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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

As Cinderford and Cinder Hill


The

earliest historical allusion to these underground works is made by Camden, who records that a gigantic skeleton was found in a cave on the Great Doward Hill, now called "King Arthur's Hall," being evidently the entrance to an ancient iron-mine. The next refers to the period of the Great Rebellion, when the terrified inhabitants of the district are said to have fled to them for safety when pursued by the hostile soldiery of either party.

[Picture: "King Arthur's Hall"]

Adverting, in the next place, to the heaps of cinders left where the ancient iron-manufacturers of the district worked, their _quality_, _abundance_, and _situation_ suggest several interesting points of observation. Thus, their _quality_ proves that charcoal was the fuel invariably employed, and the large percentage of metal left in them shows that the process then in use of extracting the iron was very imperfect. They are said to vary in richness according as they belong to an earlier or later period--so much so, that some persons have ventured on this data to specify their relative ages; but other causes may have produced this difference. As to their _quantity_, it was once so great, that, although they have formed a large part of the mineral supply to the different furnaces of the district for the last 200 years, they still abound for miles round the Forest, wherever human habitations appear to have clustered, sometimes

giving the names to places, as "Cinderford" and "Cinder Hill," or forming a valuable consideration in the purchase of land containing them.

Equally remarkable with the two former characteristics of these cinders is their _position_, not unfrequently on elevated spots and far removed from any watercourse. Under such circumstances, the high temperature necessary for acting upon the ore must have been obtained by constructing the fireplace so as to create a powerful draft of air, the fuel and mineral being placed alternately in layers within a circular structure of stone, resembling the rude furnaces said to be used amongst the natives of central Africa.

The "_forgioe errantes_," or itinerant forges, {216} mentioned in the records of the Justice Seat held at Gloucester Castle in 1282, were no doubt improvements on the structures just mentioned, being at the same time so formed as to admit of being removed and set at work elsewhere, as is in fact intimated by the name given to them, as well as by the more frequent occurrence and smaller size of those cinder-heaps which are found nearer to the centre of the Forest; and consequently of more modern date, presenting a striking contrast to the larger and more ancient mounds existing in places more remote, the refuse of the earlier forges kept at work for many years in one spot.

The moderate capacity of the _forgioe errantes_ may be inferred from the circumstance that in the reign of Edward I. there were seventy-two of them in the Forest alone, supplied with ore by at least fifty-nine iron-mines, by which Gloucester, Monmouth, Caerleon, Newport, Berkeley, Trelleck, &c., are stated in the Book of the Laws and Customs of the Mine to have been furnished with that metal. We also know that the two forges at Flaxley consumed two oaks every week, and that in that age 46 pounds was paid to the King by such persons as farmed any of them, or 7s. if they held a year's licence.


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