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 
Local War Heroes 

Dennis Potter

Mining - Ironworks and Early Transport

 <IMG SRC="imgC.jpg" ALT="darkhill furnace sit from the air">Coal mining, on a small scale, had taken place in the area since before Roman times, but it was not until the industrial revolution, including the construction of coke-fired ironworks in the Forest itself, that exploitation of the Forest of Dean Coalfield occurred to any great degree. Initially, it proved impossible to produce coke from the local coal that was ideal for smelting and, almost certainly, this was a major factor in the failure of three early furnaces within a decade of them opening. Around 1820, however, Moses Teague, whilst borrowing the cupola furnace at Darkhill Ironworks, discovered a way to make good iron from local coke, greatly advancing the iron and coal industries of the Forest of Dean.

Robert Forester Mushet (1811–1891) was a British metallurgist and businessman, born on 8 April 1811, at Coleford. He was the youngest son of Scottish parents, Agnes Wilson and David Mushet; an ironmaster, formerly of the Clyde, Alfreton and Whitecliff Ironworks. In 1818/9 David Mushet built the foundry at Darkhill. Robert spent his formative years studying metallurgy with his father and took over the management of Darkhill in 1845. In 1848 he moved to the newly constructed Forest Steel Works on the edge of the Darkhill site where he carried out over ten thousand experiments in ten years before moving to the Titanic Steelworks in 1862.  In 1876 he was awarded the Bessemer Gold Medal by the Iron and Steel Institute, their highest award for developing an inexpensive way to make high quality steel while perfecting the Bessemer Process and inventing the first commercially produced steel alloy. Our photos show Robert Forester Mushet and what remains of the Darkhill Furnace today.


Early Mining & Transport

 In 1787 the Forest had 121 coal mines. 90 of those were in production. Their output was 1,816 tons a week and they employed 662 miners (many being women and children). The majority of the mines were in Parkend and Ruardean walks with the outcrops most intensively worked running northwards from Cinderford to Nailbridge and then south-westwards across Serridge Green to Beechenhurst Hill. Those running northwards being from Whitecroft to Moseley Green and Staple Edge, and those on the west side of the Forest towards Coleford. The lack of good roads in the Forest of Dean meant that until the 19th century coal and ore was mainly transported through the Forest by packhorse. More distant markets were supplied through the docks on the rivers Severn and Wye to a large part of Gloucestershire as well as Hereford, Monmouth, Chepstow and Bristol. However, because of these poor transport arrangements, by the 1790s Dean coal became prohibitively expensive to outside markets and sales were lost to mines in Monmouthshire, Staffordshire and Shropshire. The earliest tramroad in the Forest had been built by free-miner James Teague in 1795 to transport coal from his mine at Edge End to the River Wye at Lower Lydbrook from where it was loaded on to barges.

The route of Teague's 3 mile 1795 Railway


Crump Meadow branch tram-line around 1926


The Bullo Pill Railway

The Bullo Pill Railway was an early horse drawn railway.  The track was of approximately 4 ft gauge, laid as a plateway, with rails of L-shaped section,<IMG SRC="imgC.jpg" ALT="map of the Bullo Pill tramway"> spiked on to stone blocks.The rails were supplied by the Ayleford Foundry, near Soudley; and a branch line was constructed from that foundry.

The tramline  was completed in 1810. All traffic was horse-drawn, using privately owned four-wheeled wagons with an oak underframe supporting a hopper-shaped body, and unflanged cast-iron wheels. Map shows the 'S' shaped twists and turns of the original tramway terminating at Bullo Pill dock.

 Bullo Pill, on the Severn near Newnham, originally a small tidal creek off the main river used for boat building, was developed by building a dock basin with lock gates, and wharves for loading goods for shipment. Coal, iron, timber and stone from the Forest could be loaded at the dock and exported on the Severn trows up or down the river. In addition there was a steady flow of barges carrying cargo across the river to Framilode and then along the Stroudwater Canal to Brimscombe, Stroud and Chalford.

An Act of Parliament received the Royal Assent on 5 May 1826; turning the line into a public company, now named the Forest of Dean Railway Company. It was taken over by the South Wales Railway in 1851 and the GWR in 1863. The track was converted to standard gauge in 1872. 

In the age of steam not all the tramways in the Forest of Dean were replaced by railways. Tracks with different gauges continued in operation throughout the 19th century. These different lines met at interchange sidings where the coal could be transferred from one set of wagons to another. Aerial photographs clearly show one such set of sidings at Bilson Green, to the west of Cinderford. There coal from Cornelius Brain's Strip-and-at-it and Trafalgar collieries was transferred from his tramway to the Forest of Dean Railway.

In 1811-12 there was an attempt to excavate a tunnel under the River Severn, apparently as an extension to the railway. It began on the bank between Bullo Pill and Newnham, and was intended to emerge on the far side near Arlingham. 

The proprietors of the Bullo Pill Railway Co. had already, in September 1809, completed the Haie Hill tunnel and acquired the rights to an existing crossing at Newnham Ferry. They had began construction of the tunnel, from the West bank. This tunnel was to carry road traffic and horse-drawn coal wagons on the tramroad. The bore was to be 13 ft high and 12 ft wide. The Haie Hill Tunnel. Constructed on the Bullo Pill tramway claims to be the world's first railway tunnel. That may not be true but at the time, covering one mile, it was certainly the longest.The children of Bullo Pill used the tunnel to reach their school at Soudley, having to time their walks so as not to meet any trains.

This tramroad would have been built to match that already constructed onshore, as a four foot gauge plateway with L-section cast iron rails. Work began and the tunnel was extended well under the river.

On Friday 13th November 1812 water broke into the tunnel. It was immediately flooded, and fortunately the workmen all managed to escape. Unlike the flooding of the later Severn Tunnel, this flooding was too much for the rudimentary pumps of the day and so work was abandoned.


The Bixslade Tramway

Opened in 1812, the line ran between Bixhead Quarry and Bicslade Wharf. It served the Forest of Dean Stone Firm, Union Pit, (also known as the Bixshead Slade Pit), Monument Mine, which still operates today, Mine Train Quarry, Bixslade Low Level, (also known as Bixslade Deep Level), Hopewell Mapleford Colliery, Bixslade High Level, (also known as Bixslade Land Level), Spion Kop Quarry, Bixhead Quarry and Phoenix Colliery as well as several other minor quarries. Extensions and sidings to the quarries were constructed continually between 1812 and 1855 to cope with the different industries of the area. In 1855, the tramroad reached its largest extent, at that time there were two passing loops.

Bicslade Tram, at the Dean Heritage Centre From 1874, when the Severn and Wye Railway was converted into locomotive power, the cargo carried by the line were transferred at Bicslade Wharf onto trains to be shipped to their destinations. In 1899 stone from Mine Train Quarry was being sent via the branch to the Marquis of Bute for work on Cardiff Castle.

Traffic slowly declined during the early years of the 20th century; on 25 July 1944 the last stones was transported via the line, coal traffic stopped in 1946. The tramroad was operated by horse-power until traffic finally ceased in the 1950s, by which time it was the last working horse-powered tramroad operating in the Forest of Dean.

Today nearly all the Tramroad has been converted into public footpaths and, nearby, Cannop Ponds (which used the tramroad as a dam) is now a popular visitor attraction and picnic site, owned by the Forestry Commission. A guide along the path of the tramroad has been published by the local history society and is available in many nearby shops.

One Freemine and three quarries continue to operate in the Bixslade valley, largely hidden by the picturesque woodland.

Two of the trams on the line have been preserved and are now on public display at the Dean Heritage Centre and at the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum in Tywyn. (Wikipedia)



The tramway and railway today. The wild boar have been doing their own excavating!






The Railway System in 1911




Forest of dean - Severn Railway Bridge

The Severn Railway Bridge from the Lydney side  -   see  Forgotten Relics Website


The Severn and Wye Railway

The first Severn and Wye Railway was a small horse-drawn rail and canal network which originated as the Lydney and Lydbrook Railway Company in 1809 and was initially constructed to allow exploitation of the mineral resources of the Forest of Dean.
In 1810, the Severn and Wye Railway and Canal Company began construction of a tramway and the Lydney Canal.
With the opening of the South Wales Railway in 1851, a link between the two was created at Lydney. In 1868 a 7 ft 1/4 in (2,140 mm) broad gauge was added, to run alongside the existing tramway, but work began to replace both with standard gauge tracks in 1872

After bankruptcy in 1893 the line was purchased jointly by the Midland Railway and the Great Western Railway. At its largest extent the railway consisted of 39 miles (63 km) of track. Lydney Canal was opened in 1813 and closed in 1977.


The seal of the Severn & Wye Railway & Canal Company


Lightmoor Colliery

<IMG SRC="imgC.jpg" ALT="lightmoor colliery in the 1850s">Work began in about 1832, and there were two shafts by 1835. Pumping and winding engines were working by 1841 and there were four shafts by 1854. Further expansion included deepening of the shafts (to 936 ft) and acquisition of adjacent gales, and the colliery became one of the largest in Dean, producing 86,508 tons in 1856 and 800-900 tons/day in 1906. 594 persons were employed underground, with 110 on the surface, in 1899.

In 1898 the colliery had broken the record for the output from a Forest of Dean colliery due to the fact that in the development of the works great foresight was shown with regard to the future and the pit was one of the best of the Forest housecoal collieries. In 1899 there were 594 persons employed underground and 110 on the surface. Those working below were in safe hands whilst being wound up and down the shaft as the winding engine in addition to the normal break also had a steam brake fitted at which a second man always attended whilst men were riding. This<IMG SRC="imgC.jpg" ALT="early forest of dean miners"> attention to detail and safety appears to have permiated throughout the management and working of the pit.

The Deep Pit was later sunk further, to a depth of 936 feet, until the Brazilly seam was reached. This deepening passed through a further eighteen seams, the more important being the Twenty Inch or Smith Coal,the Lowery, Starkey, Rockey and Churchway High Delf. The area of coal worked was about 1,000 acres. The screening plant too was modernised and by 1935 was capable of handling up to eight hundred tons per day. In later years the big fear at Lightmoor was water. It was this that made the Lightmoor management purchase the Speech House Hill Colliery in 1903 and then to purchase Trafalgar Colliery jointly with Foxes Bridge in 1919.

The closure of both Crump Meadow and Foxes Bridge put a great strain on Lightmoor, which together with the slump in demand for coal during the 1930s almost brought about closure but the fatal day was delayed until June 1940. Although the official date of closure was Saturday the 8th June 1940 some small coal was still being forwarded for a further three weeks although the last wagon of coal to go over the Lightmoor Railway was dispatched on the 5th June. At the time of closure the colliery was served by one Severn & Wye train per week, the 9.30 am Lydney - Coleford freight which traversed the Mineral Loop on Fridays only. By the mid-nineteenth century, there were more than 300 coal workings in the Forest of Dean area and it was said there were more men working below ground than there were working above.

<IMG SRC="imgC.jpg" ALT="Forest of Dean Railways in 1894">

East Dean Pits & Railways 1894

The Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, of 1946, specifically exempted the Forest of Dean, due to its unique form of ownership and history, allowing Freemining privileges to continue intact. Some large colliery gales were subsequently compulsorily purchased by the National Coal Board (NCB), but these remained under the Freemining system, with a royalty paid to the Freeminers, by the NCB, as a share of the minerals extracted. The last of the NCB gales closed in 1965, but freemining continues to be an important aspect of Forest of Dean culture and there are probably still around 150 Free Miners alive today, although only a handful of collieries are still operating.


Dennis Potter  History Magic & Witchcraft Warren James
Family History  HOOF Metal Detectors Witchcraft
Forest Books Local History Mining History Woolaston
Forest War Heroes Lydney Park Tolkien  Woolaston History
 Early Forest of Dean Police   County Police History   Blakeney Local History   Ruardean History
 Horlicks   Scowles Hamlet   Civil War Dean