THE VERDERERS’ COURT
The verderers date back to Saxon and Norman times, and during the medieval period, every Royal forest had its own verderers’ court. These were originally set up to manage and enforce the forest laws that the Crown had laid down. The Court of Verderers is the oldest court in the land, with the exception of the Coroner’s Court. The verderers’ current powers stem from an Act set up by Parliament in 1877, and they represent the interests of the commoners, as opposed to those of the Crown. Elected verderers now regulate the exercise of common rights in the forest and also have responsibilities involving development control and conservation. There are 10 verderers: five are elected by the commoners. The Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, the Forestry Commission, the National Park Authority and Natural England each appoint the others. The official, or head verderer is the chairman of the court and is appointed by the Queen. To assist them in their work, the verderers employ five agisters, responsible for supervising the welfare of the commoners’ ponies, cattle, donkeys, pigs and sheep which graze the forest. They also attend any road accidents involving animals in the forest. The court meets in the Verderers’ Hall, which itself dates back to 1388, at the Queen’s House in Lyndhurst once a month. At these ‘open court’ sessions, the public are able to address the verderers on matters which officially must be ‘relevant to some aspect of the New Forest or its management, be brief and phrased in moderate language’. They must climb an ancient, rough-hewn wooden dock to make their ‘presentments’; a reminder of the original punitive function of the court.
The Queen’s House in Lyndhurst, home to the Verderers’ Hall.