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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

With libertye to take myne oare and synders


In the year 1841, when that part of the old road leading up to the Hawthorns from Hownal was altered, near the brook below Rudge Farm, the hearths of five small forges, cut out of the sandstone rock, and curiously pitched all round the bottom with small pebbles, were laid open, and an iron tube seven or eight inches long, and one inch and a half bore, apparently the nozzle of a pair of bellows, was found, as well as scores of old tobacco pipes, bits of iron much rusted, and broken earthenware, besides a piece of silver coin; but unfortunately none of these relics have been preserved.

[Picture: Effigy of a Forest Free Miner]

The heraldic crest here copied from a mutilated brass of the 15th century, within the Clearwell Chapel of Newland Church, gives a curious representation of the iron-miner of that period equipped for his work. It represents him as wearing a cap, holding a candlestick between his teeth, handling a small mattock with which to loosen, as occasion required, the fine mineral earth lodged in the cavity within which he worked, or else to detach the metallic incrustations lining its sides, bearing a light wooden mine-hod on his back, suspended by a shoulderstrap, and clothed in a thick flannel jacket, and short leathern breeches, tied with thongs below the knee. Although in this representation the lower extremities are concealed, the numerous shoe-footed marks yet visible on the moist beds of some of the old excavations prove that the feet were well protected from injury by the rough rocks of the workings. Several mattock-heads exactly resembling the one which this miner is holding have also been discovered; and to enable us, as it were, to supply every particular, small oak shovels for collecting the ore, and putting it into the hod, have in some places been found.

[Picture: Leather sole of a Shoe]

[Picture: Iron Mattock head]

The mining and making of iron continued to be carried on in the Forest in the manner indicated by the foregoing particulars, until the improved methods of manufacture established in other parts of the kingdom, particularly in Sussex, had been adopted here. As early probably as the commencement of the reign of Elizabeth, these improvements came into use in this locality, and superseded the old "make." It was for its iron-mines, even more than for its timber, that this Forest excited the jealousy of the Spaniards, who designed to suppress the former by destroying the charcoal fuel with which they were worked.

[Picture: Oak Shovel]

The earliest intimation of any such change in the mode of manufacture occurs in the terms of a "bargayne," made by the Crown, and preserved in the Lansdowne MSS. "wth Giles Brudges and others," on 14th June, 1611, demising "libertye to erect all manner of workes, iron or other, by lande or water, excepting Wyer workes, and the same to pull downe, remove, and alter att pleasure," with "libertye to take myne oare and synders, either to be used att the workes or otherwise," &c. By "synders" is meant the refuse of the old forges, but which by the new process could be made to yield a profitable percentage of metal which the former method had failed to extract. In the year following a similar "bargayne" was made with William Earl of Pembroke, at the enormous rental of 2,433 pounds 6s. 3d., but with leave to take "tymbr for buildinges & workes as they were," with "allowance of reasonable fireboote for the workmen out of the dead & dry wood, &c., to inclose a garden not exceedinge halfe an acre to every house, and likewise to inclose for the necessity of the worke; the houses and inclosures to bee pulled downe & layd open as the workes shall cease or remove." A third and corresponding "bargayne" was agreed to, on the 3rd of May, 1615, with Sir Basil Brook, there being reserved in rent "iron 320 tonns p. annum, wch att xiill xs the tone cometh to 4,000 per an.: the rent reserved to be payd in iron by 40 tonns p. month, wch cometh to 500ll every month; so in toto yearelye 4,000ll;" and a proviso that "The workes already buylt onlye granted, wth no power to remove them, but bound to mayntayne and leave them in good case and repayre, wth all stock of hammers, anvil's, and other necessarys received att the pattentees' entrye," as also that "libertye for myne and synders for supplying of the workes onlye, to be taken by delivery of the miners att the price agreed uppon."


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