Review in Cheshire History, October 2016.
Cheshire Forest Eyre Roll, edited by P.M. Hill, J. Heery and members of the Ranulf Higden Society (Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, CLI, 2015). ISBN: 9780902593862; hardback, 23.8 cm., 236 pages.
This is the third volume produced by the Ranulf Higden Society, founded in 1992 by former students of a Liverpool University ‘Latin for Local History’ class for the purpose of making accessible medieval documents relating primarily to Lancashire and Cheshire. For the publishers, the Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, it is the fourth in their series of parallel Latin and English texts of Palatinate of Chester records held by The National Archives at Kew. This happy collaboration between two of the most important societies committed to the dissemination of sources relating to Cheshire’s history has given us a publication which is both handsome in presentation and invaluable in content.
The work consists of a transcription and translation of the document catalogued at Kew as CHES 33/6, with an accompanying introductory commentary and with numerical references helpfully inserted to accompany items in the text, for ease of indexing and citation. CHES 33/6 comprises 55 membranes, covering pleas, claims and related material associated with Edward the Black Prince’s Cheshire Forest Eyre of 1357. While the original document deals with all three Cheshire forests, this volume focuses on pleas and claims concerning Wirral forest - though with additional material relevant to all three - the intention being to cover the pleas and claims for the other two forests (Delamere & Mondrem and Macclesfield) in a future volume.
As the scholarly introduction explains, the forest eyre was really a device for ‘raising taxation-type revenue in Cheshire’ under the guise of punishing infringements of forest law, much of which had not previously applied within the county. (The word ‘eyre’, ultimately derived from the Latin for ‘journey’, refers to the sessions held by visiting justices,) Accordingly, from the text and translation, we learn a good deal, not only about fourteenth-century forest administration but also about the lives of those who dwelt in the forest - among them many humble folk identified by name - and about different types of land use. Indeed, the insights into the landscape of medieval Wirral to be glimpsed from the many references in the pleas to enclosures, meadows, pastures, marl-pits, mosses and, of course, woodland and its clearance, contribute to an excellent discussion in the introduction about ‘The forest and the landscape of Wirral’, complete with distribution maps. There is also a fascinating plea regarding the ferry between Seacombe and Liverpool, which was alleged to be harming the beasts of the forest.
Along with the pleas went the claims, duly entered by those who considered themselves entitled to activities which would otherwise be deemed offences, and on the validity of which the eyre jury had to decide. The charters on which these claims were based are also recorded - prominent among them Earl Ranulf III’s Magna Carta of Cheshire, the document which Cheshire Local History Association published last year - and those not transcribed or translated elsewhere are set out in full. The volume concludes with two rolls covering procedural matters, occupying the last three membranes of the original, which despite appearing to be only of dry administrative significance contain important lists of local names, of interest to anyone tracing a Wirral genealogy.
Many hands went into the production of this fine volume, the outcome of twenty years’ work by dedicated members of the Ranulf Higden Society. They are all mentioned in the Acknowledgements and some have brief biographies printed inside the dust cover. Every one of them can take pride in this achievement. It is difficult to single out any individuals but special mention should go to Paul Booth, who besides contributing to the introduction helped to guide the project and see it through to publication, and above all to the two named editors, Phyllis Hill and Jack Heery. Phyllis Hill was leader of the Cheshire Forest Eyre group of the Society until her death in 2004. Jack Heery succeeded her and lived to see the book published before his own death towards the end of 2015. Their legacy is one for which we should all be grateful.