The Forest of Dean is a
geographical, historical and cultural region in the western part of
the county of Gloucestershire, England. The forest is a
roughly triangular plateau bounded by the
River Wye to the west and north, the
River Severn to the south, and the
Gloucester to the east.
The view north towards Ross-on-Wye from Symonds Yat Rock, a popular
tourist destination in the Forest
The area is characterised by over of mixed woodland, one of the
surviving ancient woodlands
large area was reserved for royal hunting before 1066, and remained
as the second largest Crown forest in
England, the largest being New Forest.
Although the name is often used loosely to
refer to that part of Gloucestershire between the Severn and Wye,
the Forest of Dean proper has covered a much smaller area since
mediaeval times. In 1327 it was defined to cover only the
royal demesne and parts of parishes within
the hundred of
Briavels, and after
1668 the Forest comprised the royal demesne only.
is now within the civil parishes of West
Dean, Lydbrook, Cinderford, Ruspidge, and
Traditionally the main sources of work in the area have been
– including charcoal
production - iron
working and coal mining
. Evidence shows
that the area was extensively mined for coal from about 8000 BC to
gives its name to the local
government district, Forest of Dean, and a Parliamentary
constituency, all of which cover wider areas than the historic
Forest. The administrative centre of the local
authority is Coleford which is also one of the main towns in the historic
Forest area, together with Cinderford and Lydney.
was inhabited in Mesolithic times, and
there are also remains of later megalithic monuments, including the Longstone
near Staunton and the Broadstone at Wibdon, Stroat. Barrows have also been
identified at Tidenham and Blakeney. Bronze Age
field systems have been identified at
Welshbury Hill near Littledean, and there are several Iron
Age hill forts, notably those at
Yat and Welshbury.
There is also archaeological
evidence of early trading by sea, probably through Lydney. Before
times, the area may have been
occupied by the British Dobunni
tribe, although few of their coins have been
found in the area and control may have been contested with the
The area was occupied by the Romans
around 50 AD. They were attracted by the natural resources of the
area, which included iron ore
industry was also probably
established on a small scale in Roman times. The area was governed
from the Roman town of Ariconium at Weston under Penyard near Ross-on-Wye, and a road was built from there to a river
crossing at Newnham on
Severn and port at Lydney. The "Dean Road" still
visible at Soudley is believed to be a mediaeval rebuilding of the
Roman road, and would have been an
important route for the transport of iron
ore and finished metal products. During Roman times
there were important Roman villas at
Blakeney, Woolaston and elsewhere, and towards the end of the Roman
period, around the year 370, a major Roman
temple complex dedicated to the god Nodens was completed at Lydney.
central parts of the woodlands in the Forest are believed to have
been protected for hunting since Roman times.
The medieval period
history of the area is obscure for several centuries after the end
of the Roman period during the so called Dark
Ages, though at different times it may have been part of the
Welsh kingdoms of Gwent and of Ergyng, and the
Beachley and Lancaut peninsulas east of the Lower Wye
remained in Welsh control at least until the 8th century.
790 the Saxon king Offa of Mercia built his Dyke high above the Wye, to mark the boundary with the
Welsh. The Forest of Dean
then came under the control of the diocese
of Hereford. Throughout the next few centuries Vikings conducted raids up the Severn, but by the
11th century the kingdom of Wessex had
established civil government in the area.
The core of the
was used by the late Anglo Saxon
kings, and after 1066 the Normans
, as their personal hunting ground. The area
was kept stocked with deer
and wild boar
, but also became important for its
iron ore and limestone
. The name of the area
originates at this time, probably derived from the dene, or valley, near Mitcheldean, with areas known as Dene Magna (large) and Dene
The manor of Dean was the Forest's
administrative centre in the late 11th century.
Hundred of St. Briavels was established in the 12th century, at the same
time as many of the Norman laws concerning the Forest of Dean were
put in place.
St. Briavels Castle became the Forest's
administrative and judicial centre. Verderers
were appointed to act for the king and
protect his royal rights, and local people were given some common rights
. Flaxley Abbey was also built and given certain rights and
privileges. In 1296, miners from the Hundred of St
Briavels were used by King Edward
I at the siege of Berwick-on-Tweed in the Scottish Wars of Independence
to undermine the town's defences and regain it from the
As a result, the king granted free mining rights
within the forest to them and their descendants; the rights
continue to the present day. Miners at that time were mainly
involved in iron mining. Although the presence of coal deposits in
the district was well known and limited amounts of it had been
recovered in Roman times, it was not practicable to use it for iron
making with the methods of smelting
use. However, later the freeminer
were used mainly for coal mining. The activities of the miners were
regulated by the Court of Mine Law.
The 16th - 18th centuries
The forest later went on to be used exclusively as a royal hunting ground
by the Tudor
Kings, and subsequently a source of food
for the Royal Court. Its rich deposits of iron ore led to its
becoming a major source of iron. Timber
the forest was particularly fine and was regarded as the best
source for building ships.
House, between Coleford and Cinderford, was originally built in 1682 to host the Court of
Mine Law and "Court of the Speech", a sort of parliament for the
Verderers and Free
Miners managing the forest, game, and mineral resources of the
The Gaveller and in latter times his Deputy were
responsible for leasing gales - areas allocated for mining - on
behalf of the Crown. The Speech House has been used as an inn and
hotel since the 19th century.
During the 18th century, squatters began to establish roughly-built
hamlets around the fringes of the Crown forest demesne.
1800, these new settlements had become well established at places
such as Berry Hill and Parkend.
The Dean Forest Riots
In 1808 Parliament
passed the Dean Forest
(Timber) Act in response to a severe shortage of naval timber. The
act included the provision to enclose and responsibility for its
execution fell to a young, newly appointed, deputy surveyor named
Edward Machen. He established his office at Whitemead Park, in
Parkend, and in 1814 he enclosed and replanted Nagshead, the main
woodland of Parkend. By 1816 all had been enclosed.
Ordinary Foresters were already poverty stricken, and now their
plight had grown worse. They were denied access to the enclosed
areas and so were unable to hunt in them or remove timber. In
particular, they lost their ancient grazing and mining rights.
Unrest was growing and the Committee of Freeminers called the
Foresters to action in an attempt to retake possession of the
enclosures. Warren James
emerged as a
populist leader. He and Machen knew each other well, as both were
regular churchgoers at Parkend. On Sunday 5 June 1831, the two held
a public meeting outside the church gates in Parkend. It was a
final attempt to resolve the matter peaceably, but they could agree
on nothing. Three days later the two men met again.
This time James, leading a group of over 100 foresters, proceeded
to demolish the enclosure at Park Hill, between Parkend and Bream.
Machen, and about 50 unarmed Crown Officers, were powerless to
intervene. He returned to Parkend and sent for troops. On the
Friday, a party of 50 soldiers arrived from Monmouth, but by now
the number of Foresters had grown to around 2000 and the soldiers
returned to their barracks. On Sunday a squadron of heavily armed
soldiers arrived from Doncaster and the day after, another 180
infantrymen arrived from Plymouth.
The Foresters’ resistance soon crumbled and most of those arrested
elected to voluntarily rebuild the enclosures, rather than be
charged with rioting. James was sentenced to death, but this was
later commuted to transportation. He was sent to Van Diemen’s
Land (Tasmania) in October 1831, only to be pardoned five years
He never returned home, nor it seems, did he ever
contact his friends or relations. During his final years he
suffered much illness caused by his time in imprisonment, and he
died in 1841 aged just 49.
Ironically, by the time Machen's trees were
large enough, naval ships were no longer being built of wood and
many of the oaks he planted still grow at Nagshead.
Industrial development in the 19th and early 20th
industry expanded early in the 19th
century, when some of the earliest tramroads
in the UK were built here to
help transport the coal to local ports. Industry in the area was
transformed with the growth of mining
production of iron and steel. In 1819 David
built a foundry at Darkhill, where he experimented with
iron and steel making. In 1845, his youngest son, Robert Forester Mushet
, took over
management of the site. He continued his father's experiments at
Darkhill, and later a few hundred yards away at the Forest Steel
Works; carrying out over ten thousand experiments in just ten
One his greatest achievements was to perfect the Bessemer process
by developing a method to
improve the quality of steel it produced by adding precise amounts
of carbon and manganese, in the form of spiegeleisen
. Sadly, whilst others made
fortunes from his discovery, Robert failed to capitalise on his
successes and by 1866 he was destitute and in ill health. In that
year Mary Mushet, Robert’s 16 year-old daughter, travelled to
London alone, to confront Henry
at his offices, arguing that his success was based on
the results of her father’s work. Bessemer, whose process was not
economically viable without Mushet's method for improving quality,
decided to pay him an annual pension of £300, a very considerable
sum, which he paid for well over twenty years, possibly with a view
to keeping the Mushets from legal action. The remains of Darkhill
are now preserved as an Industrial Archaeological Site of
International Importance and are open to the public.
Cinderford was laid out as a planned town in the mid 19th
century, but the characteristic form of settlement remained the
sprawling hamlets of haphazardly placed cottages.
Characteristics shared with other British coalfields, such as a
devotion to sport, the central role of miners' clubs, and the
formation of brass bands
, also helped to
create a distinct community identity.
In the later 19th century and the early 20th the Forest was a
complex industrial region, including deep coal mines and iron
mines, iron and tinplate
quarries and stone-dressing works, wood distillation works
producing chemicals, a network of railways, and numerous minor
tramroads. The tradition of independence in the area resulted in a
great number of smaller and therefore not necessarily economically
successful mines. In 1904 the Gaveller oversaw a period of
amalgamation of mines, which allowed deeper bigger mines to be
sunk. During the early 20th century, annual output from the
coalfield rarely fell below 1 million tons.
Changes since the mid-20th century
The importance of mining to the area is shown by the fact that as
late as 1945 half of the male working population of the area worked
in the coal industry. However after the Second World War increased
pumping costs and other factors made the coalfield less economic.
The last commercial iron mine in the District closed in 1946 and
this was followed in 1965 by the closure of the last large
colliery, Northern United. There were, and are still, a number of
small private mines in operation, and freeminers
, with Hopewell colliery now open to the
public. With the decline of the mines, the area itself suffered a
decline, but this was ameliorated to some extent when a number of
established themselves in the area, attracted by grants
and a willing workforce.
The area is still mainly an industrial area but the decline in
factories has now pushed the area to create more jobs from
increasing tourism attractions. Significant numbers of residents also now
work outside the area, commuting to such
places as Gloucester, Bristol and Cardiff.
within the hundred of St
Briavels, an ancient
administrative area covering most of what is now considered the
Forest of Dean, one is classed as a true Forester.
classification bestows a unique right for males who are over 21 and
have worked in a mine for a year and a day—they can register to be
. These ancient rights that
were put on the statute books in the Dean Forest (Mines) Act 1838,
the only public act to affect private individuals .Residents of the
hundred who are over 18 can also graze sheep
in the Forest in accordance with an agreement between the Forestry
Commission and the Commoners Association.
The forest is composed of both deciduous
trees. Predominant is
, both pedunculate
common, and sweet chestnut
here for many centuries. The forest is also home to Foxgloves
and other wild flowers. Conifers include
some Weymouth Pine
dating from 1781,
, douglas fir
deer are predominantly fallow deer
these have been present in the forest since the second world war
currently numbering around 300 (there were no deer in the Dean from
about 1855 when they were removed in accordance with an Act of
Parliament. A number of the fallow deer in the central area of the
forest are melanistic
. More recently a few
and muntjac deer
have arrived, spreading in from
the East but in much smaller numbers.
The Forest is also home to wild boar
exact number is currently unknown but exceeds a hundred. The boar
were illegally re-introduced to the Forest in 2006. A population in the
Ross-on-Wye area on the northern edge of the forest escaped from a
wild boar farm around 1999 and are believed to be of pure Eastern
European origin; in a second introduction, a domestic herd was
dumped near Staunton in 2004, but these were not pure bred wild
boar —attempts to locate the source of the illegal dumps have
The boar can now be found in many parts
of the Forest.
Locally there are mixed feelings about the presence of boar.
Problems have included the ploughing up of gardens and picnic
areas, attacking dogs and panicking horses, road traffic accidents,
and ripping open of rubbish bags. The local authority undertook a
public consultation and have recommended to the Verderers that
control to a lower level is necessary - this is currently being
considered., Under its international obligations the UK government
is obliged to consider the reintroduction of species made extinct
through the activities of man, the wild boar included.
is also well known for its Western birds; Pied flycatchers, Redstarts, Wood
warblers and Hawfinches can be
regularly seen at RSPB
The mixed forest also supports Britain's
best concentration of Goshawks
and a viewing
site at New Fancy
is manned during February and March.
Peregrine Falcons can be easily seen
nesting from the viewpoint at Symonds Yat rock. Mandarin
ducks, which nest up in the trees, and Reed warblers can be seen at Cannop Ponds and Cannop Brook, running from the ponds through
Parkend, is famed for its Dippers.
Butterflies of note are the Small Pearl-bordered
, Wood White
and the White
Admiral or Limenitis
. Gorsty Knoll is famed for its glow-worms
and Woorgreen's lake for its dragonflies
- Jane Couch, winner of five womens'
World Boxing titles, lives in Lydney.
- Members of the band EMF are from
- Winifred Foley, author who wrote
about her childhood in the forest, was born in Brierley.
- Warren James, a miners' leader who
led the Free Miners to action against the Crown, was born on the
edge of Parkend.
- David Mushet, a Scottish
metallurgist who pioneered techniques for iron production, lived in
Coleford from 1810 to 1844.
- Robert Forester Mushet,
who discovered a way to perfect the Bessemer Process, and who
produced the first commercial steel alloys, was born in
- Dennis Potter, author and
playwright who frequently used the region as a setting in his work,
was born near Coleford.
- J. K.
Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, lived on the southern edge
of the Forest at Tutshill from 1974 to 1983.
- Dick Whittington, also known
as Richard Whittington and who later became Lord Mayor of the City of
London, was born in Pauntley, now part of the Forest of Dean
- Jimmy Young, the
BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 2 DJ was born in
Towns and villages
below includes towns and villages within or adjoining the historic
Forest; it does not include settlements which are located outside
that area but which are within the larger District
Places of interest
In the media