In Episode 3 of the New Forest podcast Dionis Macnair MBE talks to Dave Friskney about The Forest Scouts, New Forest Pony breeding, The Commoners Defence Association, The Verderers, New Forest smugglers.
The audio was recorded on October 1st 2014.
Episode 3 Audio Transcript
Dave Friskney: And I believe the ponies and possibly the Commoners played a part in the Boer War?
Dionis Macnair: Oh yes. The Forest Scouts were a, what do you call it? Not part of the regular army. The
Dave Friskney: Auxiliary?
Dionis Macnair: No, there is a special word for it which at the moment I can’t think of. They were raised privately. They came with their own animals. Which in this case would have been Forest ponies. And they went out to fight in the Zulu Wars at the end of the nineteenth century. And Lord Lucas was the local captain and he took out this body, the Forest Scouts and they were attached to the Hampshire…
Dave Friskney: Yeomanry Regiment.
Dionis Macnair: Yeomanry Regiment, whatever. They went out and they fought in the Zulu Wars. And the Forest ponies actually did much better than the Army Remounts.
Dave Friskney: The big horses.
Dionis Macnair: Yeah. They stood the conditions much better, and of course the ate less which was enormously beneficial when everything was starving and they were tougher. They didn’t get so many ailments and so on. They had to carry fifteen stone on thirty mile route marches and they stood up to it rather better than the Army Remounts. And at the end of the Zulu Wars some of them came home, they then won the army jumping competition at Aldershot and the riders must have done an Alan Oliver because if you saw them their feet were about a foot below the girth and of course Lord Lucas was participating in spite of the fact that he lost a leg in the Zulu War.
Didn’t stop him taking part in the point to point either.
Dave Friskney: So jumping and the point to point he took part in?
Dionis Macnair: Oh yes.
Dave Friskney: Gosh.
Dionis Macnair: And of course he was one of the first presidents of the Pony Society. The Burley and District New Forest Pony Breeding and Cattle Society. Which was the original stud book society. There was also the Lyndhurst Society which looked after the stallions and eventually in 1938 they, when there were only three people who were not common to both, they amalgamated and became the present society.
Dave Friskney: Where abouts did he live, Lord Lucas?
Dionis Macnair: Picket Post.
Dave Friskney: Close to here then.
Dionis Macnair: He was brought up at Old House.
Dave Friskney: Oh right, yes.
Dionis Macnair: Then he moved to Picket Post to a perfectly hideous Victorian house there. Which later became a school and finally tried to run it when the school packed it in. Probably because it couldn’t expand. The chap who bought it tried to run it as a hotel and that didn’t work so he tried to get the insurance money by burning it down. But he was caught and tried for arson at Winchester where the witness box caught fire which was always rather a nice turn.
Dave Friskney: Am I right Lord Lucas’ prefix for his ponies was the Picket Ponies like Picket Starlight?
Dionis Macnair: Yes, that’s right.
Dave Friskney: And did he introduce some Welsh blood?
Dionis Macnair: Well he introduced at the end of the nineteenth century.
Dave Friskney: Yes, it would be.
Dionis Macnair: It was the great time for improvement of stock. The current theory then was all the native ponies went back to the same foundation and that they were all inbred. Actually they weren’t. Neither fact was actually right but that was what was believed at the time and so the idea was to import animals from other native herds to get an outcross and to improve the breed and for instance he imported Highland Pony Clansman, black Highland. Which had a much better hind leg than a lot of the Forest ponies. And of course it was bigger. He imported a Fell Pony and quite a lot, he imported some from Exmoor and Dartmoor and quite a lot from Wales. And the Welsh had done a lot of crossing with Arabs, because the Arab was the, the Arab and the Thoroughbred crosses were the real animals of choice. One of the animals that Lord Lucas imported was Picket Hermit . Who was by a Thoroughbred and his mother was Bay mare bought in Bournemouth.
Dave Friskney: [Laugh] That was all the details.
Dionis Macnair: She may have been Forest, she may not. Nobody knows. Anyway that was the father, that was the pedigree of Picket Hermit. And the Thoroughbreds always did much better than the Arabs. On the Forest. Queen Victoria had lent an Arab to the Verderers to use on the Forest. Way back in the early nineteenth century but the Deputy Surveyor didn’t think much of it and particularly not when he got very poor and so on and he had to employ the most expensive vet in Southampton to recover the animal. And he was then sent back to Windsor and in fact he got very few foals because his condition wasn’t good enough on the Forest. And the Arabs have never done well on it and the Arab crosses have never done well on the Forest because they have the Arab tooth. The Thoroughbred though it also goes back to what were called Arabs in those days in the eighteenth century when the Thoroughbred breed started as did the Lipizzaner and the Andalusian and so on they all went back to what was then called Arab blood or Turk or Barb they called it, but they were all Eastern
Dave Friskney: North African type.
Dionis Macnair: They were all the same basic breed. But in those days they didn’t have the dished face. If you look at the pictures of the original Thoroughbred three which were the foundation of the Thoroughbred breed. They all had nice heads but they weren’t dished, they were almost straight and they didn’t have the little tiny muzzle.
Dave Friskney: Is that the Arab tooth that you were talking about?
Dionis Macnair: The trouble was as time went on people loved and it was very, very slightly dished, some of them. And of course they liked this they thought it was very pretty and as time went on it became more and more and more exaggerated and the muzzle got smaller and smaller and smaller just as the same happened if you can remember if you can remember with certain breeds of dog. They exaggerated characteristics like that with disastrous results. And the disastrous result of the ponies with the horses was with that very dished face the jaw. There wasn’t room for a long root to the tooth. And since a horses tooth grows out all its life and is sort of carrot shaped narrower at the bottom as it grew down it became loose. Because the top of the tooth was a lot smaller and the hole through the jaw remained the same size. So it became loose and eventually fell out and so the short root combined with this falling out enormously reduced the animals capacity to live in its later years as it got older and also it enormously shortened its life. So the Arab tooth was a disaster. But the Thoroughbred hadn’t got that tooth. Because the dished face and the very fine narrow muzzle hadn’t been exaggerated.
Dave Friskney: I see, yes.
Dionis Macnair: The more exaggerated it was the worse it was. And you got what the Welsh called Frog Faces. They are a disaster. But a lot of the Welsh that were imported by Lucas and everybody else they were the ones that were winning the show ring, they were the very pretty ones that everybody wanted and they had this dished face, that everybody thought was lovely and the tiny muzzle. Well the way breeding works is that you get twenty five percent which get the best qualities of both…
Dave Friskney: Parents.
Dionis Macnair: Both parents, well they were very popular these improved ones. So they sold, very well. So they were never bred from. They went as riding ponies all over the country. And harnessed ponies particularly and then you got fifty percent that would have some and some and then you got twenty five percent that got the worst of both. Because nobody wanted them because they had the roughness of the old Forester and the Arab tooth. Nobody wanted them so they were turned out to breed. And we got an awful problem with poor ponies in the winter. And that was largely an Arab tooth problem. It took us a long time. The Commoners after a while, the Commoners made a petition to the Verderers saying that those ponies with the most old Forest blood lived longest on the Forest and would they stop these imports. The Verderers listened and they did. They stopped the imports in nineteen thirty. But it has taken us, it took us, sixty years to get the hardiness back. And you will still get the odd throwback. But we have virtually got rid of it. And you don’t have the problem of the poor ponies on the Forest that we used to have. The other thing of course with the stallion scheme it has produced unconsidered consequences certainly which are disastrous but it did mean particularly the most valuable part of the stallion scheme was only turning the stallions out for one month because that meant that no mare had more than one chance to get in foal. And if she had a foal that year they very seldom hold to their foal heat. So that meant that no mare bred more than every other year. And very few bred that much because there wouldn’t be a stallion available. So both the mares and the stallions having been kept in were in very much better breeding condition. It doesn’t effect the hardiness because as long as they only got in within twenty miles of the Forest the parasites will be the same and so on. So you are not diminishing the hardiness. But the parasites and the bugs and so on will be the same locally wild.
Dave Friskney: So the Dorset heaths and places like that.
Dionis Macnair: It depends where the Dorset heath is, if the Dorset heath is within twenty miles of the Forest your alright. You wouldn’t want to further than that.
Dave Friskney: Its the same sort of terrain.
Dionis Macnair: Yes.
Dave Friskney: Maybe less so with the chalk land. The Dorset chalk downs or something.
Dionis Macnair: It depends, there are Dorset chalk downs very much within the twenty miles, they are only just the other side of the Avon Valley.
Dave Friskney: Cranborne Chase I suppose.
Dionis Macnair: Yes and of course chalk is always a good thing you know. You get bone from chalk.
Dave Friskney: The calcium. You mentioned Clansman, the black Highland stallion but his offspring were the dun colour I believe. Are all of the dun coloured ponies in the Forest traced back to Clansman?
Dionis Macnair: No it depends on what sort, dun or buck skin. Actually a lot of different colours you inherit differently. You will get the buck skin duns, they were there before. That’s a very old colour. And you got it from the Exmoor crosses too. The thing about the unconsidered consequences was first of all the mares go off looking for the stallions and so they are no longer, and the stallions cover a much larger range. Which means they are much more difficult to find, they are much fitter so they are much more difficult to catch but they cover a much larger area. The second unconsidered and really unconsidered consequence was that the older stallions will only serve mares that have bred before. Preferably that the’ve bred too before. With the result that they will not cover maiden mares. This is natures way of stopping inbreeding. But the result of course has been combined with the fact that the geldings are out all the time. And geldings by the matter of fact that geldings grow bigger and they are on their own territory because they are out all the time. Geldings will drive the stallions off and then you’ve got greedy old mares that want to keep the stallion entirely to her self and drove everything off and then you’ve got the boys that live together all winter. And they’ve made their own boyfriends in the winter grazing and they get on very well together.
Dave Friskney: All the stallions kept together, all lads together.
Dionis Macnair: All lads together and they got on well and they went off looking for their boyfriends.
Dave Friskney: Looking for their mates rather than the girls.
Dionis Macnair: Yes. Consequently we have got mares, eight to ten year olds that have never had a foal. And those very often are the daughters of the really good old mares. Those are thoroughly adapted to the Forest and those are the ones that we simply cannot afford to lose. Well, a two year old, three year old, four year old and five year old will cover anything. So we’ve now brought in a Futurity scheme to try and encourage people to keep colts because that implies that you have got to have a continual progression of young colts coming on. And we are also told that with a reduced population no stallion should have more than a certain number of foals and then he should go. So the older stallions we don’t actually want. We want the young ones but to keep a progression of young ones, to make anybody keep them is not easy. Because if only ten are turned out your chances of being one of the ten are very, very limited. However good you are. And then they introduced this weighting on the bloodlines, and to my mind they got it wrong. Because if you look at Thoroughbred breeding, the most successful Thoroughbred racehorse probably there has ever been had the same grandfather in three of his four grandfathers was the same horse. And he had the same horse twice again in the same horse in the next generation. He was incredibly inbred and in fact by inbreeding it’s the way you fix a breed type. By inbreeding you fix a type. Thoroughbreds since the seventeenth century have been bred for speed, the stamina, and you won’t get speed and stamina without soundness. So they have been bred for speed, stamina and soundness the three essential breeding elements in a horse. They only thing they didn’t bother about was temperament.
Dave Friskney: I was going to say temperament is the important one.
Dionis Macnair: Which is actually the most important of all. And thirty years ago a vet told me he wouldn’t go into any stable in Newmarket. He wouldn’t dare. But thanks to the health and safety any trainer who kept a horse that you couldn’t go into the stable with, he would be sued by staff.
Dave Friskney: So the vet couldn’t go in because any stallion would potentially kick you, possibly kick you to death.
Dionis Macnair: Yes, or any mare come to that. So the stud staff and the stable staff in the racing stables, thanks to health and safety they would sue their employer and so they started only looking at the ones with a decent temperament. Now, I’ll go into any stable in Newmarket anywhere. So they’ve now got the fourth vital element. So provided your breeding from really sound stock you can inbreed as much as you like. Stallion doesn’t matter two hoots, that’s how you fix a breeds characteristics. What matters, where the diversity comes when you mustn’t have the inbreeding is in the bottom line of the mare’s pedigree. The mother, the mother, the mother, the mother, the mother, the mother, the mother. The really valuable mares are those that are Forest bred, that have got eight to ten generations of the mother, the mother, the mother bred on the Forest. Those will be the ones that will really do and those are the ones that we desperately want. Weighting it on the stallions, that was a huge mistake. Forget about the stallion, weight it entirely on the mare’s bottom line.
Dave Friskney: With this natural tendency of the stallions to avoid inbreeding by only mating with the older mares. That way they are avoiding mating with their daughters. So nature doesn’t want this inbreeding though does it?
Dionis Macnair: It doesn’t want the daughters inbred. It’s the daughters that matter. So provided you don’t have too many by the same stallion. Too many foals by the same stallion it doesn’t matter about the stallion. You’ve got to limit his number of foals and that’s the way to deal with him. So they are saying really that a stallion should run perhaps for four years and then you should change him. But this presupposes a constant pool of young colts coming on.
Dave Friskney: Yes, and what particular facilities and handling abilities do commoners need to be able to handle a stallion.
Dionis Macnair: They need somewhere where they can get it in. And tame it. And they don’t need to be in too much of a hurry. And mostly Forest ponies have got very good temperaments because we have always had so many visitors that any animal that misbehaves was removed and so what we have bred for has been temperament.
Dave Friskney: I believe you have said before that in your time the Forest ponies have become a lot tamer because they see so many more people around.
Dionis Macnair: And of course people feed them. Which is disastrous because normally a group of ponies on the Forest will be a mare, her daughters and her grandchildren. If one of those has to be removed because it has kicked a visitor and is put in another part of the Forest it will be among strangers, it will be taken away from its family where it is part of the group. And it will be the interloper and the others will be beastly to it. The new herd will be beastly to it. Sometimes they will manage to get assimilated, sometimes perhaps they will go off and meet up with another lot of miseries that have been turned out. But its not a happy situation. It’s actually unkind. They will normally stay in those family groups. The fillies. So it’s not kind.
Dave Friskney: I believe it is a hundred years old now, what’s the Commoners Defence League all about?
Dionis Macnair: The Commoners Defence Association was founded more or less when the Deer Removal Act came in and when there was this enormous increase in, well it was again the Inclosure Acts. When the inclosures were being put in and they felt they were losing a huge amount of grazing.
Dave Friskney: And they were.
Dionis Macnair: And they were. Huge amounts of area and so that was their raison d’être and they’ve been a very good body for the Commoners ever since. If you like, a lobby.
Dave Friskney: The Deer Removal Act, there was a lot of pressure on the traditional Forest, at that particular time, do you think?
Dionis Macnair: Yes and the result of the Commoners Defence and the New Forest Association which was formed about the same time, for the same reason, and they got all the sporting people. Who felt they were losing their shooting, their fishing and their hunting grounds and so on. They got together as well and the result was the eighteen seventy seven New Forest Act. Which unfortunately has proved to be full of holes as far as the lawyers are concerned. But it is our foundation. And all the other acts have stemmed from that. Right down to the nineteen forty nine act, which is the last one. And it is absolutely essential for the Forest that it keeps those acts. And it makes us unique. Dartmoor and Exmoor and places haven’t got them. Dartmoor and Exmoor never having had the Verderers. On Dartmoor they never had any stallion control and that means because the Verderers never passed a stallion that wasn’t registered. To get registered as a stallion nowadays a stallion has to be DNA tested. Before that he had to be blood tested. But it means that any foal that is born on the Forest. It doesn’t matter how the mare is bred. Any foal that is born on the Forest is a first class and you can DNA test the foal, you can DNA test its mother and because the stallion is bound to have been tested and you can absolutely and individually identify that pony and where it has come from. And that’s what DEFRA wants for disease control. So that’s a big help to us towards getting Fortress Forest. And Dartmoor can’t do it you see because they never had it until the last two or three years they never had no stallion control.
Dave Friskney: I was going to bring this up later, but as you’ve already mentioned the Verderers, what is the role of the Verderers amongst the Commoners and the Commoning community?
Dionis Macnair: The Verderers, they go back the second oldest court in the country. Only the Coroners’ Court is older. Because originally they were founded to administer the King’s Forest Laws.
Dave Friskney: And that would have been William the Conqueror, the king?
Dionis Macnair: Yes, when he made his Nova Forestra he wanted a body of people to enforce his Forest Laws.
Dave Friskney: And the name was Norman French meaning.
Dionis Macnair: Yes.
Dave Friskney: Meaning.
Dionis Macnair: Green.
Dave Friskney: Guardians was it?
Dionis Macnair: It was the Guardians of the Green. So over the course of the centuries they have been reconstituted several times. When the lawless period in the eighteenth century, they were almost defunct. Not quite, but almost. In theory there were five of them but two of them never attended a court, one of them was enormously old and in fact it was practically impossible to get any byelaw through the Verderers in those days because it was just chaos. But the whole Forest was chaotic at that stage and incredibly law less, full of smugglers [laughter] and generally whatever. Then it was reconstituted, the Court was again reconstituted under the eighteen seventy seven act, to manage Commoning and the green, the Commoners were dependant on. The weakness of that act, was that it only applied to the area within the perambulation.
Dave Friskney: The laid down boundary of the Forest.
Dionis Macnair: That’s the area of the open Forest.
Dave Friskney: Inside the cattle grids.
Dionis Macnair: What is now inside the cattle grids. In those days there used to be a certain amount of fencing and gates to keep them in but the gates were continually left open. Particularly when the motor car arrived. And so they were done away with, then the ponies strayed allover the place. We got the ‘Lane Creepers’, which were the ones that strayed off the Forest, and so on.
Dave Friskney: All over the place, that took them as far as Southampton, Southampton Common and Romsey I believe?
Dionis Macnair: Oh yes, and Bournemouth and Hurn, right across by Hurn Airport and they were straying everywhere. My mother has a great story about going down with the Agister to bring back six stray donkeys from Christchurch. They got on fine till they got to Thorney Hill and they went in six different directions.
Dave Friskney: They were almost back then, at least.
Dionis Macnair: But anyway, the weakness of that was the confining the Verderers to nowadays is not big enough. What was desperately needed was a buffer area round the edge of the Forest.
Dave Friskney: Backup grazing.
Dionis Macnair: Backup grazing, yes. And more places for Commoners to live, more holdings. And the County Council, or District Council rather, tried to impose the planning laws of the National Park on a buffer area. Which they called the Heritage Area. They couldn’t call it the buffer area that would have been far too politically incorrect. But of course it had no legal enfAorcement. Because they weren’t a National Park. And that was the justification for the National Park. Because it was the only way we could get a buffer zone. But unfortunately when the National Park was drawn up they reduced the area of the Heritage Area considerably. So the National Park is much smaller than the Heritage Area was. So that was a bit of a disaster. And of course it is another layer or bureaucracy and every thing else. But the eighteen seventy act reconstituted the Verderers to be elected by the Commoners and supervised by an official Verderer appointed by the Queen. That was the eighteen seventy act. The voting for it was done by the Commoners, no it was done by anybody on the Electoral Role. Which meant no women, in those days. And you had to be a house holder. You had to be a tenant of a property. There was no secret ballot. So you had to go and shout your preference to the Under Sheriff, at the Queen’s House when an election was held.
Dave Friskney: Which is where your Court is now.
Dionis Macnair: Yes, oh the Verderers’ Court was always set there. So when it was reconstituted again in nineteen forty nine, it was then agreed that there would be, well it was then decreed that there would be five appointed Verderers, and five elected Verderers and the elected Verderers would be elected by the Commoners. Problem was that the Commoners had to get themselves on to the Electoral Role every time there was an election. And they had to do it, before the Electoral Role was printed which meant they had to do it several months in advance of an election. And being Commoners they never got around to doing it and then they shouted because they were too late to register. The Electoral Role was ridiculously small. So that was the weakness of that act. The appointed Verderers in theory, the appointed Verderer couldn’t vote on his own subject as it were. So if, the five elected Verderers all voted together they could out vote and of course the Official Verderer who was officially elected by the Queen, but in fact on the advice of the Forestry Commission who had a Forestry Commission Verderer and what was then a MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) now a DEFRA Verderer so in fact the Forestry Commission have got three of the Verderers. In theory they could out vote but the Chairman has a casting vote. When Oliver was first Chairman, the Official Verderer there came up the business of Holmsley Lodge which the Commission wanted to sell, for an enormous sum, to get the best money for the tax payer so say… at the headquarters of the Forestry Commission. Oliver thought he had done a very good deal he got them to agree that if we allowed them to sell Holmsley Lodge and the cottage that went with it they would give us two Commoners cottages under the scheme for Commoners Cottages that could be let to Commoners not bought by Commoners but let to Commoners. Which would keep them in Commoning. They could live in those cottages until they stopped Commoning but if they stopped Commoning they had to go. He thought it was a very good deal. Well there were some of us that didn’t think he got a very good deal. We were appalled that the Commission could turn out a tenant who’d been there for forty years. “But they’ve never been Commoners”. Oh yes they had. “And the cottage is too small to be a Commoners cottage. It’s only got two bedrooms.” And it was a surprise when they came to actually sell it, they sold it with three bedrooms didn’t they?
Dave Friskney: And it was a huge lump of land. Wasn’t it?
Dionis Macnair: Thirteen and a half acres.
Dave Friskney: Yes, and so well situated, talk about…
Dionis Macnair: I know and it had a yard with buildings adjacent, it was perfect holdings.
Dave Friskney: Those people that were thrown out were breeding rare poultry, I believe.
Dionis Macnair: They were. They were breeding rare poultry and they had the odd pony on the Forest.
Dave Friskney: Right, so they were Commoners.
Dionis Macnair: Yes, and their predecessors had a groom gardener in the Cottage who turned out what he called his ‘Juernseys’. [Laughter] He turned out cattle. And the people in the house had polo ponies. To ride a polo pony at Rhinefield in those days it wasn’t allowed to have cost more than thirty five pounds.
Dave Friskney: Right, so they were going to be Forest crosses or something.
Dionis Macnair: Yes, that’s right. It was a very different kettle of fish. But the lies that were told over that and the voting went five, five. But the chairman had a casting vote. The Forestry Commission Verderer, one of the three couldn’t actually vote but the chairman cast his vote with the Appointed Verderers and used his casting vote to give it to them. Now my understanding is that a Chairman’s casting vote is used to maintain the status quo. But he went against that. He learnt the error of his ways very quickly. He was too much of a newly appointed chap in those days. To start with he hadn’t a clue. He very soon learnt. He is an intelligent man, and he very soon learnt and he is very good. Laterally he was an extremely good official Verderer and he’s a very good chap on the National Park now but it took him, we always say it takes five years to break somebody in to teach them about the Forest.
Dave Friskney: And I believe that you were the first woman that the Commoners ever voted to become a Verderer?
Dionis Macnair: Yes! I am highly privileged and delighted to be able to be and I’m still the only elected woman Verderer, plenty of appointed ones.
Dave Friskney: Dionis, how did the Colonial types, the people coming back from the colonies, they settled in the Forest and how did that work with the Commoners?
Dionis Macnair: It worked extremely well with the Commoners as long as they were here because particularly in Burley. Because they tended to buy the Victorian villas round the Forest and in Burley they bought Clough’s middling sized houses. They came here for the climate. Because they often had their health damaged abroad in the colonies and in the case of my great uncle he had a son who was described as having a weak chest. I think he had asthma. So he came for that reason. They also came because obviously like attracts like and also because there was a lot of cheap sport. As I say, in those days to play a polo pony at Rhinefield it wasn’t allowed to be of more value than thirty five pounds. The Commission licensed golf courses, cricket pitches, hockey pitches, football grounds, rugby grounds on the open Forest for local residents but they had to be residents to be members. And of course when that fell by the board, that was a mistake, but never mind that is water under the bridge.
Dave Friskney: So these were people coming back from better climates where they were used to a more outdoor life.
Dionis Macnair: Well they were very sporty all over the Empire. Sport played a huge part and of course down by the sea there was swimming, yachting, you know.
Dave Friskney: Lymington would have been a sailing haven.
Dionis Macnair: Sailing and so on. Keyhaven and along the parts of the Forest and of course Calshot and up the Solent and all around and of course, as I say, masses of all different sport. So that was a huge draw so they came and they then having a reasonable income they employed the Commoners as groom/gardeners quite often and they sometimes had a cottage for instance, as Holmsley Lodge for instance, in which they would put a Commoner and if they were like my grandmother who didn’t wish to keep a cow she had an agreement with Mr House, who was the Commoner at the foot of the road, that he could graze her field as backup land in exchange for giving her milk and there was a lot of that. So as long as the colonial people stayed my uncle as I say he was the first member of the family who came, and he came from the colonies. And then his sister came because he was here. So you got a lot of people who had a certain amount of money they weren’t rich but they had a certain amount of money and they employed. And because there were no public services here in those days, except the telephone, that was the first public service that came. They had wells and they wanted a generator to pump the water up to the roof so that they didn’t have to go out to the seep well or turn the handle or push the pump. You know, so they installed a pump house with a diesel generator and they also had a diesel generator to make electricity and that required quite skilled people to install and service these diesel engines. One or two of them started to have cars so then you got garage starting. Mr Boyle started a private bus service. And Mr Clough here started the Working Men’s Club and he built the parish hall and he had orchards and apiaries and he started the toy factory which was a wonderful employer.
Dave Friskney: Of Commoners?
Dionis Macnair: Everybody, men. It meant that people could still live in their holdings and get a decent job. To augment their Commoning. But they were still living on the spot they could still common direct. It wasn’t until the last of those colonial people died out that it all fell apart. Because then their houses were sold at these vast inflated rates and that percolated down they then started buying the cottages and building on to them. Because the planning laws allow you to build on a third. Increase by a third. So they got bigger and were bought by people who were away and so on.
Dave Friskney: Weekend cottages.
Dionis Macnair: Very often they were sub let and they became weekend cottages.
Dave Friskney: Holiday lets.
Dionis Macnair: Holiday lets, then it all fell apart. That wasn’t in Burley until the nineties.
Dave Friskney: Gosh, that late.
Dionis Macnair: Clough’s legacy of an independent village lived on after sixty years after his tragic death. The housing policy at the moment is absolutely crazy.
Dave Friskney: You mentioned the lawless period and you also mentioned your mum and I seem to remember a story of her, she used to ride out with one of the Agisters and on the Smugglers Road he found something when he was young.
Dionis Macnair: He said, that he can remember when they dug out barrels from there.
Dave Friskney: With Brandy in?
Dionis Macnair: Yes. And then there was the story of the doctor who was blindfolded and taken into the Forest to treat one of the smugglers, who I think had been shot in the leg. But they blindfolded him up to take him away from where they were so he wouldn’t know. There were all sorts of wonderful stories.
Dave Friskney: And the real height of the smuggling was in the Napoleonic War when they wanted all the goodies from France. And the army thought that was funding Napoleon’s army that they were fighting.
Dionis Macnair: Yes, that’s right. So when a soldier came on a lot of smugglers, he was basically outnumbered and they murdered him and threw his body in Soldier’s Bog.
Dave Friskney: He was lost in the Forest and stumbled onto Old House.
Dionis Macnair: I don’t know if he was lost, he may have gone looking. I don’t know what he was doing. He found them, and they murdered him and put him in Soldier’s Bog. But they were too greedy. They stole his snuff box. And his snuff box was recognised by other soldiers in the Queen’s Head.
Dave Friskney: Oh, it was the Queen’s Head where they were drinking.
Dionis Macnair: And they saw it and so they were able to arrest and get those smugglers. And they were hung at Knaves Ash.
Dave Friskney: Up by Crow.
Dionis Macnair: Mmm.
Dave Friskney: A few miles away.
Dionis Macnair: That was the gibbet. An enormous number of stories, we could go on forever. [Laughter]
Dave Friskney: Okay Dionis, thank you very much.
Outro: Thank you for listening to this iNewForest production. It was recorded by Dave Friskney and produced by Richard Senior.
Dionis Macnair MBE
Dionis Macnair has dedicated her life to the New Forest. She was the first woman to become an Elected Verderer and served for more than 30 years as Secretary of the New Forest Pony Breeding and Cattle Society. This world renowned pony breeder, judge, and published author made an MBE in 2010 for her services to the New Forest. She still breeds and rides her ponies from her home in Burley. In 2014 this devoted Commoner bequeathed her cottage and 11 acres of land to the New Forest Trust. In 2015 the Royal British Legion celebrated her 78 years of tireless poppy selling for the charity.
Dave Friskney enjoys nothing more than riding or walking in the New Forest. He is proud to be a New Forest pony owner and a keen natural horsemanship practitioner. His expertise in martial arts has taken him all over the world including a stint teaching the New York Police self defence. Today Mr Friskney teaches Karate, Wing Chun and Tai Chi closer to home in Dorset.