Micah, the charismatic hero of Secrets, encounters a man trap and saves a young lad from a terrible fate as the jaws snap shut.
These devices were cruel, vicious deterrents that were set in the ground and when the central plate was pressed the jaws clamped shut, maiming the unsuspecting trespassers.
“Micah swung a leg over a fallen tree trunk, but then, as the metal’s edge caught his eye, he froze. He saw the danger and the notion of his peaceful village suddenly dispersed – man traps, never before had he seen such things around Dibbledale. The woodland had always been open to all.”
Man traps have been used since the 18th century as the amount of what had been common ground or shared woodland began to be increasingly enclosed by unscrupulous and greedy landowners.
Private landowners saw no reason to share the game that lived on the land with the ‘common folk.’ The 19th century progressed but so did poverty – rapidly, and many families struggled. Large pieces of what had previously been common land, free for all to graze their flocks and hunt on had been enclosed into private estates.
The Napoleonic Wars with France had incurred huge costs which had been passed on through taxation and by raising the cost of basic foods. Men had left to fight so their homes, wives and children had to cope alone. These were desperate times.
Man traps were cheaper than employing additional gamekeepers and were perfectly legal. The only proviso being that signs should be posted about the traps, or anyone injured could claim compensation. However, this aspect was not widely publicised, and it was hardly affective when literacy was rare.
Hunger motivated poaching gangs, breaking the law to feed their own families, and selling excess on. This upscaling of illegal activity meant landowners were more aware of the losses than they would have been with only occasional rabbits or birds disappearing.
Man traps were an inhumane method of control, which could maimed and sometimes killed their victims. Easily disguised by putting leaves, twigs, or grass over them so that any foot, hoof or paw would spring the trap shut.
They generally had a central plate with toothed jaws that would be held back by a spring until triggered when they would come together with considerable force leading to a bloodthirsty and gruelling result.
They were made illegal in 1827. Following this ‘humane’ man traps were created. A hole was dug, and the trap placed in it. These were then covered with suitable undergrowth. They still had a central plate, but the jaws were no longer toothed. No doubt it was not without pain, but it did not maim as it would previously. These had to be unlocked by the gamekeeper who had the key, but I imagine, extraordinarily little sympathy was given to the poacher who was then caught and sentenced.
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