Introduction to the Forest of Dean and the surrounding area
during A Very British Civil War.
The Forest of Dean covers around 22,000 acres (roughly 35 square miles) between the Rivers Severn (to the east) and Wye (to the west). It is mostly in the County of Gloucestershire. As its name suggests, much of the area is still covered with woodland but the trees hide a heavily industrialised society with most of the population associated with mining or quarrying.
A map showing the progress of the war in this area can be found here.
The main local form of agriculture is orchards and soft fruit. This is sent by railway to London and Birmingham. This produce is also made into jam, cider and perry by many local businesses. There are also some dairy farms and where there is good arable land, sugar beet is a common crop.
Good quality hardwoods, pit props for the local & south Wales mines and charcoal are amongst the products of the Forest. Since the Great War, the Forestry Commission has replanted large areas with faster-growing conifers.
Despite closing mines and high local unemployment, the Forest of Dean still produces around one million tons of coal each year. There is a new, modern mine in East Dean:
The Northern Amalgamated colliery.
Opened in 1934, with high expectations about the great amount of coal available to the site. It was hoped that the new mine would provide jobs for between 1,000 and 1,500 men at an average wage of £2 per week. This would alleviate unemployment as several smaller mines locally were becoming worked out.
Northern Amalgamated is a difficult mine to work. The coal is overburdened with a heavy thick band of clay which cannot be supported safely and so has to be removed, This increases the cost of getting the coal.
Not long after the mine opened the owners sacked the first
manager of the colliery because he complained that their 'penny-pinching' was
putting the miners lives at risk. there have been some incidents that have left
the workforce disgruntled. Despite this, the average output during early
1937 was 25 wagons per day.
There are many limestone and sandstone quarries around the Forest. Iron ore has also been quarried and mined here since before the Romans, but whilst still found, the industry is nearly at end.
The Towns of the Forest.
Pre-war population: 2,600
Due to the large number of roads meeting here, Coleford is the communications hub of the Forest. The town is the headquarters of the 'Deputy-Gavelller of the Forest', a Crown official who controls mining rights and associated taxes in the Forest.
The nearby village of Newland has a Grammar school and a church known as 'the cathedral of the Forest'.
Pre-war population: 7,500
Cinderford has the main educational establishments of the locality. It has a Grammar School and the largest Secondary school in Gloucestershire. It is also home to the Forest of Dean Mining School.
Pre-war population: 4,158
The port of the Forest. Much of the coal extracted from the area is shipped out to many parts of Britain via Lydney. The railway system has reduced this but the harbour is still busy.
The town has connections to both the LMS & GWR railways and is on the main road from London to south Wales. A few miles upriver is the Severn railway bridge at Purton (shown above). Bus services carry passengers out to the rest of the area.
From Lydney, the West Gloucestershire Power Company's coal-fired generating station provides electricity for the towns of the Forest. The town's largest single employer is the Richard Thomas & Co, Ltd tin-plate works.
O' Connor, H.E. (Ed.). Gloucestershire, The County Guide. Ed. J Burrow & Co, Cheltenham, 1938.
The Forest of Dean Family History website