The Commoners are, more than any other group of people, responsible for the continued existence of Ashdown Forest as an open, undeveloped area.
Commoners, historically, were not necessarily "common" people; they were simply people whose landholdings had rights of common on the Forest attached to them. In practice they ranged from lowly tenants or landowners running small, subsistence farm-holdings scraping a living off the Forest to major local landowners of high social standing. So, for example, in the 19th century the main protagonist on behalf of the Commoners in the celebrated legal dispute between the Commoners and the Lord of the Manor, the seventh Earl de la Warr, about their rights was Bernard Hale, a barrister and Deputy Lieutenant of Sussex, while the Commoners backing him included Sir Percy Maryon-Wilson Bart, the Duke of Norfolk, the 3rd Earl of Sheffield, Lady Shelley and the 3rd Baron Colchester of Kidbrooke Park.
Development of Rights
The Rights of Common on Ashdown Forest evolved from the long-standing customary practices of the local people who used and exploited the Forest over many centuries, and they may even date back to the Anglo-Saxon period.
Decline of the Commoners
The subdivision of commonable properties from the end of the 19th century onwards significantly increased the number of Commoners