English School, Mynedeep Forest, with its Circumjacent Villages and Laws

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)


Country House
Mells Manor
Mynedeep Forest, with its Circumjacent Villages and Laws
? 17th century
Medium and support
Oil on wooden panels
Overall height: 129.5 cm, Overall width: 170 cm
English School
Catalogue Number


The ‘Mynedeep Forest’, as it appears in the inscription at the top of the present painting, relates to the Mendips, a range of carboniferous limestone hills in Somerset, which have for centuries been mined for lead and zinc ores and to a lesser extent coal. The painting records, through a map and accompanying text, the mining rights in the Mendips, as established during the reign of Edward IV during the later fifteenth century. At that time, rights were awarded by the Crown to four manors or lordships: the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Abbot of Glastonbury, the lord of the manor of Chewton, and the lord of the manor of East Harptry. The four areas owned by the lordships were called mineries, and named Chewton, Harptree, Priddy and West. It is notable in this context that the estates at Mells, acquired by the Horners in the sixteenth century, had belonged previously to the Abbot of Glastonbury and as such the owners had an active interest in promoting and protecting mining rights.

MM34 is one of several such maps of the Mynedeep Forest. Bishop Edmund Hobhouse (1817–1904), a founder of the Somerset Record Society, who made a particular study of the subject, recorded in 1895 the existence of five: one, painted on canvas (the ‘Ashwick’ map), which he had presented to the Wells Museum, another, also on canvas, presented by William George to the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society and then in the Taunton Museum, a third, the present map (MM34), belonging to the Horners at Mells, a fourth, on parchment, belonging to the Earls of Waldegrave at Chewton Mendip, and a fifth belonging to T. H. Baker of Mere Down, Wiltshire.1 Indeed, as it was noted: ‘From the number of these Maps still remaining, it is presumed that not only the courts of the four Lords Royal, but also those of every manor claiming mining rights and adjoining the Forest possessed one of its own’.2 MM34 relates closely to the coloured map on parchment passed down through the possession of the Earls of Waldegrave at Chewton Mendip, some twelve miles west of Mells. The Waldegrave map, which also contains text panels to either side, is, as it has been stated, ‘allied either as a copy or pattern to Mr. Horner’s larger map’.3 The dates of the present map and the Waldegrave map are unknown but it has been suggested that the writing on the Waldegrave one ‘looks not older than the seventeenth century’.4 

One curious point of comparison between MM34 and the Waldegrave map is that the former has been copied upside down, hence ‘East’ in MM34 is to the west and vice versa, while churches to the south should be, in terms of geographical correctness, on the northern perimeter. Thus, for example, the church at Mells, which is here situated to the left of the map, should in reality be at the right-hand side, above Whatley and below Babington.

 Both the Waldegrave map and MM34 relate to an apparently older map on canvas, mentioned earlier, which was gifted to the Wells Museum by Bishop Hobhouse. This map, which according to Hobhouse had been made during ‘Elizabeth’s reign’,5 had belonged to the lords of the manor of Ashwick, which was purchased around 1790 by Sir John Coxe Hippisley (see MM58) from Earl Fortescue. He subsequently disposed of the deeds to the manor and the map too, acquired some time later by Hobhouse.6 Although Coxe Hippisley himself never resided at Mells, his second wife was Elizabeth Anne Horner, daughter of Thomas Horner of Mells. Whether there is any link between Coxe Hippisley and the version of the map at Mells is uncertain, although it may be significant that the manor of Ashwick had originally been acquired by Thomas Horner in the 1540s on the Dissolution of the Monasteries. According to Hobhouse, the date and origin of the Mells version of the map was itself unknown, and ‘did not come into the Horner family till about fifty years ago’, that is, in the mid-nineteenth century.7 It may have been acquired, therefore, either by Thomas Strangways Horner (1762–1844) or his heir, the Reverend John Stuart Hippisley Horner (1810–1874). Certainly, Sir John Fortescue Horner (1842–1927) took a close interest in the map, since he exhibited it twice, in 1875 and 1888, at exhibitions held by the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society.8

In the centre of the map depicted in MM34 – albeit upside down – are the four ‘mineries’, named here the ‘Priddy Minery’,‘Chuton Minery’, ‘Harptry Minery’ and ‘West Minery’. Around the perimeter are thirty-six churches, including St Andrew’s, Mells, and Wells Cathedral. In the four corners – possibly unique to the present version – are vignettes relating to aspects of the mining industry. To the left and right of the map are text panels, which record the legal code relating to the establishment of the mineries. The text on the left of the map relates to the rules on grazing cattle on Mendip. This ends with the words Irrot Secor Dnae Reginae (‘Enrolled in the Exchequer of Our Lady the Queen’), which indicates that the rules were reconfirmed in the time of Elizabeth I.9 The related ‘orders’ or laws, on the right panel, are numbered 1 to 10 (although in fact there were numerous others).10 Item 6 on the right states:

 that if any man of that occupation do pick or steal any Lead or Lead oare to the Value of xiij d ob [=13½ pennies or 1s 1½d] the Lord or his Officer may arrest all his Lead and oare House or hearths with all his Grooves and works and keep them as a forfeit to his own use and shall take the person that so hath offended and bring him where his House or worke and all his tooles and instrum[ents]s belonging to the same occupation be and put him into his House or worke and sett fire in all togeather about him and banish him from that occupation before all the Meynders [miners] for ever

In the four corners – possibly unique to the present version – are vignettes relating to aspects of the mining industry. The top left vignette is an illustration of Item 6, the offender’s house being set on fire, with groups of miners standing around as witnesses (women on the left, men on the right). In the foreground, there is even a woman bringing out what looks like a tray of refreshments for this spectator sport, and her name,‘Mrs Webb’, is written beside her. According to other evidence (the Wells version) the man whose house is set on fire shall be put inside the house, but the doors and windows not barricaded so that he has the chance to escape. The other vignettes depict, bottom left, picking over a slag heap and ‘throwing his hack’ (mentioned in Item 3 as constitutive to a miner’s claim); top right, miners, named as William Hare of Rowborrow (north west Mendip below Dolebury camp and near the village of Churchill, not far from Priddy), John Hare and James Gully; bottom right, a miner s tools about his ‘pitch’ (Item 2), including bucket and rope.11

The code and the accompanying laws, cited here, were established in 1470 by Sir Richard Choke and are known as Lord Choke’s Laws. The laws were eventually printed in 1687.12 In 1795 the Enclosure of Mendip Act was passed by Parliament, at a stroke negating any manorial interest in mining rights and the relevance of the ‘Mynedeep Forest’ maps.

by Martin Postle


  1. The Right Reverend Bishop Hobhouse, ‘On a Map of Mendip’, Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological & Natural History Society, Taunton: Barnicott and Pearce, 1895, vol. 41 (3rd series, vol. 1), pt 2, pp. 65–6, 71–2.

  2. Editor’s note in ibid., p. 66. Hobhouse mentions five maps in total; the one which formed the principle subject of his research he presented to the Wells & Mendip Museum.

  3. Bishop Hobhouse, ‘Somerset Forest Bounds’, Somersetshire Archaeological & Natural History Society’s Proceedings, 1891, vol. 37, Taunton: T. M. Hawkins; London: Longman Green Reader and Dyer, 1892, p. 87.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Hobhouse, 1895, p. 71.

  6. Ibid., p. 66.

  7. Ibid., p. 71.

  8. Horner exhibited the map in 1875 at the Frome Literary and Scientific Institution, and in 1888: see ‘The Local Museum’, Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society’s Proceedings, 1875, vol. 21, Taunton: Frederick May; London: Longman Green Reader and Dyer, 1876, p. 66; Hobhouse, 1892, p. 79.

  9. They were ‘reconfirmed’ because the text begins ‘Be it right well known that this is Enrolled in the Kings Highness Exchequer by the time of King Edward the fourth’: private communication, Raymond Asquith, 8 July 2020.

  10. For a summary of the establishment of the four lordships, the code and the orders, see J. McMurtrie, FGS, ‘Notes on the Forest of the Mendip, its Mining Customs and Ancient Laws’, Transactions of the Institution of Mining Engineers, vol. 20, 1900–1, Newcastle upon Tyne: Published by the Institution, 1902, pp. 528–82. For a transcription of the text inscribed on MM34, see ibid., App. 1, pp. 533–4. See also Robert Hunt, British Mining: A Treatise on the History, Discovery, Practical Development and Future Prospects of Metalliferous Mines in the United Kingdom, London: C. Lockwood and Co., 1884, pp. 134–6.

  11. I am grateful to Raymond Asquith, Earl of Oxford and Asquith, who provided the transcription of Item 6 and information relating to the four vignettes: private communication, 8 July 2020.

  12. Hobhouse, 1895, p. 65. See also The Ancient Laws, Customs and Orders of the Miners in the King’s Forrest of Mendip in the County of Somerset, London: Printed for William Cooper at the Pelican in Little Britain, 1687.


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