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Waltham Black Act

Waltham Black Act, 1722. The statute of 9 Geo. I c. 22 has long been held up as a specimen of draconian 18th-cent. legislation. It originated in response to an outbreak of organized poaching in Windsor Forest and near Waltham (Hants), and declared that to go abroad in woodland areas, commons, or on the high road in disguise or with blackened face was a felony without benefit of clergy and punishable by death. The gangs were so ruthless and intimidating that more and more offences were specified until the Act became a compendium of rural disorder—cutting down trees, maiming cattle, setting fire to ricks, breaking down fish-ponds, writing threatening letters, and shooting at people. In the end fifty or more offences were included in the Act. Passed for three years, it was continued until 1758 and then made permanent. It was abolished, largely at the instigation of Mackintosh and Peel, in 1823.

J. A. Cannon

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