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       Local History

                      Bream in 1908

Early history. The earliest recorded human activity at Bream dates back to the Iron Age, when iron ore was being mined here.

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 skills. 

Their presence 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.

Since 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, and alongside the lower section of the Bream-Parkend Road.

The 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.

The usual 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 and wedges.

The iron 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 production.

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 use.

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 4th century.

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 A48.

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 historians 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 Lydney.

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 Britain defenceless.

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 own country.

There is only little evidence of habitation in our area following the withdrawal of the Roman army.

The Saxons are known to have crossed the River Severn shortly after the battle of Dyrham in AD 577. 

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 ships' .

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.




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