Our Celtic Silurian ancestors most
probably originally brought the art of
iron-making to Britain. They found ore
and timber in abundance in the Forest of
Dean and began to apply their
in Bream appears to be confirmed by the
discovery in 1946, by a German doctor
from the Coleford prisoner of war camp, of an ancient
coin in the Bream Scowles. It was later
identified as being from a Gaulish
tribe, the Veneti of Brittany.
this tribe, who are also recorded
shipping Cornish tin, was defeated and
dispersed in Julius Caesar's Gallic
wars, it seems fairly certain that the
iron mines of the Forest were known to
continental people as early as the First
Century B.C, a good hundred years before
the Romans arrived, and iron slag
found in the Iron Age hill-fort at
Llanmelin, near Caerwent, suggests that
ore was taken from the Forest of Dean to
be smelted there.
Their local legacy
is revealed in the
numerous scowles at Devil's Chapel.
smooth concave surfaces which some of
the old workings display, suggest that
the process known as fire-setting was
used to shatter the massive rocks in
order to facilitate the ore's removal.
method was to light a fire of brushwood
and logs against the face to be
excavated, and when the rock was
sufficiently heated, to quench it with
water. The expansion due to heating,
followed by the contraction induced by
sudden cooling, shattered the rock,
which could then be dislodged by picks
ore and some charcoal were placed in a small
furnace that was typically about 3ft in
diameter and 3ft high, and constructed
of clay or stone with a clay lining.
Air was forced into the flames by
bellows worked by hand or foot.
The molten iron separated from the rock
and flowed to the
bottom of the furnace and out through a
hole to a hollow in the ground where it
cooled and set to form slag. The iron
was left behind in the furnace and,
because it was dispersed throughout the
mass of ore, it remained as a
sponge-like lump called the bloom, about
the size of a football.
It has been
estimated that only between10 and 20 per cent of
the available iron was extracted from
the ore by this method.
Our nearest known Celtic hill-fort was
at Lydney Park and some early iron
mining activity has been recorded there,
and when Templeway, the road opposite
Lydney town hall, was being built in
1936, a Celtic hammer-stone was found.
In Roman times there were many iron
mines in Britain. The index to the
Ordnance Survey Map of Roman Britain has 33 iron mines listed. 67% of
those were in the Weald and 15% in the
Forest of Dean.
The location of those
sites was often determined by the
availability of wood for charcoal
A great amount of iron was required for
the Roman war machine, and Bream was one
of the places helping to fill that need.
Coin hoards found at Bream Scowles,
Lydney and Coleford, reveal a period
when our ancestors probably used cash
for the very first time.
All local research appears to indicate
the use of a compliant work-force
co-operating with the occupiers and
being rewarded for doing so.
We know that the Romans did stimulate an increase in
output, and by the second century the
Forest of Dean was one of the major
iron-producing areas of Britain. The
invaders also quarried local stone and
sand for their roads and villas, and
some coal from outcrops for domestic
There has been a port at Lydney since
before Roman times. Apart from everyday
trading, it was used to ship out iron ore that had
been mined in the Forest of Dean. Its
harbour was the last port on the Severn
where sea-going boats could unload.
One can only wonder whether this scene,
recreated by Colchester museum, may have
been fairly similar to that near
Lydney's Park Farm Roman site in the 2nd to
That site, part of which straddled Mead
Lane, was situated in the fields across
the Roman main road, and opposite the
present-day Taurus centre, where a creek
leading into Lydney Pill was only
a short distance from the present day
Some historians believe that it was a
Roman navy depot, and probably a
bridge-head station for a crossing to
Berkeley, which connected to a route
through to Cirencester
It is highly probable that during the
Roman occupation, there was already a
fairly large native settlement at Bream.
Several researchers have shared their
theory that most of our area's
roads were originally built by the
Romans to facilitate the movement of
iron ore, etc.
If true, then it is easy to
conjure up a 3rd-4th century image of
the activity passing today's Maypole junction at
Bream, with a constant stream of
traffic, some carrying a variety of
goods, including iron and iron ore from
Coleford, Parkend, High Nash, Perryvale,
and Clearwell, en route to the ships on
the Severn, across to Berkeley, or the main Gloucester to
Wales highway that passed through
That local route may have followed a track,
still visable today, that ran from Bream Grove, through present day Lydney
Park, past the Celtic hill-fort, and down to the Gloucester to
Chepstow highway and the docks at Park Farm.
This area in Saxon times
Towards the end of the 4th century the
great Roman Empire was breaking up.
Barbarians from Northern Germany were
threatening. In 406 Constantine
took an army over to Gaul leaving
Increasingly under attack from
Anglo-Saxons on the East and South
coasts, native Britons now had to rely
on themselves for the defence of their
There is only little evidence of
habitation in our area following the withdrawal of the Roman
The Saxons are known to have crossed
the River Severn shortly after the battle of Dyrham in AD 577.
Throughout most of the 9th, 10th and early 11th Centuries
Vikings and Danes occupied and conducted raids up the River
During King Alfred’s reign it is said
that a Danish host fell upon the Forest of Dean but the men of
Hereford and Gloucester put them to flight.
Despite this unrest, by the Norman
Conquest the late Saxon Kings had established civil government
of the area. With it, a system of eight Hundreds had been
established, as had manors, and tithing.
Documentary evidence provides some
information about the pre-Norman economy. Charters referring to
locations along the Severn and Wye mention fisheries and weirs,
and tax records note payments of fish and eels.
A continuing iron industry in the
Forest of Dean appears to be confirmed by a passage in the
Domesday Book stating that, before 1086, the city of Gloucester
paid a tax to Edward the Confessor of 'thirty-six dicres of
iron, and a hundred elongated iron rods for bolts for the king’s
It was almost the 8th Century before
the West Saxon rulers converted to Christianity, and the land
west of the Severn eventually came under the control of the
diocese of Hereford.
Forced labour may have been recruited
locally, and sent to St. Briavels Common, when around 790 the
Saxon King Offa of Mercia built his dyke high above the Wye to
mark the boundary with the Welsh.
Throughout much of the 9th to early 11th Centuries Vikings and
Danes sailed up the Severn carrying out raids and occupying
land. During King Alfred’s reign it is said that a Danish host
fell upon the Forest of Dean but the men of Hereford and
Gloucester put them to flight.
Before the Norman Conquest the Saxon Kings had established civil
government in the area. With it, a system of eight Hundreds was
established, including manors, and tithing.
During Norman times the kings wished to preserve the Forest of
Dean as a hunting ground.
It was administered for the Crown by the Constable of St.
The castle was originally built between 1075 and 1129. In 1292,
Edward 1st rebuilt the gatehouse to protect the building from
attacks by the Welsh.
The village of St Briavels now occupies an area one-third the
size of the original medieval township, which indicates that
considerable settlement shrinkage has occurred since that
During the 13th century it became a favourite hunting lodge for
King John, and later, the primary centre in England for the
manufacture of quarrels, large numbers of which were required
for the crossbows used in medieval warfare.
In 1256, John Malemort, the head quarrel-maker, was producing
25,000 each year. He was supplied locally with iron, wood,
charcoal, lard, and bran, and paid seven and a half pence per
day, with another three pence for feathering them, apparently a
very good wage for those times.
One of the largest stores of quarrels, available for any
military campaign, was at Hereford Castle.
There is no mention of the Hundred of St Briavels in the
Domesday Book because it was not established until the 12th
Century, at the same time as many of the Norman laws concerning
the Forest of Dean were put in place. The new dynasty of
monarchs recognised the strategic importance of the district and
the natural defence that the two rivers provided on its eastern
and western boundaries.
To add their mark, the Normans initially built a number of motte
and bailey castles at places such as Westbury-on-Severn,
Littledean, and Lydney but later moved on to fortifications
made of stone as part of their defence of the “Marcher Lands”.
Examples of them can still be seen at places such as Chepstow, Goodrich, and St Briavels.
closest Norman castle was in Lydney Park and probably built by
the Talbot family, the original residents of the estate in the
12th century. (see
our Lydney page) They are believed to have used some of the
stones from the derelict Roman site nearby.
Although there is
no direct record of its ownership, in the Domesday Survey it was
recorded that William Fitz Osbern, Earl of Hereford, made a
manor at Lydney, and a market was recorded there from 1268.
appear to have moved to Goodrich Castle by the 14th century.
be a little confusing as in 1086, and until the 1160s or later,
St. Briavels was called Lydney or Little Lydney.
Five dwellings in
Bream were recorded in 1462, and in 1505, St. James chapel, as
it was then known,was built.
In 1520 Oakwood
Mill (a corn mill) was first recorded.
From Isaac Taylor's 1777 map (TBA