This post is about my visit to the New Forest Museum which forms part of the New Forest Centre in Lyndhurst, the administrative capital of the New Forest. For my previous post which deals with my visit to the Mad Hatter Tea Rooms and the grave of Alice Liddell (who formed the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s children’s classic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), please see http://kevin-morris.co.uk/2012/05/22/mad-as-a-hatter/. Both the Mad Hatter Tea Rooms and the grave of Alice Liddell are located in Lyndhurst.
On Sunday 20 May I spent a fascinating couple of hours exploring the history of the New Forest through the exhibits housed in the New Forest Museum. The forest was designated as a royal park by William the Conqueror (William I) in 1079 and was used by the royals for the hunting of deer. William I’s son, William Rufus died in the forest and folklore has it that this was a punishment visited on King William for destroying approximately 36 villages in order to incorporate the land into the New Forest. However many historians dispute this and point out that much of the heathland which composes the forest is incapable of supporting farming communities.
The New Forest became a major supplier of timber for war ships (it could take upto 2000 English oaks to build a ship). Initially little if any thought was given to conservation (it was believed that the supply of timber was inexhaustible), however programmes for replacing the trees which had been felled gradually came into being. The replacement of timber by steel subsequently meant that the demand for wood for ship building declined.
In 2001 the New Forest was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and in 2005 it became one of the UK’s National Parks.
The New Forest is one of the UK’s few remaining commons on which those with “commoners rights” may graze animals. During my ramblings around the forest I came across ponies wandering at will including one feeding a foal. It was lovely to come across these creatures grazing contentedly and to know that they have done so for centuries past. The ponies did not appear to be concerned by the presence of humans or of my dog (who was on his lead) and we where able to pass very close to them.
The New Forest ponies are usually left to graze for a year at a time being rounded up, on a yearly basis by their owners (each pony carries a unique mark or brand which enables it’s ownership to be determined). The animal’s owners must pay a marking fee but grazing rights are held in common so there is no payment for allowing the creatures to wander on the common.
During the 19th century attempts where made to end commoning in the New Forest. This lead to the formation of an association for the defence of the commons which remains active to this day.
As a blind person I was grateful for the assistance of my sighted guide who read out the many interesting notices which accompanied the displays. In addition to the printed notices the New Forest Museum also provides audio exhibits which allow the visitor to explore the oral history of the New Forest. I particularly enjoyed listening to a talk by a lady who had witnessed the build-up of troops around Lyndhurst prior to the D-Day landings. In the weeks building up to the landings all mail to the troops was stopped for reasons of security and the American soldiers where prevented from entering Lyndhurst for the same reason.
The Museum offers a large number of displays and activities of particular interest to children. For example there are clothes which children can try on and crayons are provided enabling younger visitors to produce bark rubbings.
For information on the New Forest Museum please visit http://www.newforestcentre.org.uk/new-forest-museum/.
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