Epping Forest (just outside London) was in the process of being Enclosed and made private in the 19th century, but a campaign of mass trespass forced the government to place it in common hands. The first image here (from September 1871) was made just months after a demonstration there.
Around the mid-19th century, over half of Epping Forest had been enclosed and the rights commoners had for firewood, grazing or even just a walk in the woods, were (as with most of the English countryside) being stolen away and cut down.
The public weren’t happy. On 11th Nov, they took part in an annual ceremony defending their rights of pollarding in the forest (lopping higher branches for firewood while encouraging new growth). The event was celebrated on Staples Hill with bonfires, beer and joy.
Despite condemnation by the British press, the campaign continued unabated with huge public support. By 1871, a mass demonstration was called for 8th July to ‘Save the Forest’.
Attended by thousands of mainly working class people, the rally saw fences torn down. Storming the event, and making an arrest the police were then allowed to enjoy the forest for themselves and not told off for trespassing!
But eventually the campaigners won. Their “crime” of trespass became a right. Within a month, parliament began to protect the forest and by 1878 passed an act to make it public. An opening by Queen Victoria (see 7th image) was attended by 500,000. She stated: “It gives me the greatest satisfaction to dedicate this beautiful Forest to the use and enjoyment of my people for all time”.
While the green swathe on the 8th image might look like the Amazon, this is London’s Epping Forest today! It now covers some 6000 acres and over a million trees.
From Lordenshaw to Worth Forest, Right to Roam are continuing the mass trespass tradition to protect and open up the countryside for all.
Credit to Ellie Wilson, The Gentle Author and Russell Tranter for info and images.