forest of deanweb Deanweb's Forest of Dean site








       Local History

Bream maypole

                      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.

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 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 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.  Throughout most of the 9th, 10th and early 11th Centuries Vikings and Danes occupied and conducted raids up the River Severn.

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 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.

The Normans. 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. Briavels Castle.

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 period.

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.

Bream's 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.

The Talbots appear to have moved to Goodrich Castle by the 14th century.

Records can 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.


bream 1777

From Isaac Taylor's 1777 map (TBA collection)

contact us at


Blakeney Local History Scowles Hamlet
Bream Local Police History Scowles School
Cinderford Local War Heroes Tolkien
Civil War Dean  Lydney War
Coleford Lydney Park Warren James
County Police History Magic & Witchcraft Woolaston
Dennis Potter Mining History Woolaston History
History Parkend  
Horlicks Ruardean History