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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

By the waggonload at the pit's mouth


On the 26th August, 1777, the Court of Mine Law, by which the coal-works in the Forest had been ever regulated, sat, as it proved, for the last time, having been held according as business required three or four times a year, with some few exceptions, since 1668. A memorandum with which its last minute is endorsed is thus expressed:--"Mine Law Court, 26 August, 1777. There has been no Court holden for the miners since this day, which is a great loss to the gaveller, and causes various disputes amongst the colliers, which is owing to the neglect of the Deputy-Constables."

A careful perusal of the papers in which the proceedings of the Court of Mine Law are recorded from 30th April, 1706, supplies the following particulars illustrative of the manner in which the miners of the first half of the 18th century conducted their works, together with the usages of the Court then in vogue. Nearly all the sittings were held at the Speech-house, under the supervision of the deputies for the time being of the Constable of St. Briavel's Castle, attended by the clerk of the court, and the gaveller or his deputy. Rarely more than twelve, but sometimes twenty-four miners constituted the jury; the suits they had to try being mostly for debts and trespasses between miner and miner, such as for leaving open dangerous pits, breaking "forbids," refusing to pay tax for defending the rights of the mine, loading "foreigners'" teams at the pits, for perjury, for keeping more than four horses in carrying coal, or for removing pit lamps, scores or cowls, &c. Copies of two such entries, with other proceedings of the Court as specimens, are given in the Appendix No. VI.

As early as the year 1718 the proceedings of the Court were occasionally disturbed by the persons attending it. Thus, on the 13th of May, the following amercements were made and recorded:--

John Davis, for talking in Court 2_s._ John Kear, for talking in Court 2_s._ Wm. Budge, for disturbing ye 2_s._ Court Nich. Whitstone, for the like 2_s._ Thomas Rudge, for the same 2_s._ John Griffiths, for disturbing 2_s._ the Court Thomas Rudge, for the same 2_s._ offence John Trigg, for the same offence 2_s._ Griffith Cooper, for talking in 2_s._ Court

Writing upon the subject of the Forest collieries, about the year 1779, Mr. Rudder remarks in his History of the county,--"The pits are not deep, for when the miners find themselves much incommoded with water, they sink a new one, rather than erect a fire engine, which might answer the expense very well, yet there is not one of them in all this division. They have indeed two or three pumps worked by cranks, that in some measure answer the intention."

In the year 1788 we are informed by the evidence of the Gaveller, that, according to an account made out in the previous August, "there were then within the Forest 121 coal-pits (thirty-one of which were not actually in work), which pits produced 1,816 tons of coal per week; that there were 662 free miners concerned and employed therein; and that the annual compositions paid by them amounted to 215 pounds 8s. or thereabouts, although many of them were so poor that no money could be collected from them." "At this time," says the same officer, "house-fire coal, on the Mitcheldean side the Forest, is sold at the pit's mouth for 4s. 6d. per ton of 20 cwt., smith's coal 3s. 3d., lime coal 2s. per ton. When sold by the waggonload at the pit's mouth, and the purchaser brings victuals and drink for the colliers, the price of a waggonload was 10s. of house-fire coal, smith coal 6s. 6d., lime coal 4s. On the Coleford side the Forest, house-fire coal was sold at the pit's mouth for 3s. 9d. per ton of 20 cwt., smith coal 2s. 9d., lime coal 1s. 3d. By the waggonload at the pit's mouth, house-fire coal 8s. 6d., smith coal 5s. 6d., lime coal 2s. 6d."


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