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Godshillwood and Woodgreen: A Squatter Settlement on the Edge of the New Forest 1600–1840

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Godshillwood and Woodgreen were extra-parochial squatter settlements probably established in the 1640s, and consisting of a dozen or so households in 1730. Three periods of rapid expansion occurred, during 1730–50 (the start of UK sustained population growth), 1790–1810 (during the agricultural boom of the French wars) and 1830–40 (a period of rural distress). By 1841 the total population was 485. The livelihood of the squatters depended on a range of activities, including maintaining orchards and gardens, farming, legal and illegal exploitation of New Forest resources, trades (notably shoemaking), agricultural labour (mostly for employers in neighbouring parishes) and leasing out of lands and cottages. A gradual pauperisation of the community between 1801 and 1841 is suggested. The settlement's extra-parochial status is explored, through its relationship with Breamore Overseers and its role in the illegitimate birth traffic. The colony's level of prosperity is assessed through examination of some key families and a study of settlement examinations and 40 or so surviving wills. The social range of the community is indicated by the presence of labourers and of gentlemen, with total bequests ranging from a few shillings to ?700.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2016

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