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Type set in Cronos Pro Proxima Nova Printed and bound in Bristol, UK by Blurb, Inc. on Proline Uncoated 100gsm All Rights Reserved Copyright Š Lucy Weatherley 2014



Dedicated to my late Gran, Stella Baker.

Contents Introduction 07


Wildlife 15



Legends & Tales

Mining 24

Free Mining


Free Miner Brass



Conversation with Jonathan Wright 30

Conversation with Jonathan Wright

Defending a Heritage 64



Vorest Speak

The People 74

The Definition of a Forester




Growing Up


The Palace Cinema

Final Thoughts 91

Final Thoughts


AN INTRODUCTION This book began with a simple aim – to give outsiders an insight into the Forest of Dean. Moving away from home and attending university, I often found that nobody had heard of where I was from and found it suprising that such a beautiful place could go unheard of. I wanted to make a book that could show outsiders the Forest of Dean through the same eyes as those who live there, from those who are passionate and proud of the area; to show the Forest of Dean from the view point of a Forester. Delving into the rich history of the area, it turned into a exploration of heritage and roots, preservation versus change. What does it really mean to be a Forester? Do you have to be born with the ‘Hundreds of St Briavels’ as it’s known? Does the heritage of the area belong to those who grew up there? This book may not provide a direct answer to these questions but I hope it provides enough information so that you can make up your own mind, and also help you to see why so many people have such a strong connection and sense of pride when it comes to the Forest of Dean.


From The Forest



The hills and the valleys, of my native land All bears the scars of my forefather’s hand And the older I get, the farther I lean Back to the past, in my Forest of Dean A verse from the poem ‘My Forest Of Dean’ by R. Miles




From The Forest



WILDLIFE The wildlife in the Forest is thriving, from deer to boars. The majestic stag a commonly used symbol of the Forest. The wildlife is an important part of the Forest and it’s identity. A fallow deer. This buck is a mature animal, about 7 years old. Displayed at the Dean Heritage Museum.

Driving through the woods at night you’re more likely than not to at some point come accross a deer lurking in the dark (hopefully not infront of your car). They sometimes wander up from the woods along roads, before heading back before dawn. Growing up in the Forest they are a common sight, but still an exciting one every time. I have been lucky enough to see some up close, and was completely in awe. They truely are magnificent creatures. There’s something special about seeing an animal in it’s natural habitat rather than one in captivity. The deer you can see in the ForestThey truely are today are fallow deer. They are not native to magnificent creatures. Britain but were introduced by the Normans for meat and sport. They live in isolatedThere’s something groups and won’t spend to long in one area. special about seeing They’re herbivores, living off shoots, leaves - all types of ground vegetation. The male isan animal in it’s called a ‘buck’ and the female is a ‘doe’ and natural habitat rather they can live up to 12 years.

than one in captivity.


From The Forest

There is no question that the wild boar are great for tourism, the adorable, photogenic piglets and the excitement of catching a glimpse of a wild animal. Growing up however, I don’t ever remember seeing any.

Hunted by the Normans, the wild boar became extinct by the 14th century, but was reintroduced in 2008 by unknown illegal means. Nowadays sightings of wild boar are common. Only recently has the population of wild boar skyrocketed; they’ve gone from just a few pairs to hundreds. There is a controversial question of where they fit in with Forest culture and the need for culling. The trouble is that pigs breed twice a year - you can imagine the rate of reproduction there is if they’re just left to roam free. The reintroduction of the boar has changed the face of the forest, eating bluebell bulbs and digging up verges. They have begun wandering further and further into towns looking for food, causing damage to gardens and village greens, to the anger of local residents.


Friend or foe? Should the newly introduced wild boar be controlled or left to roam free?

Right: A Dor Beetle, a common sight on walks through the Forest



From The Forest

Frighteningly, wolves were still at large until 1281, when Edward I issued a licence to kill all the wolves A wolf in England. Thankfully there displayed at the are no longer wolves in the Dean Forest today, so there is no Heritage Museum. need to worry about wolves on walks through the woods. There are however grounds to be afraid of the legendary black cat. It is rumored that a beast, possibly a black panther, is living in the woods. Friends from school said they’d seen it. and then respected locals came forward reporting their own sightings. For instance Rob Brinton the local milkman reported a sighting in the early hours of the morning during one of his milk rounds. No hard evidence has ever been found but there have been enough sightings and animal attacks to get everybody talking. A few years later and the hype has died down, but I am admittedly still nervous of walking through the woods alone...





From The Forest

The Forest can be a very tale - like place. the beaten track, it gets It seems to



mystical and fairy As you begin to head off darker and wilder. carry on forever.




From The Forest

FREE MINERS You can’t get much more Forest than being a Free Miner. Most Forest families can tell a mining tale or two and will proudly claim a Free Mining ancestor or relative. It’s a centuries old tradition that unfortunately is in threat of dying out.

Free mining is an ancient Forest custom dating back around 700 years. A Free Miner has the right to mine anywhere in the Forest without hindrance. A Free Miner can work a gale, or personal plot, anywhere in the ‘Hundred of St Briavels’ for Iron Ore, Stone and Coal and any associated minerals. The only restriction being that they must not work under church yards, gardens or orchards. To monitor all this activity is the Deputy Gaveller. The Deputy Gaveller is a post that was created in medieval times. He is responsible for keeping the register of Free Miners and for the collection of mineral royalties. It’s a position still around today.

The Miners’ Monument in Cinderford, based on local freeminer Dave Harvey



To be able to register as a Free Miner you have to meet certain requirements. The first and hardest requirement to meet is to be born within the ‘Hundreds of St Briavels’, which is the Forest of Dean and every parish that surrounds it. In 1988 the only maternity ward in the Forest closed meaning the only way to meet this requirement is through a home birth, a rare occurance in our modern age. If you are born within the Hundreds you then have to wait until you’re aged 21 years or over and to do your day and a years work in a Forest mine to claim your birthright. The requirement of being male has been challenged with a lot of controversy. The current Deuputy Gaveller has chosen to interpret male as both female and male, and as a result there is now currently one female Free Miner, Elaine Morman. A lot of older Free Miners feel that although they have no issues with a woman working underground, the law clearly states ‘male’ and can not be changed.

“All male persons born or hereafter to be born and abiding within the said Hundred of St Briavels, of the age of twenty one years and upwards, who shall have worked a year and a day in a coal or iron mine within the said Hundred of St Briavels, shall be deemed and taken to be Free Miners.” An extract from Dean Forest (Mines) Act 1838

There are approximately 150 registered Free Miners in the Forest of Dean today and only a handful of working mines. With the diffculty of making a living from running a small scale mine and an older generation of Free Miners coming to an end, the continuation of this tradition relies on encouraging a new, younger generation to be part this long and proud history.


From The Forest

FREE MINER BRASS The Free Miner brass has come to be considered a symbol of the Forest of Dean. It is often used but quite often little known is known about where it comes from. This in a way reflects the nature of growing up in the Forest today. Unless you’re in direct contact with Free Miners, which is growing less and less likely, its difficult to fully understand your heritage. The Free Miner brass depicts what could be call a Coat of Arms for Free Miners. It can be found at Newland Church on the tomb of the knight, Sir John Greyndour, Lord of the Manor at Abenhall, Clearwell and Newland. The Lord of the Manor was responsible wherever the Manor was, for finding fighting men. In the Forest of Dean, Greyndour wanted miners and archers – the miners because they were The rich history of such strong people, and very capable the area needs to bowmen as well. Free Miners have been instrumental be remembered and in helping English Kings win campaigns. Most famously they were sent to Scotland taught to current and by Edward I to undermine the walls of future generations Berwick upon Tweed – a border town that was protecting the borders of Scotland. He got the miners to undermine the walls of the town, and they won it back for him 3 times. As a reward for their loyalty and acheivments the Free Miners were granted the rights to the mines that they worked, also known as gales. You can see with just this story, the long history of the area and heritage that was created for future generations. It would be a shame this all became forgotten, and ancient rights became overruled by modern legislation.



The brass shows a iron miner in his working clothes, standing on a 15th century jousting helmet. In his mouth he holds a ‘nelly’, the candle used to see in the dark. In his hand he holds his ‘mattock’ or ‘pick’ for cutting out the ore-bearing rock. On his back he carries his ‘billy’ or ‘ hod’ for carrying the ore.

A reproduction of the Free Miners brass


From The Forest

COLLIERIES The main collieries were big employers in the Forest. My grandad worked for one of them. In its heyday in 1849 it was said there were more men underground than above in the forest.

In the 19th century, Freeminers’ gales were merged to create larger collieries and leased to wealthy mine owners, with the mine owners dictating conditions and pay. By 1946 these were owned by the National Northern United Coal Board and collieries like Princess Eastern United Royal, Northern United, Eastern United and Briadmoor Broadmoor dominated employment. However Princess Royal there were still free miners at work. Between Arthur & Edward 1950 and 1962, five of (Waterloo) the six larger collieries were closed. as they Cannop were said to be uneconomical. The last, Norchard Northern United, closed at Christmas 1965. National Coal Board owned collieries



An old photograph of the Eastern United Colliery

5AM The Collier’s day began around five o’clock in the morning with a walk to the pit and and down to the coalface. Lunch would be eaten underground. Known as bread or bait it was kept in tommy bag and was washed down with cold tea from blue enamel flask. The colliers were responsible to their ‘butty’: he paid the wages and acted as foreman.


From The Forest

CONVERSATION WITH JONATHAN WRIGHT This is an interview with a real modern day Free Miner. Jonathan Wright is the owner of family business Clearwell Caves near Coleford, once mined extensively for iron ore but now functioning as a working mining museum and tourist attraction. He is also Secretary of the Freeminers Association, an organisation that supports local miners and ancient mining customs of the Forest of Dean. I interviewed him on a sunny Saturday afternoon in the cafe that serves the caves.

03 30


Can you start by briefly explaining how Clearwell Caves came about? My father married someone from a very longstanding mining tradition. My mother’s family were prominent free miners, and so they go back generations, back to 18th century in the Forest, and because of that, my father started to come across relations that encouraged him to start up a mining museum. And one of them actually helped him to get the mine and to get him started really. My father was involved in caving back in the 60s when it first began to become popular and he was one of the founding members of the Forest of Dean Caving Club. And because of that he’d been exploring the iron mines and just thought that people didn’t know anything about them, they had no idea what was beneath their feet. And so he thought well why don’t we open it up. And so through my uncle, he managed to get the Gale, which is the mining rights to it, and he began to open it up. And he did it almost singlehandedly to start with and gradually people got involved with him and we’ve built it up to what it is today. And how did you get into mining? I had quite a lot of exposure to mining culture when I was younger and I got involved and


From The Forest

worked for people, just going on weekends, and then eventually I did my year and a day in a coal mine as well as time here helping my father. And then later on I became involved in this sort of mining here, mining ochre, which is sold as pigment for paint. We still produce a little bit, but its not on a big scale at all. We’re only talking about a ton or two a year at the most. Are there many working mines still about? This is the only iron mine now doing anything, and its not much. There’s about 6 small coal mines. The bigger ones will produce about 400 tons per year. There’s about 8 stone quarries working, and they produce walling stone and stone for sculpture, things like that. Just so I understand, what are the official requirments to calling yourself a freeminer? Anyone born in the hundred of St. Briavels. The hundred of St. Briavels is the Forest of Dean and every parish that joins the edges of it. Because that’s where people were living hundreds of years ago. They weren’t living in the Forest, no one lived in the Forest. If you were born in that hundred, as its called, you are then entitled to work a year and a day in a mine, and if you do that you can register as a freeminer - if you’re male, over 21 and you’ve worked a year and a day in the pit. You say male, but is there not one woman freeminer? Yes there is one woman. And who’s that woman? That’s



my sister. It’s a really difficult point really, in these days of equality it seems only right and fair that a woman should be able to register as a freeminer. And so my father thought that he should register my sister as a freeminer. But it is a very sore point really between everyone. I’m secretary of the Freeminers Association and the freeminers, and I actually, don’t agree that she should be registered as a freeminer. The law says you have to be male, you have to be over 21, you have to be born in the hundreds and to have worked a year and a day in the mine. Now she fulfils most of the conditions but she isn’t male. Which means as a female its impossible, because its not the law. She took it to the House of Lords, and the attorney general, who is a woman, said we’ve looked at it and I’m afraid equality laws don’t apply to this because it’s a specific thing where it states without any doubt that it has to be male. So she said sorry I’m afraid I can’t do anything about it. Then the Forestry Commission who keep the register of freeminers, did something that I really… am very angry about. They flew in the face of that kind of information and insisted that the Deputy Gaveller should register my sister. Now it’s a conflict for me because obviously being my sister and being the first female freeminer is a great sort of kudos to have that, but I don’t like them tampering with the tradition. It’s an ancient law and they’re choosing to ignore it, not even interpret it correctly, just ignore it. In my mind it’s wrong.


From The Forest

So one of the requirements to being a freeminer is being born within the Forest of Dean... With the closure of the maternity ward at Dilke Hospital, does this mean that freeminers are a dying breed? There are still some fairly young people that are… you know I say fairly young, you know that are in like their 30s, you know sort of age that could still be eligible and there are some people that are still interested, so you never know they might come in as well, which will keep it going a little bit longer. But we took the case to the House of Lords and Quentin who was the master of the roles at the time. He said that although the maternity unit had gone, because when the law was passed there wasn’t a maternity unit at that time anyway, the fact that the hospital has come and gone is irrelevant and they cant change the law because circumstances have changed. Because really you’ve reverted back to the times when the law was passed. So the requirement of the person being born within the Hundreds still stands. But of course the Forest has a higher proportion of home births than most areas now. And why is that? Is that because people want their children to be free miners? I don’t think so, I think that has gone. I think most of the Forest people don’t want them to be miners because it’s a hard and harsh way to make a living really. But you know there is a lot of independence in it and you can always work because you always know you can go back down the pit. But I don’t think that’s the reason



why there’s more home births, I think the reason is, it’s a bit like being a Cockney isn’t it, its like where are you from… ‘I’m a Forester’. People quite enjoy saying that and being part of the area, and Forest people do have this sort of affinity with the woodland and the area that people don’t have with a lot of other areas. Others areas have it but you know the Forest definitely does. [I show him a Brass my mum owns of what I understand to be a general symbol for the Forest of Dean] Can you tell me a bit about this? This is the freeminers brass and it’s a brass in a local church, Newland Church, and is on the tomb of a knight, Sir John Greyndour. Greyndour was Lord of the Manor at Abenhall, over by Mitcheldean, and Lord of the Manor here at Clearwell and Newland. In 1415, he took 123 miners to fight for the King, and they went to France to fight in the Campaign that had Agincourt in it. That’s coming up next year, the 600th anniversary of that. He took iron miners. He took these miners off to battle, and they dug underneath the walls of towns in France to undermine them. They’ve been really instrumental in helping English Kings win campaigns. They were sent up to Scotland by Edward I to undermine the walls of Berwick upon Tweed which is a border town that was protecting the borders of Scotland. Edward I was keen to take Scotland so he got the miners to undermine the walls of this town that was holding out, and they won it back for him 3 times.


From The Forest



“Forest people do have this sort of affinity with the woodland and the area that people don’t have with a lot of other areas”


From The Forest

There were miners elsewhere, but they were trusted and skilful. He knew some of the miners by name. He could say, ‘Go get me John the miner from Staunton’, which is one of things that he said. And he rewarded them with the privileges that they have now. He gave them the rights to all the minerals in the Forest. So that’s the symbol of the connection between the miner and the Lord of the Manor. The Lord of the Manor was responsible for wherever the Manor was, for finding fighting men. But in the Forest of Dean the Lord of Manor wanted miners and archers. Basically the miners because they were such strong people, and very capable bowmen as well. You can see the sort of long history that’s in this area and where that comes from really. It’s now become the sort of symbol for the Forest of Dean really. This is what Lakers have on the side of their school. There’s a plaque on the side of Lakers school. Sir John Greyndour set up a free school and it was set up next to Newland Church. And so he set the school up and that later became Bells Grammar School, that then became the Forest of Dean Grammar School, and when the Grammar School was combined with the Berry Hill Secondary Modern, it formed Lakers. I suppose it’s a descendant of the 15th Century. But I bet they don’t know. I bet they have no idea. They’ve got this on the side of their school and its nice because I think they’ve done it because they think it’s a symbol of the Forest, but actually its taken them right back to the very origins



of where Lakers came from, which is lovely really. Do you think all of this history should be integrated into education in Forest schools? They have a move of trying to get more local history into schools and I think they really should, because there is something wonderful about the sort of heritage we have in this area. Because it’s unique really, there’s nothing else like it around the country. And I think local people, whether they’re people that have moved into the area, or people that have been brought up in the area, should understand it a little bit better. So schools should take a bigger interest, I think they need to meet a few commoners, and meet a few free miners through their growing years really. What memories do you have of growing up in the Forest of Dean? When I was growing up, I’ve got quite a mixture of different threads really. What I’ve really enjoyed about the Forest is meeting a lot of the miners at their mines in places where there aren’t mines anymore, around Yorkley, Lydney, Ruardean. And actually going down the mines and meeting them, talking to them, being in amongst conversations - very Forest conversations, in broad accents. Do you feel this Forest dialect is still as strong today? Not so much. I think its because there’s more television


From The Forest

and young people are exposed to the common language of the country more now. But having said that I think some Foresters still do speak with a stronger accent if they’re in amongst Foresters, but they don’t use dialect like they used to. So that’s going. When I was younger my mother took me down to a shop in Cinderford, and I used to go down quite often on a Saturday, and she would let me choose a little matchbox car. One time I went down and she got three or four cars out and she said, “Which car would you like me to get?” and I said “thick un there”. She gave me the biggest telling off ever, she said don’t you ever, ever say thick and thou and… whatever but that was how we spoke at school, you know the kids together were all sort of Forest. She didn’t want me speaking that way because she thought that it might disadvantage me if I was dealing with people outside the Forest, working away. She wanted me to speak ‘proper English’. And so I can… when I go to London I probably still have a West Country / Forest accent, but its not as strong as when I’m back in the Forest. And its because I’ve learnt over the years to adapt, but I must admit I’m less sympathetic to that idea now, I just speak how I speak and that’s it. But it took me a long time to feel that way. Have you ever found yourself treated differently because of your accent? When I went to London working, I was working in photography, and I had to photograph the interiors of



houses. And so when I first started, I was working with a photographer as his assistant. We were in this sort of lounge of this very smart house to photograph it and the lady of the house said, ‘oh.. could you just come outside and do something’, and the photographer went to go out but the lady said ‘oh… is it alright to leave him?’. And the reason she was doubting whether she could leave me was because I had a strong Forest accent. I asked him why she asked if it was alright to leave me, and he told me that that was what it was. So perhaps it does influence people. It used to amaze me… friends when they had gone away to places like university, who were in halls of residence, when I went to stay there for a weekend, people would say, oh where are you from. And I’d say the Forest of Dean. “oh where’s that, is that down by the sea?” because they’re thinking of the New Forest. Nobody knew where it was. In a way I quite enjoyed that, people not knowing where the Forest is. Although I make a living from people knowing where it is because obviously tourism is only successful if people come. The other childhood memories I have are of caving, because my father was a founder / member of the caving clubs, since I was about 5 I’ve been going caving, and so I’ve been involved all my life really. And also I understand the iron and the coal really because of that. So I’ve got quite a good idea of the geology of the area. But that’s something that’s missing now with Forest people, that link to the geology, because in the past they were from freemining families, and you sort


From The Forest

of absorbed the conversation over the dinner table. Its like an osmosis, its sort of absorbed through the skin almost, as people talk about their rights and where the minerals are, and what the minerals are, the rocks, you know it’s all sort of mentioned in conversation. But gradually it begins to piece itself together and by the time they got to 21 or were ready to be a freeminer, they’d got a hell of a lot of knowledge already. And that sort of link to the land is sort of less now. People walk in it now and they enjoy it, and they know its their privilege that they can go and do that, but they don’t have the same sort of understanding. The last generation in my family to go down the mines was my Grandads, were these the last generation of real miners? A lot of traditional families in the Forest, especially from mining backgrounds, the children of the miners were really encouraged to find work elsewhere. So they were told you know I’m not going to get you to go down the pit, but I’m going to make sure that we do everything to keep you out of it. So they got their children into other careers such as education, or engineering, or something you know anything that wasn’t mining really. But then again mining is engineering, it is an interesting career really, it is sometimes dangerous, its not always just a hard, slogging, muddy, working, so it can be really interesting. It’s a shame that people were discouraged really, but there’s a whole generation, it’s probably the generation



above me, that is my parents generation, that were encourage never to go down the mines, and because of that they’re now councillors, and people that are in responsible positions – and they hate mining. And so you’ll see it, the upshot of it, is that you’ve now got people that are trying to build on mine sites in the forest and obliterate them. They won’t try and adapt the mine buildings into an interesting environment for high tech businesses, you know to have the mining buildings there. They want them cleared out, they want modern buildings, right in the middle of the forest. This is what’s happening at Northern Quarter, in Steam Mills. They’re doing a massive development there, and its where Gloucestershire College will be put. In the woodland. What they’re trying to do is remove the mine site there, and build modern housing estates… Is it not public land? Yeh, exactly, so how are they allowed to do it… Because people are not defending the mine site in the way they should. Because what they should be saying is this is forest, and you shouldn’t be building on it. But it’s a very difficult point now, because the people that are pushing for it are people who’s fathers were miners, and they hate mining, and they want to you know, obliterate it. They’ve got some money because it was mining, and I think they’ve got quite a few million pounds, to spend on infrastructure, and actually making something new on the mine site.


From The Forest



“mining is engineering, it is an interesting career really... its not

always just hard, slogging, muddy, working�


From The Forest

In todays modern world how is freemining still important? If you’re born in the area, you have a right to claim areas of the forest to work so you can take parts of the Forest and actually use it and you can make quite a reasonable living from it. It doesn’t make an easy living, but you can make an independent living from it. And I think people like that independence, your own boss, you can walk outside and you’ve got the beautiful forest surroundings, its like a really nice thing to be able to do. And a lot of the free miners work in other jobs, and they do that 9 til 5, and then work on the weekends, or in their spare time actually digging, and they love that independence. And if they got made redundant, or the work you know just wasn’t around anymore, they could just go and do it. They could be a free miner. So it’s always there. Do todays strict health and safety laws affect the tradition of mining? With any tradition whether you’re anywhere in the country, if you have a tradition you still have to abide by health and safety law. That is overriding on everything, so regardless of what you’re entitled to do, it could be that you could shoot people as some sort of ancient custom, but if you injure anybody.. these days its against health and safety law. So as a miner you have the right to run a mine, to take the mineral and so on, but you have to do it within modern legislation, so its safe.



You have the right to dig under someone’s house if you want, but at the same time you’re not allowed to sink someone’s house… unless you pay them compensation. I doubt if you’d get an agreement to sink someone’s house, but you’d basically have to buy it from them. And also you’re not allowed to endanger life by undermining somewhere. The miners tend to avoid anywhere that’s near housing or that’s controversial really. But every now and then they do something, we had a case quite a few years ago now, would have been early 80s perhaps, that one of the freeminers was digging under a road, it was only a side road, but when he dug under it, he didn’t support it as well as he perhaps needed to because it sank. There was a big dip in the road and that was known as ‘Arthur’s Lonk’. Got into a bit of trouble with Highway over that... You can undermine a road but you have to make sure it’s adequately supported. Mining has a reputation for beening a hazardous job... have there been many accidents? Recently… there have been incidents of small roof falls, but they’re not totally unpredictable, and I think the miners have an amazing reputation for safety really. It goes back, getting on over 100 years I should think, the last major disaster was probably 1902, when 5 people got drowned. Actually I think its 5 people got trapped by water and 3 of them might have got out. I’m not too sure. There’s a monument to them which is in Cannop.


From The Forest

Is there anything that can be done keep freemining going for future generations? Interestingly we’ve put in for the Heritage Lottery Fund, or we are putting in this year. That fund has the potential to fund training of new freeminers and we’ll be doing it as a proper apprenticeship. But the people that are qualified will not just become freeminers, but they will become qualified miners and have a national qualification which they can take away and use elsewhere. Anywhere around the world really, so it’s a really good opportunity, and it’ll be funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. They’ll learn how to supervise mining in a pit, do their first day, their gas and hearing, all their mining knowledge will all be covered by the course. It’s a years course to do, and it’ll be assessed at the mines rescue station down in South Wales and also up in the Forest on the job. It’ll be a brilliant qualification so we are hoping we’ll get the funding for it. But to make it sustainable so that we can continue into the future, so its not just another generation, we’ve thought of a scheme whereby the freeminers form a trust. The trust will hold equipment that can be hired out to start-up mines and in return for hiring the equipment the trust will receive money. When they receive that money it’ll be held as an educational trust and used to pay for other freeminers in the future to do their training. So it should perpetuate itself if we can get the



funding to set it up. What we’re planning is, a good example, a briquetting machine. The Forest mines, or any coal mine, produces a lot of dust in coal. When they use coal cutters, they not only get block coal but they get a lot of powdery coal that can’t be sold to people, so it’s sold to power stations. But its sold at a much smaller price, its sold for £50 a ton instead of £250 which you’d get for block coal. If we can briquette it and turn it into blocks by squeezing it, then we can sell it for the higher price and to the customer, and so we add value. If we loan that machine to the mines and it goes round and does batches of coal for them, then they’ll pay us per ton a royalty. So if they pay say several hundred pounds towards it over the course of a year, that’s all added into the educational trust. So that’s one example. The other thing is other types of equipment like advanced drilling equipment and so on. And that can all be rented out bringing income. The bid should go back in, in April. We put it in last year but unfortunately the person who was doing the bid went sick, he’s very ill now, and so he wasn’t able to complete it. Someone picked it up and just put it in anyway but it didn’t win the bid, so now we’ve been invited to rebid. Hopefully this time we’ll get the money for it. We’re hoping to get 10 freeminers out of it, that’s our aim within the first 5 years.


From The Forest

Would women be able to take on the apprenticeship? If there was a woman that wanted to do it I think that even though… it’s a difficult one because the law doesn’t accept a woman as a freeminer. There have been women that have worked with freeminers and gained a lot of respect in the past. Let me rephrase that... would women be able to take on the mining apprenticeship minus the aspect of registering for freemining status? I think they would if you could prove that you were interested. Its no good someone just thinking I’m unemployed lets go along because that’s a job opportunity… unless they were really interested in doing it. And it’s the same with men as well, its not just any old idiot, its got to be someone who can look after themselves and other people underground. Because you don’t want to work with someone who isn’t careful, who isn’t going to look after you and them. But if that’s a woman then they’d be welcome I think. In fact that’s a point that should be raised at a freeminers meeting is whether the trust would extend to a female. And I think that’s a very good question actually. [...silence as Jonathan sits in thought] If a woman bought a gale, that’s the mine, she would



own the freemining rights to that area. So she would be a freeminer for that area. And that’s true of someone who isn’t a freeminer, if they moved into the area, they could also buy that mine off of a freeminer and they would then become the freeminer for that mine. There is that sort of possibility. The difference is they couldn’t take that mine out in the first place. It has to go through a freeminer. So that’s the only difference really. There is a loophole that is there which could allow a lot of other people to get involved in freemining even if they aren’t born in the area. I’ve noticed the sheep are roaming again after the foot and mouth epidemic... With the commoners it depends on who you speak to as to what they feel. Some of the newer commoners probably dont feel so much involved with the Forest with their families and so on because they’ve moved into the area some of them. So you’d probably get a very different response. Some of the traditional commoning families were very similar to the freeminers. The commoning was freemining as well, because it was the same people doing the commoning. Over the 20th century its sort of seperated out and now its become commoners and freeminers. It used to be that freeminers used to work down the pits and in the afternoon, come up around 3 o’clock and run their sheep and dig the garden. It was just a way of providing food. Gradually as you get more people just interested in one or the other it gets seperated. And with people moving into the area, its become seperate


From The Forest



“It doesn’t make an easy living, but you can make a independent living from it”


From The Forest

again because they dont stand a chance of being a freeminer anyway. I’ve read of the right to allow pigs to roam the forest but have never seen this? They tried a sort of initiative recently to roam pigs again... but yeh its sort of died out. Pigs are fairly valuable, they didnt want them rustled and that was beginning to happen. And you know with sheep it happens, you get people that round up the sheep and take them off to Wales. So yeh there’s a lot of rustling going on. They are getting a bit more wary of freeroaming animals. The pigs were only allowed to go out to feed on the beechmast and the acorns, so its only at that time of the year really, in the Autumn... it’s usually around September. They were allowed out for a short period and then they have to go back onto their land. Theres a story I remember from when I was younger, thats died out now, but its the legend of the black cat. Do you believe it exists? I’ve had it mentioned by some pretty serious people and you wouldnt doubt what they say they’ve saw... but I must admit I find it a bit fantastical because I think we’d see more signs than we do. I’m not sure they found enough savaged animals to justify a cat living, because presumably they need to kill one every week or two, then go back and eat it. But that doesn’t seem to have happened.



The Forest’s a big place... Yes it is... but that creates the mystery isn’t it. Which is why I dont like the Forest being opened up too much, in terms of the Forestry Commission making it too tidy, too clear. I noticed driving down a lot of trees cut down, more than the odd one or two. They’re cutting trees back from the verges, because what they dont want is branches falling on cars, because of the liabilities. It just looks so different. Yeh its just opening it up. And also the Forestry Commission actually said at a meeting, and I was quite annoyed by it, is that the visitors find the forest a bit frightening so they wanted to open it up and make it more ‘airy’. And I was thinking well that’s why they come, because of trees... So they’re trying to make it more of a park than a wild wood and yet it’s the wild wood that makes the Forest special in my mind. And I think its what local people do enjoy, it’s the fact that it feels untouched and rough. As long as there’s a tyre in the pond, a shopping trolley or a bedstead in the hedge we’re safe!... its never too tidy to sort of encourage too many ‘nimbids’ in. I think that a lot of people that live by the traditions, who like the Forest as it is, don’t like people coming


From The Forest

in and saying we need a streetlight here and better curbing and road markings-which people that come from Birmingham have said-that they want it a bit nicer and they don’t want the sheep in their gardens, and you think well shut the gate... Thats what I had to do, you know, “oooh no shut the gate the sheep are coming!” and that’s in the middle of Cinderford. It was just what you did, and I think if you move into an area and its got a custom like that you should accept that’s why you’re there, because you like it, not to change it. When people do move into the area it’s interesting that some people say Foresters are so insular and just unwelcoming and not nice. I’ve heard it said so often. And yet i’ve known other people that have moved in and said they will never go anywhere else now because it’s just so lovely, that people are so open and friendly, and what it is, is that they’re more accepting of where they’ve come, whereas the people that have found opposition and not enjoyed it are the people that want to change it all. If that’s what they want they ought to live in a place that does that rather than change where you are. Things need to change and improve, and I think Foresters know that, but what they don’t want is to chuck the baby out with the bathwater. We’ve got bits that are special and we should encourage it and enjoy it. Your right to run sheep in the Forest. You’ve got to defend it. Because I mean you never know when you might want to do it, or your children might. I mean I don’t know where you intend to live. It’s nice that it



continues and you could do it if you wanted. I’ve been away from the Forest living in Bristol for a while now, I heard while I was away I missed was a big row over the sale of the Forest? Ah yes, H.O.O.F. Hand Off Our Forest. Was that a serious threat that could have happened? Yep it was there to be done. So they put forward an act which would have sold the Forest into pieces. You’d have still have had a little bit in the centre probably around Speech House that was pretty and nice and touristy, and the rest of it would have gone. Luckily freeminers, commoners, local people, councillors, pretty much everybody realised that it was diabolical what they were trying to do. The Forest has never been owned. It’s always been available for local people to go and do things in and enjoy for all the customs it’s brought. So we weren’t just going to let them parcel it up and sell it off. But you might think that’s gone, but its actually still there, they’re still trying to find different ways of doing it. It’s ideology. The Conservatives don’t believe that land should be owned by the nation, it should be owned by people, everyone should own their own land. So it’s an ideological thing for the Conservatives to think that land that can be owned by investors and developed and used-you know not just lying there like nothing, valueless-it’s got to have use, you can’t have


From The Forest



“ shows the strength of feeling of the local people, that they don’t want the Forest sold. It should be a public resource for the enjoyment of people and not individuals”


From The Forest

land that isn’t built on or that you’re not getting money from. They’ve got plently of banking friends probably that would like to invest in some land. Because if you invest in land you don’t pay inheritance tax on it, you get grants to leave it as it is or to plant new trees, or to change the management of the land and you get big EEC grants for that, and that can be the equivalent of the purchase price of the land. But you have to have the money in the first place to buy it, to be able to do that. So it disadvantages people that aren’t wealthy but is a tremendous advantage if you’re a footballer. Shirley Bassey own land all the way down the Wye Valley, you know woodland, because its a way of investing money that can’t be touched by taxation. So who’s it benefitting, certainly not the people who enjoy the Forest and like to roam in it, certainly not the freeminers who mine in it and the commoners. So that’s why we started H.O.O.F. and why we fought to stop it being sold. We’ve been succesful so far and made a really good case, but you know it keeps bubbling back. We’ve now had the independent panel that have said exactly what we’ve said. The Forest has a greater value as a public resource. But the Government are saying, well we accept the independent panel’s view but we’re going to set up a management company so the Forest isn’t owned by the Government, it’s managed by individuals, by a company, and we will appoint those people as guardians of the Forest. But of course if the people they appoint are their cronies and are people



that are friendly with bankers and whatever, we’ll be back to square one and we won’t have the protection of it that we have at the moment, that at least it’s held by the Government from people. Because by then it’ll be separated and handed over to this private company. So althought they might be given the remit to look after it we don’t know what they’ll suggest in the future. That’s our concern... so fight with H.O.O.F. 3,000 people came out for the march at Speech House to protest against the Forest being sold. That was H.O.O.F.’s first sort of event and it shows the strength of feeling of the local people, that they don’t want the Forest sold. It should be a public resource for the enjoyment of people and not individuals. Well that’s my soapbox...




From The Forest

H.O.O.F. H.O.O.F. – an abbreviation for ‘Hands of Our Forest’ – is an organisation that stands to defend the Forest against the threat of private ownership. The Forest is currently run by the Forestry commission. It is publically owned and run. As always throughout the history, the Forest is under threat from Government and private landowners wanting to sell it off. H.O.O.F. argues that the Forest Is not a money making opportunity, open for development and exploitation, but that it belongs to the people of the Forest as it has done for centuries. If the Forest fell in to private hands, and they decided to, no longer would you have the right to walk through the woods, commoners would no longer be able to graze their sheep freely and Free Miners rights to mine the minerals of the land could be stripped. The only way this can be stopped is if people know and defend their rights.

As a society we have a duty to protect and manage our forests and woodlands.


Defending a Heritage

In 1981, Parliament passed the Forestry Act (1981), amending an earlier act of 1967, to allow the sale of land managed by the Forestry Commission. Following a sustained campaign, the Forest of Dean was specifically exempted from the act.

The Public Bodies Bill, introduced to Parliament in October 2010, proposed to amend the Forestry Act 1967, potentially repealing the Forest of Dean exemption. Over 3,000 people turned up to protest against the proposed act and for now it has been stopped. Baroness Royall of Blaisdon says on the matter (taken from an article in ‘Gloucestershire Citizen’): “People are right to say that our voices should be heard now,” she said. “As a society we have a duty to protect and manage our forests and woodlands. Our Forest is irreplaceable and must not be sold off as part of the Government’s desire to generate quick cash.” A battle against the Thatcher Government’s plans to sell the Forest was won following a big campaign, and culminated in the Forestry Act 1981, retaining special protection for the Forest of Dean that has existed since the 11th Century.”




From The Forest

Ow bist ol butt? (How are you my friend?)


Defending a Heritage

Vorest Speak I remember going around my friends house when I was young, and her Dad owning books written in Forest dialect and reading them to us, being facinated by them. Much of the Forest dialect developed down the mines. For example ‘butty’ which the miners referred to their foreman and the man who paid their wages as. Out of the mines its simply means ‘friend’. The most common and well known phrase is ‘Ow bist ol butt?’ meanning ‘How are you my friend?’. It’s a dying language that isn’t used much amongst younger generations and is unlikely to continue. In older generations using Forest dialect was often frowned upon and discouraged in favour of a more ‘BBC’ way of speaking to further opportunities outside the Forest. Modern technology and easy travel links – these could be some of the reasons it is disapearing even more nowadays. The Dean Heritiage Centre has already compiled and recorded the language of older Foresters to tape, so that it can at least be preserved this way. One thing that hasn’t gone away however... is the accent.


From The Forest










Defending a Heritage

Old Friend

Him Dead

You will







From The Forest

What is a Forester I’ve always assumed that to be a true Forester you have to have been born in the Forest of Dean. I asked other people what they think the meaning of ‘being a Forester’ is.

“Hard to put into words but for me its the heritage and having generations of my family born and living in the Forest which gives me a feeling of belonging. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.” “I’ve lived here 20 years and am “It’s a sense of shared

still not a ‘Forester’ which is just as

familiarity and belonging

telling because I think it shows how

that ties you to a place no

deep rooted being a true ‘Forester’

matter how much distance

is in people’s psyche. However I take

and time goes by”

it as a compliment that true foresters will complain about incomers to my face now.”




From The Forest

Do you consider yourself a Forester? I polled 141 people who currently live in or have grown up in the Forest of Dean (only 14 people replied...). I asked them “Do you consider yourself a Forester?” Suprisingly only two people said no. One because she only moved to the area later in life and the other because he found more opportunities out of the Forest and didn’t plan on returning.


The People




From The Forest



“It’s a sense of shared familiarity and belonging that ties you to a place no matter how much distance and time goes by.”


From The Forest



Growing up in the Forest Growing up in the Forest is a unique experience. I asked family and friends, what their experiences of growing up in the Forest were.

“ Being

outside in the trees, climbing and running around, walking a mile or so to the next village to call in friends to walk all the way back out into the trees. Having to be home by dark.


remember in the 80’s when I was at Littledean Primary School, mum making me a packed lunch and going off all day for a bike ride with my friends, and we would come home before it got dark. We would go for miles, all around green bottom, stop at a well there and fill our water bottles up with water from the spring, not a care in the world.


remember meeting up with friends from school to go to the cinema and each other’s houses. We would walk from house to house to meet up with other friends to go to the park or to spend time in the sun. I have fond memories of learning to ride a bike in linear park and in the woods around Cinderford with my sister, feeding the ducks at the park and when I met Pritch seven years ago we would walk there and it’s where he proposed too.


From The Forest

“ For

my family growing up in the 1950’s & 1960’s , growing your own vegetables and keeping chickens was essential to feed the family. Sunday morning i can remember dad picking the peas/green beans and sitting and helping to p o p the peas from the pods and top and tailing the beans. The allotment is back in fashion now but most families would grow their vegetables back in the old days. I lived on Littledean Hill Road and when not at school we spent most of our time outside going to Heywood woods with Banana sandwiches and bottles of squash. Staying there most of the day and coming home for tea.




I could never imagine living anywhere else. We had so much fun and freedom growing up . I can remember coming home from school putting on our play clothes and straight outside to play with our friends, Playing in the field having races or even skipping on the road as there were hardly any cars then. Every Sunday Dad would take us for a long walk in the wood we would walk for m i l e s . I can remember dad making a swing in one of the big trees it was there for years. We would often go off with our friends nearly all day and have a picnic in the wood, something I am afraid we could not let our children do now on their own. Everyone was so friendly and looked out for one another. No-one had a lot but what they did have was shared. Dad always had a big garden and would give out vegetables to the neighbours. One of our highlights as a child (if mum and dad could afford it) was going to the cinema on a Saturday morning. We would have 9d (6d to go to the cinema and 3d to spend on sweets). Great times!



From The Forest

“ Saturday

mornings I would go to the cinema in Belle Vue Road with my brother and sister. Think it cost 9d to go in and we would have 3d to spend on sweets. This would have been in the 1960’s. I can remember watching the old Batman films. we also went and watched The Beatles films & summer holiday with Cliff Richard!

An old photograph of my mum and Uncle aged 9 and 11


The People

An old photograph of my two younger sisters paddling in a stream in the summer


From The Forest

The Palace Cinema The cinema in Cinderford, has been a cornerstone in socialising for generations of Foresters. Affordable ticket prices meant it was something everyone could enjoy together, and is something I was lucky enough to have had when I was growing up.

It was originally built in 1910 and is one of the oldest purpose built cinemas still operating in Britain today. After opening in 1911 it closed in 1966. After being abondoned for over 30 years, it was renovated and opened again in An old 1991. photograph They still show films using of the Palace Cinema in projectors, desprite presure from Cinderford its original film studios to upgrade to digital. with entrance They also still hold tea matinees on afternoons with a free cup of tea a biscuits with the price of a ticket, to meet up with your friends and watch a film. With modern cinemas becoming less of a shared activity and more about individual time, its good to see that The Palace Cinema has kept its place in the community and hopefully will continue to serve generations to come.


The People

There’s a sense of something special and unique everytime you watch a film there


From The Forest

“ We were always outside as children, often making dens

in the mass of ferns that grew by our house and getting stung by stinging nettles! Once we were in our den we would strip back the leaves from some ferns and make the stems into arrows - they flew quite far! I would often go off on bike rides as a child with my friends, exploring the woods, ding past Cannop Pond. A favourite was riding down to the streams near Blackpool Brook and catching ‘Bullheads’ in the stream. I have lots of memories of Blackpool Brook, the first being a picnic with playschool dressed up as Cowboys and Indians, sat in a circle banging drums. Also remember picnics there with Aunty Kath and my cousins, paddling in the pool and everyone slipping over on the same bit into the water. So much greenery, you don’t really realise when you are child how lucky you are to live amongst the trees and have such wonderful views all of the time. I now live in Hampshire and lots of people go to the New Forest for leisure. It is nice, but So much greenery, you nothing compared to the magnificent Forest of Dean, a ‘proper forest’, don’t really realise when but then I would say that.......I’m a you are child how lucky Forester!

you are to live amongst the trees and have such wonderful views all of the time.




From The Forest


Final Thoughts

FINAL THOUGHTS I strongly believe that if more young people don’t get involved in the customs of the Forest, then they will end up existing only in history books. I wholeheartedly support the continuation of Free Mining through the apprenticeship scheme Jonathan mentioned in my conversation with him, and believe this is a positive step forwards. I also think that the history of the area is fantastic and needs be taught in schools so that from an early age young Foresters have an idea of the heritage that they have inherited. On a personal note, through writing this book I have repositioned myself with my views on what a Forester is. No longer judged by ‘birth rights’, I believe it should be based on the connection with the place where you grew up and the experiences that you share with countless others who have lived before you. I can now say I truly consider myself a Forester no matter where I am in the world.


From The Forest



Pine standing in rows, like warriors’ lances Cathedrals of beech trees, arching their branches A carpet of grass, so lush and so green I’m sorry I left you, my Forest of Dean A verse from the poem ‘My Forest Of Dean’ by R. Miles


CREDITS With thanks to Jonathan Wright for his knowledge of all things Forest

Thankyou to everybody who engaged in discusion on the Facebook group

A lot of factual and historical information used in this book was sourced from the Dean Heritage Centre: Dean Heritage Centre Camp Hill, Soudley, Cinderford, Gloucestershire GL14 2UB Tel: 01594 822170

Other information sources used: d=23267 story-11911085-detail/story.html 11/dialect.shtml

Images used: Photograph of wild boar on p.16 by Mark Eggleton 91257311/

Photograph of the Miners’ Monument on p.24 taken from 5201_c299a242.jpg

Photograph of the Palace Cinema on p.88 taken from the Forest & Wye Today website

Images of coins on p.86 taken from

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