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The Origins, Rise and Decline of Free Mining Customs in England and North Wales: A Legal Standpoint

By David Henderson Tew

Abstract

Free mining or customary mining laws were known in certain lead mining areas of England and Wales, in the Stannaries (Devon and Cornwall), in the iron-ore and coal mines of the Forest of Dean, and in the quarries of Dean and Purbeck. They give the miner, essentially, the right to enter upon another's land without permission and extract the mineral ore, paying no rent to the landowner but a royalty to the mineral lord, normally the Crown. It is suggested that these customs originated in Romano-British times as they resemble in some ways the Hadrianic Aljustrel Laws of Spain.\ud They were already in force when confirmed by Royal charter in the Stannaries and by a Quo Waranto enquiry in Derbyshire in the thirteenth century. The customs in Dean may have originated from a lost Royal grant in the early fourteenth century. In Alston they are known from the reign of Henry II, and in Mendip the four Lords Royal seem to have derived rights from royal grant about the same time. In Flintshire, Denbighshire and the Yorkshire Dales the customs are similar to Derbyshire.\ud In the Middle Ages the Crown favoured free mining customs as they protected part-time miners from their manorial lords while actually mining, and helped to provide a source of skilled men for military purposes.\ud Free mining areas developed a legal structure of courts and legislative bodies based on a specialist jury. The Stannary Parliament even obtained a right to review Westminster statutes.\ud After Tudor times the Crown lost interest in protecting customary mining, and the institution declined. Legislative bodies in the Stannaries, Dean and the Mendips closed in the eighteenth century, though free mining itself continued in the Stannaries, Derbyshire and Dean. Today a few free miners are active in Dean, though in theory the customs are still in force in Derbyshire, and tin 'bounding' is still possible in Cornwall

Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 1997
OAI identifier: oai:lra.le.ac.uk:2381/9095

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