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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

It is now ordered that after a surffe is made


In the year 1610 "liberty to dig for and take, within any part of the Forest or the precincts thereof, such and so much sea-coal as should be necessary for carrying on the iron-works," was granted to William, Earl of Pembroke, by James I. This is the earliest mention of coal being so used, agreeably to the efforts then making by Simon Sturtevant and John Ravenzon, Esqrs., to adapt it by baking for such a purpose. The same grant, in omitting to mention coal amongst certain other productions which "no person or persons were to take or carry out of the said Forest," leads to the supposition that coal was then exported or carried into the adjacent country, and that it was found desirable for this to continue. Coal was included in Charles I.'s sale of the Forest timber, iron, stone, &c., to Sir John Winter, who some years afterwards is described by Evelyn as interested in a project for "charring sea-coal," so as to render it fit for the iron furnace. A scheme somewhat similar was now tried in the Forest, Mr. Mushet tells us, by Captain Birch, Major Wildman, and others, "where they erected large air furnaces, into which they introduced large clay pots, resembling those used at glasshouses, filled with various proportions of the necessary mixture of ores and charcoal. The furnaces were heated by the flame of pit-coal, and it was expected that, by tapping the pots below, the separated materials would flow out. This rude process was found entirely impracticable; the heat was inadequate to perfect separation, the pots cracked, and in a short time the process was abandoned altogether."

The important Act of 1668 confirmed to persons digging for coal in the Forest their lawful rights and privileges, as also to the Crown the liberty to lease the coal-mines for a period not exceeding thirty-one years. This latter provision was immediately acted upon, the coal-mines and quarries of grindstones being granted to Francis Tyrringham, Esq., for thirty-one years, at a rental of 30 pounds per annum, a price which, if it were fairly agreed upon, affords some intimation of the extent and value of the Forest coal-works at that time.

By the first "Order" of the Court of Mine Law, dated March 18th of the year last named (1668), it was fixed that a dozen bushels of lime-coal should be disposed of for 3s. at the Lime Slad; for 5s. 6d. at the top of the Little Doward; for 5s. 4d. at any other kilns thereon; for 5s. at the Buckstones; for 5s. 6d. at Monmouth; for 4s. at the Weare over Wye; for 4s. if on this side; for 3s. 6d. at Coldwall; for 3s. at Lydbrook; and for 4s. 4d. at Redbrook.

The second "Order" of the same Court, agreed to on the 9th of March, 1674, provides that "the servants of the Deputy Constable shall always be first served at the pitts." In the same year a petition was presented to the Crown by several gentlemen and freeholders of the parish of Newland for leave to drain some coal-pits at Milkwall, stating that "the inhabitants of the adjacent country were supplied from the collieries of the Forest with coal for firing, and also for lime coal, without which there would be little tillage."

The next Mine Law Court, held on the 8th of September, 1678, determined that a barrel or three Winchester bushels should be the constant measure for coal, four-pence being the smallest price allowed to be taken for "a barrel" of fire coal. "And whereas the myners within this Forest are at a very great charge to make surffes for the dreyning of their pitts to get cole, wch when they have finished others sincke pitts so near them that they are deprived of the benefit of their labour and charge, to their very great loss and damage: To remedie whereof, it is now ordered that after a surffe is made, noe myner shall come to work within 100 yards of that surffe to the prejudice of the undertakers without their consents, and without being contributory to the making of the said surffe, upon payne of forfeiting 100 dozen of good fire coale, the one moiety to the King's Matie, and the other to the myner that shall sue for the same." The fourth "Order" of the same Court, issued on the 27th April, 1680, directs "that no fire cole, smith's cole, or lyme cole shall be delivered upon the bankes of the Wye between Monmouth Bridge and Huntsame Ferry for less than 8s. a dozen bushels for the two former sorts, and 4s. 6d. for lyme cole, or if between Huntsame Ferry and Wilton Bridge for less than 3s. 6d. a dozen."


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