Your Forest of Dean Local History


Afternoon scene at Lower Lydbrook - (around1880).  From an oil painting by H Crowther.
Local History 
Dean Mining & Railways 
Warren James & the Riots 
Celts & Romans 
Who Killed the Bears? 
St. Anthony's Well 
Forest of Dean Witchcraft 
 Civil War Dean

Woolaston History


 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 City of Gloucester to the east. The area is characterised by over 110 square kilometres (42.5 sq mi) of mixed woodland, one of the surviving ancient woodlands in England. A 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 medieval times.

<IMG SRC="imgC.jpg" ALT="merlin on location at Puzzlewood">

In 1327 it was defined to cover only the royal demesne and parts of parishes within the hundred of St Briavels, and after 1668 the Forest comprised the royal demesne only. This area is now within the civil parishes of West Dean, Lydbrook, Cinderford, Ruspidge, and Drybrook.The outcrop of the Crease Limestone around the flanks of the Forest of Dean syncline is marked by a wide variety of naturally formed pits and cavities locally known as scowles, which are thought to be unique to the Forest of Dean. During  the Iron Age and later in the Roman period it was recognised that iron ore could be found in veins and pockets in the exposed rock faces. In some places, when the surface exposures were exhausted, the miners followed veins of iron ore underground. The ore was then smelted using locally produced charcoal, and made into objects or traded, by way of the River Wye or ports on the River Severn and its estuary. One of the most accessible areas of scowles is at Puzzlewood near Coleford, which is open as a tourist attraction. Over a mile of pathways were laid down in the early 19th century to provide access to the woods, and provide picturesque walks. Puzzlewood, and "Dwarf's Hill" at Lydney Park which also contains scowles, are said to have been inspirations for J. R. R. Tolkien's descriptions of Middle-earth forests in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien carried out archaeological work in the area in the 1920s with Mortimer Wheeler.

The Forest of Dean Heritage Centre

The Dean Heritage Centre is one of Gloucestershire's leading attractions. Set across a stunning and fully interactive five acre site, the centre protects and preserves the unique history and heritage of the beautiful Forest of Dean. With around 20,000 artefacts, 5 onsite galleries, outdoor displays, a research library and guided tours on offer, the museum tells the story of the Forest from the Ice Age to the present day. Whatever your age group, there's always something new and exciting to interest, inspire and surprise you.With a wide range of things to do and see, including the five onsite galleries exploring the history of the Forest, there is a reconstructed Victorian cottage; a cider mill and press, a charcoal burner's camp; an adventure playground; a classroom from the early 20th century, the Dennis Potter exhibition and collection, chainsaw carving demonstrations; a variety of animals, and an onsite gift shop and cafe. The Dennis Potter Exhibit also includes a video recalling his local connections




Dean Heritage Centre, Camp Mill, Soudley, Forest of Dean. GL14 2UB  01594 822170

Cinderford Church and School

The effort made to meet the spiritual wants of the increasing population of the Forest was commenced by Edward Protheroe, Esq., M.P., who erected and opened, July 1, 1840, “on Cinderford Tump, where the old holly grew,” large and substantial school-buildings, for the benefit of the families connected with his adjacent collieries, and consigned them to the care of Mr. Zachariah Jolly as their master, an office which he ably filled for several years. <IMG SRC="imgC.jpg" ALT="The original 1844 Cinderford church and School">
The attendance was large, sometimes exceeding 280 children of both sexes. In the first seventeen years, to July, 1857, nearly 1,400 young persons were admitted into the schools, at ages ranging from four to twenty-two years.
There was also an evening school for adults, some winters numbering ninety, patronized by the South Wales Railway Company, who subscribed liberally to it. By the Act of July, 1842, dividing the Forest into ecclesiastical districts, its south-east section was constituted one of them, and a stipend of £150 per annum provided for the minister, so soon as the church intended for it should be built and consecrated. Aided by large donations from the Crown, Charles Bathurst, Esq., the Rev. Dr. Warneford, and others, the new church, erected on the hill above Cinderford Bridge, at a cost of £3,109, in the Early Pointed style of Gothic architecture, on the plan of a Latin cross, with a belfry turret, and capable of seating 800 persons, was consecrated under the name of St. John the Apostle, by Bishop Monk, on the 22nd of October, 1844. There was a large attendance of clergy, and upwards of 1,100 persons were present, many others being unable to obtain admission into the church.


English Bicknor Castle

Local historians were surprised at the recent news (Sept. 2014) that a section of the ruins of English Bicknor castle have been found by building contractors commissioned to build a new classroom block in the grounds of the local primary school. 

The site of the two-metre high base of a medieval stone tower is in an area originally thought to be its moat. 

Andy Boucher, regional manager at Headland Archaeology, is quoted as saying, “This is a very exciting discovery. It shows this was in fact a keep and bailey castle which are usually very early in date. In this case it seems to have had a gatehouse keep and the remains we found could have been the base of one of two towers flanking the gate."

William FitzNorman, who came to the Forest of Dean during the Norman Conquest, was lord of the manor at the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 and it may have been his castle. At this Conservation site, 19th century excavations had revealed that the motte is surrounded by a ditch and the inner bailey has remains of a wall along its north and south sides. There are fragments of wall from the 12th century or 13th century keep on the motte summit indicating that the motte lay at the centre of two concentric outer bailey walls, and the whole construction being a roughly circular castle approximately 150 yards across. Legend has it that it may have faced destruction during the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr.


Legend has it that English Bicknor castle may have faced destruction during the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr, the last native Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales.
One of his many supporters in this area was Sir John Scudamore, a Sheriff of Herefordshire, and a 15th-century English landowner who had married Alys, one of the daughters of Owain Glyndwr. He acted as the constable and steward of a number of Royal castles in the border area, including Monmouth, Grosmont and White Castle and was very active in fighting with the Welsh.
In 1403 Glyndwr headed to the South and the West. His forces marched down the Tywi Valley gaining support as they went. English Castles and manor houses fell in their wake. 
He then headed West attacking Glamorgan and Gwent. Abergavenny and Usk Castles were attacked and burnt before taking Cardiff and Newport.
Archenfield, Abergavenny, Craig-y-Dorth, Monmouth and Glamorgan all succumbed to the Welsh. 
Archenfield, in Herefordshire was outside the English hundred system, and a semi-autonomous Welsh district, with its own customs. Its administrative centre was English Bicknor's sister castle at Kilpeck. Owain Glyndwr considered it as a part of Wales. It was reported in 1403 that '
the Welsh rebels in great numbers have entered Archenfield and there they have burnt houses, killed the inhabitants, taken prisoners and ravaged the country to the great dishonour of our King and the unsupportable damage of the country.'
In 1404, Glyndwr,rallying his men, followed the Earl of Warwick back to the Herefordshire border there turned the tables on his enemy, beating him badly in a pitched battle at Craig-y-dorth,close to Mitcheltroy. The scene of this savage encounter is on the road between Chepstow and Monmouth, near Trelog common.
During 1407 events in France produced a truce between the English and the French from which the Welsh were excluded. Glyndwr could not count on the French for any further support. The rebellion was wavering and Glyndwr was finding it difficult to find troops. It became increasingly impossible to maintain the ground he had gained.
Glyndwr soon lost control of a large part of western Wales and he could no longer maintain his role as the ruling prince. He was once again a guerrilla leader. However, Glyndwr himself eluded capture and, with his only surviving son, Maredudd, disappeared into central Wales. The Welsh did not make any great attacks throughout the next two years, merely harrying the English as and when they could.
By 1413 no one knew where Glyndwr was and he was heard of no more. Prince Henry became Henry V early that year and offered a pardon to Owain Glyndwr, which was never accepted.
In 2006 The Owain Glyndwr Society's president Adrien Jones reported: "Four years ago we visited a direct descendant of Glyndwr, a John Skidmore, at Kentchurch Court, near Abergavenny. He took us to Mornington Straddle, in Herefordshire, where one of Glyndwr's daughters, Alys, lived. Mr Skidmore told us that he (Glyndwr) spent his last days there and eventually died there. It was a family secret for six hundred years and even Mr. Skidmore's mother, who died shortly before we visited, refused to reveal the secret. There's even a mound where he is believed to be buried."


After the 2014 school area discovery, which was at a corner of the site, a new location for the classroom block was agreed and made possible by the assistance of the village hall committee who ceded the required land to the school.

The stonework, which is said to be in excellent condition, has now been covered over due to the cost of its conservation.

The village of English Bicknor grew up around a Norman castle in the centre of the parish and its medieval parish church stands in the castle's outer bailey. At its north-east, in the barbican, is the former rectory house and also in the south-west are school buildings dating from the 1830s.

During 1880 part of the castle motte was excavated by workers making a garden for the schoolmaster. They are reported  as having destroyed a small stone chamber.


Click on the image for Google Zoom

Henry's Charter giving to Miles of Gloucester, his constable, the land of Bicknor which was Wulfric of Dean’s. 1126 -1133

(Wulfric of Dean may be the man named in Duke Henry’s charter to Flaxley abbey given in 1153)

Henry king of the English to the bishop of Hereford and justices and sheriffs and all his barons and sworn men French and English of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, greeting. Know that I have given and granted to Miles of Gloucester my constable in fee and inheritance the land of Bicknor that was Wulfric of Dean’s. Wherefore I will and firmly command that he shall hold it by hereditary right in wood and field in all things with soke and sake and toll and team and infangthief and with all customs and liberties and quittances with which he well and quietly and honourably and freely holds his other fee. Witness Geoffrey the chancellor and Robert de Sigillo and Pain fitz John and Eustace fitz John and William fitz John and William d’Aubigny Brito. At Cambridge.

In May 1138 Miles received King Stephen at Gloucester and he was with him in August at the siege of Shrewsbury. His defection to the other side did not take place till the summer of 1139 when he joined his lord, Robert, Earl of Gloucester, in inviting Empress Matilda to England. On her arrival she was met at Bristol by Miles who welcomed her to Gloucester and recognised her as his rightful sovereign. From that time he was her ardent supporter.

Her gratitude was shown by at once giving him St. Briavels Castle and the Forest of Dean.

Ralph Avenel, who held land in English Bicknor from the Crown in 1190, also had custody of a bailiwick in the demesne woodland of the Forest of Dean. He was succeeded in 1217 by his son William Avenel, who obtained seisin of the land, castle, and bailiwick of English Bicknor in 1223.

In 1218 Peter de Maulay was ordered to take into the king’s hand all the land of John of Monmouth in his bailiwick, because John was unwilling to surrender Bicknor castle, formerly of Ralph Avenel (FineR Henry III, 2/126), and in 1223 William Avenel fined with the king for 40 marks for having the land formerly of Ralph Avenel, his father, which he ought to hold of the king in chief and which fell to him by hereditary right, with the bailiwick and castle of Bicknor.  

William Avenel died in 1236. The castle was still in use at that time. Its exact date of final ruin however, is unknown. A 1608 map appears to show a large concentric square keep surrounded by a circular moat on the site of the castle south of the church. On the ground the site is clearly a motte and bailey castle with the church in an outer earthen bailey.

From 1301 the manor of Bicknor was held by custody of the bailiwick and by a cash rent paid at Newnham to the bailiffs of St. Briavels. The manor continued to be held for the rent, paid to the holders of St. Briavels castle, and by the office of woodward of Bicknor bailiwick, until the 19th century.

William FitzNorman (b.1048) appears to have been keeper of the king's Forest of Dene at the date of the Domesday Survey. It is recorded that he held  lands in Dene (Michel) or Magna Dene, in Little Taynton, of which one virgate lay in the Forest, and also  manors in Morcote (Murcott, Minsterworth), Bicanofre (English-Bicknor), and Blideslaw (Bledislaw) hundred.

Forests in the neighbouring county of Hereford were also farmed by William where he paid £15 per annum. There he held Kilpeck in Erchenfield,where his family was responsible for the building of another castle.

One historian wrote - 'William 1st granted the manor to his friend William FitzNorman, whose son Hugh (b.1070) built a stone castle to the west of the church. Of the castle, only earthworks and two fragments of a polygonal keep remain'. 

Kilpeck Castle, thought to have been built around 1090, is located about eight miles south west of Hereford. The earthworks consist of a motte with a base diameter of about 50m at the base and about 8m at the top. The motte is surrounded by a ditch. The inner bailey has remains of a wall along the north and south sides. There are fragments of wall from the 12th century or 13th century keep on the motte summit. The keep is thought to have been polygonal in shape.

The castle was probably abandoned in the first decade of the 15th century when the area was ravaged by Owain Glyndwr's army, and apparently was falling into ruin by the 16th century. During the Civil War it was garrisoned by the Royalists between 1635-1645 with the Parliamentarians destroying it at the end of the war.

The descendants of William FitzNorman stayed on as farmers in the Forest of Dean, and apparently some still live here. One has posted this information on-line. - I am Frank Baynham and recently traced my ancestry back to Ralph Ap Eynon born 1306 and via his wife Joane De Dene to William FitzNorman. I live in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire and although I was born  in Lancashire it's great to be able to say I've nearly 1000 years of  ancestry here. I believe William FitzNorman was born in 1048 and would suspect that he came over with William 1st in 1066, or soon after. His son is given  as Ulric De Dene and obviously that line of the family founded the dynasty which linked via Joan De Dene with my Ap Eynon ancestors who later became Baynham.


Forest of Dean 1611 map

English Bicknor Castle does not seem to show on Speed's 1611 map of Gloucestershire.



The churches at English Bicknor and Kilpeck -both connected to the 12th century FitzNorman family. Norman-period stone carvings in the two churches are believed by some historians to have been carried out by the same journeyman stonemason.


Treasure Trove of Bronze Age Gold Bracelets Found at Woolaston.

What is believed to be six Bronze Age gold bracelets have been found by a metal detecting enthusiast from Fife in Scotland while on a weekend rally organised by the Forest of Dean Metal Detecting Club. They may have belonged to a child who lived or visited the Forest of Dean around 700 BC. Around 140 people attended the November 2013 weekend metal detecting rally which was sponsored by Lydney Rugby Club.

Forty four year old Steve Moodie from Newburgh, who spends much of his time metal detecting around the beaches of Fife, discovered six 3,000-year-old pure gold children’s bracelets just inches below a farmer’s stubble field at Woolaston. Mr Moodie has been told the treasure trove could be valued at “six figures” and the sum would be split 50/50 with the landowner. The treasure is now in the hands of the British Museum for analysis and cleaning which could take up to two years. 'Big Steve' had already made a significant discovery at Falkland eight years ago when finding a Bronze Age gold ring, now in the St Andrews Museum, and believed to be the first of its kind to be discovered in Scotland.

Dave Warren of the Forest of Dean Metal Detecting Club said: “The rally went really well. The finds were amazing overall and not just the Bronze Age treasure find. “Over the weekend people found a silver hammer coin, a Bronze Age axe head and a Roman broach and  coins. The big discovery, the Bronze Age bracelet, is a very significant find for this area.”

Kurt Adams, a County finds liaison officer, was there to verify any of the findings.

Although Bronze Age settlements are at present not known in the Forest of Dean, a large variety of finds scattered around the area suggests that there is much awaiting discovery. Bronze Age field systems have been identified at Welshbury Hill near Littledean, and there is also archaeological evidence of early trading by sea, probably through Lydney.


The ruined church at Lancaut and its Woolaston connections

 Today the only significant trace of the village of Lancaut above ground is the church of St James, which is a Grade II listed building within the site of a scheduled monument. Ecclesiastical records in the Book of Llandaff refer to a religious establishment of lann ceuid probably at this location, which is likely to have been established by 625 AD. A monastery was recorded here by 703. However, the construction of the church dates from the 12th century, the arch remaining across the chancel dating from this period. The theory has been put forward that the settlement was connected to the Cistercian monks who founded their substantial Abbey up-river at Tintern in 1131.

A cast lead font in the church, comparable to other local examples from the same mould, can be dated precisely to between 1120 and 1140. This font is now in the Lady Chapel of Gloucester cathedral.

Another suggestion is that it may once have been the site of a leper colony, and an unusual number of medicinal herbs including the non-native elecampane - once used to treat respiratory ailments - and green hellebore have been found in and around the churchyard.

Until 1711 the church was an independent ecclesiastical parish. After this date it was merged with another local parish, the new living being the rectory of Woolaston. Despite this, the church appears to have been substantially restored and rebuilt after this time. The double bell window still visible in the West wall was supplemented by a small bell turret in the roof above. In 1840 the antiquarian George Ormerod made drawings that record the church as having box pews and a pulpit fitted inside. By the 1860s though, the parish congregation was reduced in number and services were only being held here during the summer months.

In 1865, the Rector of Woolaston ordered that the church be abandoned. The roof and the interior fittings, together with the font, were removed. Church and village both declined after this time, and the church was deconsecrated.

In the 1980s the chancel arch partially collapsed, prompting some restoration and consolidation work, together with archaeological study.

Repairs were undertaken to the churchyard wall in 2010. In December 2013, the church building was purchased for a nominal fee of £1 by the Forest of Dean Buildings Preservation Trust. The Trust intends to carry out a programme to stabilise the building.    

Andy Dingley - wikipedia 



The lead bowl of the Norman font was removed from the church before 1890 by its patron, Sir William Marling of Sedbury Park, and it remained with his family until around 1940 when it was donated to Gloucester Cathedral.

The single bell was also removed from the church in the late 19th century for the use of Woolaston school.

No parish registers are known to survive, but entries for Lancaut are included in the Woolaston registers.




Forest of Dean 1787



St. Michael's Church, Abbenhal

The font at St. Michael's Church, Abbenhall dates from the 15th century. It is of local workmanship and the octagonal bowl is richly carved. Six faces display family coats of arms, and two the implements of miners and smiths. It is believed to have been presented to the church by the Miner's Guild in 1450.





Forest of Dean Local History Society
The Society was founded in 1948, since when it has grown both in size and in prestige, to the extent that they now have over 300 members world-wide and is recognised both locally and nationally as a dynamic and forward-looking Society.
There is a regular programme of talks, walks and outings, and they publish a quarterly newsletter which is sent out to all members. The Society encourages its members to become involved in their own research as well as participating in group projects which form an important part of their activities.
Their annual journal, the New Regard, is recognised as one of the best of its kind, to the extent that four of the contributors have been shortlisted for the British Association of Local History Association award for a published article.


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Lydbrook around 1900


St. Briavels Maypole from a sketch by J Brown


Black Dwarf Lightmoor Books

Their range of Local History books reflects a deep interest in the Forest of Dean in West Gloucestershire and its history. Their first ever book, published in 1994, was Edwardian Dean in Colour. Based on the Edwardian colour postcards issued by Tilleys of Ledbury, it presents a vivid portrait of the Dean how it was 100 years ago. Since then the range has been expanded and now includes a number of important titles, including A Forest Beat (the history of policing and police stations in the Dean) and Blood on Coal (the story of the Forest Coalfield during the 1926 General Strike). They have also published completely revised and updated editions of three of the most sought after out-of-print books on the region : The Free Miners, The Commoners of Dean and The Verderers & Forest Laws of Dean, all written and revised by the late Dr Cyril Hart. website

SunGreen Old Photos web site

SunGreen web site, old photos and family history of the Forest of Dean, The Sun Green website run by G K Davis from Bream has an impressive collection of photographs showing People, Places, Events, Commentary, Stories, Directories and History in the Forest of Dean.

The Forest of Dean Metal Detecting Club.

 A family orientated group based around the Forest of Dean. They are happy for everyone to join and take part in their meetings and digs - from beginners to experienced detectorists. They hold rallys, local history talks, visit museums, and associate with local clubs for barbeques and social evenings.    website       facebook

Forest of Dean Family History Trust

The mission of their Web site is to provide resources for family history researchers who have ancestors and families who lived in the Forest of Dean and its borders. They invite you to read, share and make new connections with other Forest of Dean researchers with the help of the resources that are available here. The forum is for everyone researching their family history relating to people connected in some way to the Forest of Dean or nearby bordering places. It is especially unique for its allowing free access to a huge quantity of local births, deaths and marriage records. There is also a large variety of local historic photographs supplied by researchers.


Local Websites










Yorkley Village Web-site                
Scowles Hamlet, Coleford            
Forest of Dean Way-Mark            
Four Villages                               
Kelly's Directory Coleford 1870 

Kelly's 19th Century Gloucestershire    





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