David Blyth – Forest Law

Forest Law is a new body of work produced by David Blyth for The Howse Shal Be Preserved, to accompany our exhibition at Rockingham Castle responding to the history of one of the few homes in England that have been continuously occupied for nearly 1,000 years.

Forest Law refers to the manner in which Rockingham Forest was once governed by the rule of the King. Under this system, the rights of common people to access common land within the enclosure of the Forest was managed and policed. No persons were allowed to hunt deer or wild boar for these were declared property of the King. Similarly, no persons were permitted to fell trees for firewood or graze farm animals without paying taxes. Passage through the forest was also restricted at certain times of the year to further complicate daily life. Raising a family must have been difficult.

A hierarchy of titled officials were given powers to maintain control of the natural assets of the Forest. This included raiding the homes of suspected persons, confiscating personal property and removing the claws of pet dogs to make them ineffective for deer hunting. Crimes against the King’s deer and woodlands led to severe punishment. People found guilty of poaching, stealing wood or evading tax were incarcerated at Rockingham Castle where a Royal court called ‘The Eyre’ was held every seven years. This hearing before the King would determine the fate of the individual.

​Within this context, the artwork presents the viewer with a fictionalised collection of poaching and trapping tools that celebrate the ingenuity and creative vigour of the common folk of Rockingham Forest. Suitably confiscated from the castle, the challenging work is available to view in augmented reality by scanning images featuring a painting from the castle’s collection containing a representation of a declawed dog with Rockingham Castle visible in the background.

Using the free Artivive app from the Google Play or Apple Store, visitors are able to scan postcards given to visitors or the original painting inside the Servants Hall at Rockingham Castle. As an online component to the exhibition please scan the image below to reveal more, or visit David’s website here to view the full set of confiscations.

Listen to the accompanying podcast journey through David’s mind and process, featuring discussion with our Director James Steventon.

David Blyth is an artist who likes animals, art and people and tries to make work that helps them get along better. His work is informed by the craft skills of taxidermy and draws upon narratives of folklore, shamanism and cultural memory.

All images by David Blyth: Griffin’s Claws, 2021, Pewter, Keratin; Forest Law (In Exile), 2021, Installation view at Gray’s School of Art; Fox, 2013, Taxidermy; Camera Trap (Version 2), 2021, Wood, Taxidermy, Camera; Truffle Finder (Reprise), 2021, Hessian, Latex, Leather, Copper, Pig Snout; Deer Trap, 2008, Taxidermy, Wood, Rubber, Rope, Metal, Leather; A Scot’s Brogue (Woodcock Restraint), 2020, Deconstructed leather shoe, Feathers; Deer Stang (White Hart version), 2012, Bone, Tin, Wood, Clay; Forest Law (In Exile), 2021, Installation view at Gray’s School of Art.