who hold Licences of very ancient dates and for which they and their ancestors have always paid the stipulated Lords Rent, though they have not enclosed, and it will be found that these exceeded by many thousands of acres the extent of what Mr. Vignoles (the Surveyor) represents them to be."

In 1834, the Commissioners of Woods and Forests granted a Licence to one, Margaret Kermode, to enclose waste lands at Foxdale, without reference to the Great Enquest, and on proceeding to. enclose the lands, she was presented by the Great Enquest and fined. Mr McCrone, commenting on the issue of this Licence, remarked:

I think the Commissioners ought to comply with her request . . . . . because it would enable the Commissioners to ascertain the feelings of the Public respecting the right of the Crown to enclose these Commons, and I am sure that it is a point well worth the trying At all events, there are 30,000 acres yet to enclose, and surely it is worth while for the Crown to ascertain their right to grant Licences. to enclose as did former Lords of the Isle, and this is a fair opportunity of putting forth a feeler towards the Public and if the Commissioners be of my opinion, I would recommend that the Licence should be drawn here in the usual ancient way."

Only in two or three instances (and to a very limited extent) had Licences been granted by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests since the Crown became Lord of the Manor, until November of 1854, when a Licence was granted to Thomas Arthur Corlett, of Loughen-e-Yeigh (the Vicar-General) to enclose upwards of 300 acres (supposed by the people to be nearer 600 acres) and the Great Enquest refused their sanction by a verdict dated 8th October, 1855. An appeal from the verdict of the Great Enquest was entered before the Keys, but not prosecuted. In order to ascertain the area of the land included in the Licence, the Commissioners authorised a Mr. John Jefferson (a surveyor, of Douglas) by Warrant dated 18th May, 1856, to make a Survey, and on the 22nd July, 1856, when carrying out the same he was opposed by two men who inquired "by whose authority he came to measure the Commons." Mr Jefferson replied that it was under power of the Queen's Warrant he was engaged, but their attitude became so threatening he could not proceed with the survey. He offered to meet these men on the following morning at 10 o'clock and read the Warrant, but on that occasion a large crowd of men armed with sticks assembled and actually prevented the survey.

On the advice of the Attorney General of the Island, an information was filed in the Court of Exchequer against the two ringleaders-Cowley and Kinrade. Public feeling on the matter ran high, and on the 1st January, 1857, a largely signed Petition was presented to the Home Secretary, setting out the position and the rights claimed by the people. It stated:

That the owners and occupiers of customary estates called Quarterland, claim such Wastes as appurtenant to their Estates in respect of the rents still paid to the Lord, and the Inhabitants of the Island generally have enjoyed, from time whereof the memory of man is not to the contrary, Common of Turbary, of Estovers, and of pasture, and also the right of Quarrying Stones and digging and carrying away Sand and Gravel:--the Common of Estovers being exercised in respect of Ling or Heath which grow on the said Mountains, and the Common of pasture being exercised in respect of all Horses, Cattle, Sheep, Geese and Swine",

and asking (inter alia)

that the proceedings now pending in the Exchequer Court may be abandoned, and the Commons left in their present condition, or at least that no change be made or further proceedings taken without due Public Enquiry as to the rights and privileges of the People of the Isle of Man with respect thereto-.

In accordance with the provisions of his Licence, Thomas Arthur Corlett commenced erecting fences around the plot-a large tract of Mountain land known as "Dreim Gill''-and in the meantime an organised band of "Cossacks" took the matter in hand, marched up to the mountain and demolished the fences. This event has been immortalised in verse, composed and set to music by Mr W. C. Southward, M.L.C., which he called "The Battle of Pairk-ny-Earkin":

1. Arise! Ye Sulby Cossacks,
To right and to contend.
The horn, its sound now calls to you
Your just rights to defend.
They stole part of the Mountain,
And fenced it in as well,
The Crofters have been driven off,
Their sheep they'll have to sell.

2. Come! bring your picks and shovels,
And crowbars too you'll need,
To level down the new-made fence,
With thoroughness and speed.
Forth went those daring Cossacks,
By Oath each man was bound,
And soon the fence was levelled down,
Yes! levelled to the ground.

3. Their work was done, and well done,
And each man did his share;
Then marched they down the Mountain-side
Without a fear or care.
So then on Sulby Claddagh
Great crowds of people meet,
To, celebrate with buns and tea,
The big men's great defeat.


March on! March on!
With crowbar, pick and spade, March on to certain victory.

The matter was brought before the House of Keys, and a very strong Committee composed of Messrs William Callister, Alex. Spittall, Evan Gell, E, C. Farrant, and Robert J. Moore was appointed to take up the matter with the Crown Authorities, After a lot of correspondence the negotiations brought forth a scheme for settlement suggested by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, which was set out in a letter to the Governor, dated 8th April, 1858, and submitted to the people by the Keys' Committee at the meetings held at Sulby on the 14th September, 1858, and St. John's on the following day. I have a copy of the poster convening these meetings, and I have been told by persons who actually attended the Sulby meeting„ of the great crowds attending, and the enthusiasm with which the speeches of the members of the Committee was received.

The reply of the Hon. James Howard (Commissioner of Woods and Forests) to the Public Petition is a very interesting document, and throws a lot of light on the situation, in that it deals exhaustively with the history of the King's Forest, the rights exercised by the people, and the duties and powers of the Great Enquest. After a careful perusal of this document, and the speeches at the Sulby meeting, I have come to the conclusion that the alleged grievances of the people, and the powers of the Great Enquest had been greatly exaggerated. The Committee of the Keys which conducted the enquiry for arriving at an accurate estimate of the wishes of the inhabitants had acted with the greatest impartiality and courtesy, and were greatly aided by their chairman (Mr Wm. Callister).

In support of this conclusion, let me quote part of the speech of Mr William Farrant, C.P., of Ballamoar, who stated: That the matter had been gone into so fully it was almost unnecessary to add anything. His own views on the subject had been considerably modified :since he had examined it and heard the whole matter. The case of the Crown was very much stronger than he had at first supposed it to be and he would advise by all means the acceptance in the main of the proposition contained in the letter of the Hon. James Howard. Within ten days even he had considered that the Great Enquest possessed an absolute veto on all Licences, as no Licence appeared to have been made good without their sanction, but his views on this paint had been much modified. It appeared that the Great Enquest was merely to see that no Turbaries, ways or watercourses were interfered with by any proposed grant, and that the grants were so, enclosed that the public might have access to the Turbaries. Some were of opinion that the question might be shelved, but the Crown appeared determined to press their rights, and that those rights were more tenable than was generally supposed might be inferred from the number of Licences-3,000-already given."

Time will not permit me to give any particulars of the efforts made to acquire and make use of the People's share of the Forest in providing and maintaining what was then called "An Asylum for Lunatics and Insane Persons." Captains of the Parishes convened public meetings, and sent out circulars to the proprietors of lands asking:- whether the portion of the Commons which may be de"cided to belong to the Commoners in lieu of their rights of Common, exclusive of Turbaries, shall be divided and allotted among them according to their several rights or shall be sold, and the proceeds arising from such sale shall be applied towards the erection and future maintenance of a Lunatic Asylum-"

The Keys reported, and after prolonged negotiations, a deputation consisting of Messrs William Callister and William. Farrant interviewed the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, and the final agreement resulted in the passing of the Disafforesting Act of 1860. which swept away all rights of every description, both of the Crown and the People, except the mineral rights of the Crown, and vested the King's Forest in three Commissioners, who were appointed with full power to deal with the allotment of same to and amongst those entitled, in such proportions as they decided. The Commissioners issued their first and final Report in 1865, the main provisions of which may be set cut as follows-.

1. The full and complete area of the King's Forest with the boundaries thereof.

2. The main items of their Award allotted:-

(a) One third to Her Majesty, freed frcm all public rights of every description.
(b) One third to the People to be vested in the Trustees of the Commons.
(c) One third as Sale Allotments to be sold and the proceeds used for making new roads, fences and walls, and the costs of Disafforestation, including Allotment for Roads, Miners' Settlements, and T. A. Corlett.

The Award Plans set out the portions allotted, according .to values, under each of the above headings, the areas being:

(a) To Her Majesty
8055 acres.
(b) To the People
7909 „
(c) Sale Allotments
8574 „
122 ,
'Miners' Settlements
37 „
T. A. Corlett
416 ,.
25,113 ,
On the Sale - Allotment being offered by public auction, the Crown purchased 5,751 acres, and the balance of 2,822 acres was acquired by various purchasers, the total proceeds of the sale amounting to £25,532.

The Disafforesting (Commoners) Allotment Act was passed in 1868, vesting the People's share in the Trustees of the Common Lands, and providing for the election of the Trustees (one from each Sheading) and the management of the Commons. future elections to be triennial, one-third retiring each year. The franchise on which the election takes place would not be considered very democratic to-day, the qualification for a member being ownership of real estate to the net annual value of £100, and for a voter-a male person who owns real estate to the net annual value cf £10.

As conditions changed a number of amendments to the Act of 1866 became necessary, and as Secretary to the Common Lands Board, I have to make myself familiar with the Turbary Act of 1852 (as the whole of the Turbaries are vested in and administered by the Board), the Prinicipal Act of 1866. and at least fifteen amending Acts, including the Lords Rent Purchase Act of 1913.

Various portions have changed hands since the Act cf 1866, the Crown having purchased certain parts of the Commons, and the Common Lands Board purchased considerable areas from the Crown. Large portions of land at Foxdale have been sold off on Ground Rents, and an entirely new situation exists to-day. in the early stages of ovnership the Trustees appointed two shepherds, one for the North, and one for the South, and took on stock for grazing, letting other portions on lease. but of recent years the whole of the Commons are let on lease. Up to 1913, the net profits on the lettings were used to pay the Lords Rents of the island and on an average the proprietors of lands in each Parish had their Lords Rent paid for them every third year.

Under the Lords Rent Purchase Act of 1913, each landed proprietor's interest in the Commons was capitalised. and used to pay seven years of the 25 yers purchase price of the Lords Rent, the Common Lands Board having purchased the Lords Rent from the Crown at 25 years purchase, and sold to the proprietor at 18 years purchase. In this transaction the sum of £33,724 8s 4d was paid over to the Crown, and a very considerable amount of money was borrowed by the Board to pay the People's share of the purchase money. The Common Lands Board was allotted 80 years to pay off this debt, but in all probability the accumulation in the Sinking Fund will be sufficient to liquidate the debt in less than 50 years.

The foregoing particulars rnerely represent a bare outline of the circumstances which led up to the Disafforestation and allotment of the King's Forest in the Isle of Man. There are, however, many other interesting and historical aspects of the question which time and space have not permitted me to include.

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