The Man Trap

 

Here's a nice gory object to attract children of all ages.  Recently moved to the new Living Landscape Gallery it is actually rather a sobering item.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries common land and shared fields were being enclosed in pursuit of more efficient and productive farming, as well as for fashionable parkland.  William Cobbett (born in Farnham in 1763) wrote passionately about the resulting loss of livelihood for the rural poor and there were other protests.   In 1721 a masked gang, led by 'King John' killed 11 deer at the Bishop's Park at Farnham and then rode through the market place in triumph.

In 1723 the 'Black Act' authorised the death penalty for more than 50 poaching offences.  It remained law for nearly a century and when it was repealed poachers were transported instead. Landowners also used man traps, as well as spring guns and dog spears operated by trip wire, to deter poachers.  Man traps were made illegal in 1826 but in 1830 a new law was passed enabling landowners to apply for a licence to use them.  They were finally banned in 1861, although Gertrude Jekyll, writing in 1904, observed that "notices of such dangers were posted on the outsides of plantations to within a comparatively recent date."

Our man trap probably dates to the early 19th century.  To set it, the metal jaws were forced apart and held down by a finely balanced catch.  The slightest movement of the central plate would release the catch, causing the jaws to slam shut.  It is hard to imagine that the poacher would not lose his foot.  The hooks on the plate were to hold down the leaves and grass used to camouflage the trap.

Gertrude Jekyll includes a photograph of a man trap in Old West Surrey, along with the story of how this "curious relic of cruel old days" was found -  "it was discovered in a wood on a beautiful property owned by a lady who had four then unmarried daughters.  Luckily no one enjoyed the obvious joke more than these dear ladies themselves."

 

 

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