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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

As well as the number of diggers


It appears that, soon after these leases were granted, the miners, hitherto accustomed to dig for ore in the Forest, resumed their work without the Earl's consent, and an information was filed against some of them by the Attorney-General. Upon this, an order, dated 28th January, 1613, was made by the Court, "that those miners, and such others as had been accustomed to dig ore in the Forest, upon the humble submission for their offences, and acknowledgment that the soil was the King's, and that they had no interest therein, and upon their motion by counsel that they were poor, and had no other means of support, and praying to be continued in their employment, should be permitted, _out of charity and grace_, _and not of right_, to dig for mine ore and cinders, to be carried to his Majesty's iron-works, and not to any other place, at the accustomed rates; if the farmers of the King's iron-works should refuse to give those rates which, as well as the number of diggers, were to be ascertained by Commissioners to be named by the Court, that then they might sell the ore to others; but no new diggers were to be allowed, but only such poor men as were inhabitants of the said Forest." It was not intended that this order should always continue in force, but only until such time as the cause brought in the name of the foresters should be heard and determined. This, however, appears never to have been done, as no decree was obtained, probably from the miners considering it best to accept the terms offered, regarding the above order as a record in their favour, since it provided that "no new diggers were to be allowed, but only such poor men as were inhabitants of the said Forest;" a view, it may be remarked, agreeing with that which the free miners took in their memorial of 1833. {25}

The cinders adverted to were the ashes or refuse left by a former race of iron manufacturers, whose skill was too limited to effect more than the separation of a portion of the metal, but which the improved methods, now introduced into the district, turned to a good account. A return made in 1617, by Sir William Coke, &c., to a commission issued out of the Exchequer, to inquire concerning the Forest of Dean, states that "His Majesty, since the erecting the iron-works, had received a greater revenue than formerly." Their structure is described in "The Booke of Survey of the Forest of Dean Ironwork," dated 1635, from which it appears that the stone body of the furnace now adopted was usually about twenty-two feet square, the blast being kept up by a water-wheel not less than twenty-two feet in diameter, acting upon two pairs of bellows measuring eighteen feet by four, and kept in blast for several months together. Such structures existed at Cannope, Park End, Sowdley, and Lydbrook. Besides which, there were forges, comprising chafferies and fineries, at Park End, Whitecroft, Bradley, Sowdley, and Lydbrook. Messrs. Harris and Chaloner, &c., as farmers to the Crown, held all of them on lease.

The last justice seat in Eyre, or Supreme Court of Judicature for the royal forests, was held the same year as the above (1635) at Gloucester Castle before Henry Earl of Holland, on which occasion "the matter concerning the perambulation of this Forest was solemnly debated," the counsel for the Crown producing the bounds thereof as settled by the 12th of Henry III. and 10th Edward I., with the view of obtaining its re-extension to Gloucester, Monmouth, and Chepstow. On the other hand, the counsel for the City of Gloucester, &c., brought forward the perambulations made 26th and 28th Edward I., confirmed by Letters Patent 29th Edward I., and by an Act of 10th Edward III. The Grand Jury, not being able to agree to their verdict on that day, which was a Saturday, desired further time in a matter of such weight; and on the Monday following decided, that the more extensive limits, comprising seventeen additional villages, were the true ones. But "their inhabitants being fearful that they would be questioned for many things done contrary to the Forest Laws, the King's Counsel, in regard of their being but new brought in, and long usage, thought it not fitt to proceed with any of them at that justice seat." Amongst some 120 claims to rights and privileges of various kinds preserved in the Office of Public Records, {27} and put in at the same Court, was one of Philip Earl of Pembroke to be Constable of the Castle of St. Briavel's and Warden of the Forest, under a grant from the King, and, as such, Chief Judge of the Mine Law Court.


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