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Bowland Forest High is a civil parish in the Ribble Valley district of Lancashire, England, covering part of the Forest of Bowland. The parish includes the settlements of Hareden, Sykes, and Dunsop Bridge (see Dunsop Bridge St Hubert (Roman Catholic), Lancashire). It covers Sykes Fell, Whins Brow, Croasdale Fell and Wolfhole Crag. Prior to 1974, it formed part of Bowland Rural District in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
Historic Bowland comprised a Royal Forest and a Liberty of ten manors spanning eight townships and four parishes and covered an area of almost 300 square miles (800 km2) on the historic borders of Lancashire and Yorkshire. The manors within the Liberty were Slaidburn (Newton-in-Bowland, West Bradford, Grindleton), Knowlmere, Waddington, Easington, Bashall, Mitton, Withgill (Crook), Leagram (Bowland-with-Leagram), Hammerton and Dunnow (Battersby). Modern-day Bowland Forest is divided in two large administrative townships - Great Bowland (Bowland Forest High and Bowland Forest Low) and Little Bowland (Bowland-with-Leagram) - but the Forest was much more extensive in previous times.
The Forest and Liberty of Bowland are thought to have been created by William Rufus sometime after Domesday and granted to his vassal Roger de Poitou, possibly to reward Poitou for his role in defeating the Scots army of Malcolm III in 1091-2.
The Forest and Liberty appear to have come into the possession of the de Lacys, Lords of Pontefract, by the end of the eleventh century. In 1102, along with the grant of the adjacent fee of Clitheroe and holdings in Hornby and Amounderness, they came to form the basis of what became known as the Honor of Clitheroe.
In 1311, the Honor of Clitheroe was subsumed into the Earldom of Lancaster. Between 1351 and 1661, it was administered as part of the Duchy of Lancaster. In 1661, the twenty-eight manors contained within the former Honor of Clitheroe, including the Forest and Liberty of Bowland, were granted by the Crown to General George Monck as part of the creation of the Dukedom of Albermarle. Monck had been a key figure in the restoration of Charles II. The Lordship of Bowland then descended through the Buccleuch and Towneley families.
Bowbearers of the Forest of Bowland have been appointed since the twelfth century. A Bowbearer was originally a noble who acted as ceremonial attendant to the Lord of Bowland, latterly the King, by bearing (carrying) his hunting bow, but over the centuries the Bowbearer's role underwent many changes. At an early date, the Bowbearer was a "forester in fee", holding his own feudal lands within the Forest. The first record of such a Bowbearer, Uchtred de Bolton, dates from sometimes after 1157 (claims for an earlier holder of the office, Edwin, Comes de Bolton, in the late eleventh century cannot be substantiated). At this time, the office covered the Forests of Bowland and Gilsland in Cumberland. The Boltons were Bowbearers across five generations until 1311 when the Forest of Bowland was acquired by Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster as the result of a marriage settlement.
By the late fourteenth century, the Forest of Bowland had become a Royal Forest. While the Bowbearer retained his forest fee well into the sixteenth century, he became subordinate to a Master Forester appointed by the Crown and his responsibilities grew nearer to those of a chief verderer – an unpaid official appointed to protect vert and venison and responsible for supervising and assisting in the enforcement of forest laws. Perhaps the most notorious Bowbearer during this period was Nicholas Tempest, executed at Tyburn in 1537 as one of the northern leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Catholic uprising against Henry VIII.
By the second half of the seventeenth century, two Bowbearers were being appointed as chief officers of the Bowland Forest courts. Over the course of the next three decades, as the last remnants of the ancient forest vanished, the office of Bowbearer was reduced to little more than an honorific. The Parker family of Browsholme Hall today claim to be"hereditary Bowbearers of Bowland" but this claim cannot be supported by the historical evidence. While the Parkers certainly served as Bowbearers over a number of generations up until 1858, they were always subject to grants made by the Lord of Bowland and hold no hereditary right. In April 2010, it was reported that the 16th Lord had revived two ancient historic offices of the Forest of Bowland: those of Bowbearer and Chief Steward.
The Forest of Bowland had its own forest courts – woodmote and swainmote – from early times. These appear to have been abandoned in the 1830s around the time of Peregrine Towneley’s acquisition of the Bowland Forest Estate. The halmote court at Slaidburn was disbanded following the abolition of copyhold by the Law of Property Act in 1922. General forest law in Britain was finally repealed by statute in 1971, more than 900 years after its introduction by the Normans. The original Bowland Forest courts appear to have been held at Hall Hill near Radholme Laund before moving to Whitewell sometime in the fourteenth century.
St Hubert, the patron saint of hunting, is also patron saint of the Forest of Bowland and has a chapel dedicated to him in Dunsop Bridge. This chapel was founded by Richard Eastwood of Thorneyholme, land agent to the Towneley family. Eastwood was the last known Bowbearer of the Forest of Bowland. An acclaimed breeder of racehorses and shorthorn cattle, he died in 1871 and is buried at St Hubert's.