The Speech House was originally built as a hunting lodge for Charles the second, in around 1669 and sits at the very heart of the Royal Forest of Dean. The title Verderer originates from the Norman times and was derived from the French word “Vert” (green) translated loosely into “Custodians of the Greenery”. There are three Verderers Courts in the UK, this one, one in Lyndhurst in the New Forest and one covering Eppin or u g Forest. Appointed by local council. Here the appointment as a Verderer is for life until the individual is unable to carry out his duties. The Verderers receive no payment but are by statute entitled to a Doe and a Buck a year from the Forest, a bundle of wood and a bag of coal. However, no one on record has claimed this right to date,
The pre requisites to being a Verderer in the Dean are; You have to be Male, reside within the Forest Boundaries, be over 21, and of good character.
In the days preceding the passing of offences to the magistrates courts, the Verderers had powers to deal with misdemeanours in the Forest: They could sentence people to hanging and there was a gibbet outside the building, they could flog people, there is a whipping beam still in one of the bedrooms and they could order the transportation of offenders.
A local,Warren James, was sent to Tasmania in 1831, following his part in local riots in the area over the fencing off of the Forest. Recently we were lucky enough to be visited by descendants of his who were tracing their roots.
These days the Verderers work closely with the Forestry Commission and Local authorities. They comment on planning applications whether to do with gravel extraction or building applications within the forest. They liaise over the various tree diseases that are affecting the Ash, Larch, Oak and Chestnut. They also discuss the issues of the Wild Boar believed now to be in excess of 1500, and the damage they are doing to the local environment. Generally their business is anything that has or could have a detrimental effect on the forest.
When the court meets we have to clear the room, set up the court tables in the centre, and bring down the two sets of Verderer’s chairs.
The heavily carved oak chairs were donated by the Crawshay family to the Verderers and date back to 1820. Some 18 years ago they were stolen from this room and went on a journey around Spain, Portugal ending up a few years later, in an auction house in London. The auctioneer seeing the quality of the chairs checked with the police stolen arts squad and subsequently, two Verderers went to London, identified them and they were recently returned to their rightful home in the Court room
Whilst they were missing the Verderers and Forestry Commission, commissioned the four new chairs which are light oak from the forest, the roundels being different woods from the forest and the four boxes containing the four main minerals, Ochre, Slate, Coal and Ore.
The Court has the original open fireplace, although now fuelled by LPG. The only major change is that the two docks for prosecution and defence are missing.
The two paintings are dated and registered in numerous directories as being circa 1690 – 1710. The Bed Chamber by Italian artist Bernedetto. Hunter at rest – unknown artist. Believed Dutch / Flemish influence.
The Verderers in the olden days would hold peoples courts, where they would allow grievances to be aired and resolved in front of them. The Verderers decisions would be binding.
On these days known in the Dean as a Speech Court days, the proclamations from the king would also be read to the assembled gathering and it would be known as Speeches Day. Hence this was the house where the speeches were made and is how the building got its name.
The Spades hanging on the wall were used by HRH Queen Elizabeth and HRH Prince Phillip in April 1957 when they planted two oak trees across the road on the western side of the building.
Exactly 57 years to the day, we were honoured to be asked to host HRH Earl & Countess of Wessex for lunch during their visit and they went on to plant two oak trees across the road at the front of the Speech House and unveil a plaque on the Obelisk which had refurbished for the visit.