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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

With the exception of the slags


In 1621 Messrs. Chaloner and Harris appear to have succeeded to the works under a rent of 2,000 pounds, and who, we may presume, cast the 610 guns ordered by the Crown on behalf of the States General of Holland in 1629. The spot where they were made was, it would seem, ever after called "Guns Mills." It certainly was so called as early as the year 1680, an explanation of the term which is confirmed by the discovery there of an ancient piece of ordnance. "Guns Pill" was the place where they were afterwards shipped.

A curious inventory, dated 1635, of the buildings and machinery referred to in the forenamed "bargaynes," has been preserved amongst the Wyrrall Papers, and is inserted in the Appendix No. IV.

As to the length of time the works specified in Appendix No. IV. continued in operation, the late Mr. Mushet, who knew the neighbourhood intimately, in his valuable "Papers on Iron," &c., considers that they were finally abandoned shortly after that date (1635), since, "with the exception of the slags, traces of the water mounds, and the faint lines of the watercourses, not a vestige of any of them remains." He adds, "About fourteen years ago I first saw the ruins of one of these furnaces, situated below York Lodge, and surrounded by a large heap of slag or scoria that is produced in making pig iron. As the situation of this furnace was remote from roads, and must at one time have been deemed nearly inaccessible, it had all the appearance at the time of my survey of having remained in the same state for nearly two centuries. The quantity of slags I computed at from 8,000 to 10,000 tons. If it is assumed that this furnace made upon an average annually 200 tons of pig iron, and that the quantity of slag run from the furnace was equal to one half the quantity of iron made, we shall have 100 tons of cinders annually, for a period of from 80 to 100 years. If the abandonment of this furnace took place about the year 1640, the commencement of its smeltings must be assigned to a period between the years 1540 and 1560."

The oldest piece of cast iron which Mr. Mushet states he ever saw, exhibited the arms of England, with the initials E. R., and bore date 1555, but he found no specimen in the Forest earlier than 1620. He also observes, that, "although he had carefully examined every spot and relic in Dean Forest likely to denote the site of Dud Dudley's enterprising but unfortunate experiment of making iron with pit coal," it had been without success, and the same with the like operations of Cromwell, who was partner with Major Wildman, Captain Birch, and other of his officers, Doctors of Physic and Merchants, by whom works and furnaces had been set up in the Forest, at a vast charge.

In 1650 a Committee of the House of Commons ordered that all the iron-works in the Forest, formerly let on lease by the Crown, should be suppressed and demolished, partly perhaps with the view of checking the consumption of wood, and also to put a stop to the making of cannon and shot, lest when the occasion invited they should be seized by the adverse party and turned against them. The Royalists had already found here a valuable store of such things at the time they were defending Bristol against Fairfax.


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