The Weald of Kent, Surrey and Sussex

The Ashdown Forest Dispute 1876-1882
by Professor Brian Short
published by Sussex Record Society in 1997
Excerpts from this work have been reproduced on this site with the kind permission of Professor Brian Short

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William Augustus Raper
Benjamin Bridger

Bridger, Benjamin. Works for Mr. Robert Melville and lives on the Forest close by. Will be 68 in October 1879. Was born in Hartfield Parish and except for 8 years from about 18 to 26 years of age have lived in the Parish close to Hartfield Grove. During the 8 years I used to come home at least once a year.

My father's name was James Bridger. My earliest recollection is as a boy living with him on a little property of about 6 acres now called Yew Tree Farm close to Forest House and Colemans Hatch. I have heard my father say that he took in the 6 acres from the Forest and got a grant of it from the Duchess of Dorset. When I was about 16 years old we let the Yew Tree Farm and moved to Furnace Farm adjoining the Forest at New Bridge where my father lived till his death about 1848. Except during the 8 years I was away from home, I lived with my Father at Furnace Farm till about 1838 when I married and moved to the Yew Tree Cottage near which I have continued to live ever since.

On my father's death about 1848 the Furnace Farm was sold to Captain West who owned the Hartfield Grove property and it has ever since formed part of it.

I recollect when my Father lived at the Yew Tree Farm he kept 2 cows and a calf or two and he always took litter and fern from the Forest about the autumn or winter. When I was very young, say 5 or 6 years old, I used to go out on the Forest with a hook to cut fern as children do now, being too young to cut litter. Fern was preferred for littering down under cover. Litter which was mown consisted of a mixture of heath, fern, grass and furze and was used for the yards. From my earliest recollection we always burnt turf which was taken from the Forest. It was a man's job to cut it, but as a small child I used to go out on the Forest to turn the pieces to get them dried and when they were brought home helped to pack them away in the lodge.

My Father continued to take fern and litter for use on the Yew Tree Farm and afterwards on the Furnace Farm up till his death, I helped him to do so from time to time. The occupiers of both farms have to my knowledge continued to take fern and litter down to the present time. I have seen it myself.

I recollect the Hartfield Grove property ever since I recollect anything. The farmyard adjoins the land which lay between the Yew Tree Farm and the Furnace Farm where my Aunt lived before my father. As a boy I was constantly passing the lane to go to and from my Aunt and I recollect seeing litter regularly stacked by the side of the lane adjoining the yard. I recollect cutting one load on the Forest myself for Captain West. He owned the place only 6 years and it was towards the end of that time. I was out of work and he gave me the job.

When I first remember Hartfield Grove it was part of the Holly Hill Estate and belonged to Colonel Young. He sold off Hartfield Grove to Captain Hall who built the house and he sold it to Captain Greenland who sold it to Captain West. I recollect its name was then Snow's Hole. The property was subsequently sold to Mr. Langton then to Colonel Morris who sold it to the late Mr. Melville about 11 years ago. I have worked on the Estate either gardening or on the farm for the last 31 years.

There is a little property of about 3 acres with house on the north west corner of Hartfield Grove which in my young days belonged to Thomas Brooker. Captain West afterwards bought it and laid it on to Hartfield Grove. Thomas Brooker used to have litter and turf. Since then it was laid on to Hartfield Grove the litter has been expended on it in the form of manure brought from Hartfield Grove yard. Mr. Langton, Colonel Morris and Mr and Mrs Melville [?] cut litter on the Forest for consumption [?] on the property down to the present time.

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