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Securing the history and heritage of commoning in the New Forest

Securing the history and heritage of commoning in the New Forest


Fascinating accounts of commoning life have been brought together in a new collection of memories and photographs.

Through Our Ancestors’ Eyes features the stories of 20 families and hundreds of photographs depicting commoning, forestry and agriculture in the Forest.

The project was part of Our Past, Our Future, a £4.4 million Landscape Partnership Scheme for the New Forest supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Led by the New Forest National Park Authority in partnership with 10 other organisations, the scheme has undertaken 21 projects to restore lost habitats, develop skills and inspire a new generation to champion and care for the New Forest.

The archive, which includes audio clips plus transcriptions, was created by the Commoners Defence Association (CDA) with help from the New Forest Heritage Centre. Volunteer Patrick Keane, with the help of Kerry Barrass, spent many hours preparing the records for publication.

You can hear members of well-known commoning families talk about their ancestors and life in the forest, as well as view hundreds of photographs.

Caroline Stride discusses life as a commoner in the New Forest from the late 19th century, including pony management, dairying and the First World War army camp for New Zealand troops at Norley Wood, as well as her three sons, Robert, Andrew and Philip, and their families, who proudly continue the commoning tradition.

All the photographs, audio files and transcripts are stored at the Christopher Tower Library at the New Forest Heritage Centre in Lyndhurst and are available on the New Forest Knowledge website.

Charlotte Lines, acting CDA Chairman, said ‘This project gives us a cultural record of commoning, forestry and agriculture within the New Forest; a lasting legacy for future generations to enjoy. The CDA is proud to have been a part of this project and we hope we can continue to add to these cultural records for years to come.’


Editors Notes


Sam Dunning at the The New Forest Pony Breeding & Cattle Society Annual breed show in Burley. © Heather Dunning


  • Ernie Mansbridge shares memories of his commoning family and New Forest characters in the first half of the twentieth century.
  • Beryl House is a commoner, from a family of commoners who also farmed. She reminisces about the television personality Jack Hargreaves – an incomer to the New Forest but a much-loved local resident, who starred in programmes including ‘Out of Town’ and ‘How?’. Beryl also recollects smallholding life, including heavy farm work, gathering ponies for sale and the ways in which the community worked together to help each other.
  • Kerry Newton tells us about Ron Ings, the Chief Agister of the New Forest and an expert horseman. Kerry worked with Ron and describes the techniques he used for training and managing New Forest ponies in the mid to late 20th century.
  • Carole Copper’s family have a history of commoning and she began commoning herself in the early 1990s. She recalls scenes and life from the New Forest in the late 20th century, describing the former unfenced Forest landscape and the impact of uncontrolled vehicle access on New Forest animals. She talks about commoners’ gatherings and pony drifts.
  • Margaret Day married into commoning, with her husband having come to the life aged 18. The couple began commoning with ponies, going on to own cattle and later, pigs. Margaret recollects her family’s farming pursuits in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Margaret’s children grew up as commoners; they and their children continue the commoning life.
  • Marion Ingram is from a commoning family and has been involved in it all her life, marrying a commoner. She recalls many New Forest events in the mid to late 20th century including pony drifts, sales, point-to-point meets and the Queen’s visit in 1979. She tells us about commoners’ gatherings and celebrations. Her children carry on the commoning traditions.
  • Rowena Wedge began commoning in the 1980s having been given the opportunity to become involved by an established commoning family. Her family has a history of Keeping and market gardening in the New Forest. Her memories include New Forest characters and farming activities such as haymaking, prompted by family photographs from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.
  • Rosemary Harding talks about commoners and their pony and cattle management during the 20th century. Amongst other activities she describes how her father used to take his cattle to Rottingdean in East Sussex and by ferry to the Isle of Wight, for grazing. She remembers the Queen’s visit to the New Forest in 1979.
  • Peggy Tillyer began commoning in the 1950s and married a man from a commoning family. She shares her memories of the New Forest include pony husbandry, farming, forest management, a pony drift, the New Forest Show and the Queen’s visit in 1979.
  • Pat Dunning’s family had a background in commoning, although circumstances had forced them to find an alternative life when she was young; her father worked on the railway in Totton. Pat and her family returned to commoning life when she was in her teens, starting back by owning and running ponies on the New Forest. She reminiscences about the Ashurst Drift and the Queen’s visit to the New Forest in 1979.
  • Mary Gray remembers celebrating the Queen’s coronation and talks about her family including her grandfather Levi Rockley who lived at Oaklands.
  • Caroline Stride comes from a commoning family who are also tenant farmers in the New Forest. She looks back on life in the New Forest from the late 19th century through to the late 20th century.

About the New Forest National Park Authority

Protect – Enjoy – Prosper

The New Forest National Park Authority’s statutory purposes are to:
-Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Park – Protect.
-Promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities – Enjoy.

We also have a duty to:
Seek to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities within the Park – Prosper.

The New Forest National Park was designated in March 2005. Its unique landscape has been shaped over the centuries by grazing ponies, cattle and pigs which roam free. Majestic woodlands, rare heathland and a spectacular coastline provide fabulous opportunities for quiet recreation, enjoyment and discovery.

Media Contact:
Lisa Reynolds, Communications Assistant
New Forest National Park Authority
Tel: 01590 646639

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