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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

On behalf of parties not free miners


[Picture: Interior of the Debtors' Prison in St. Briavel's Castle]

In consideration of these facts, the Commissioners in their Report upon it, which was published 7th July, very properly declared that the said Court was an evil, and required remodelling altogether, and they suggested its conversion into a Court of Requests, in which the strict forms of law might be dispensed with, parties appearing and being examined in person, without the intervention of professional agents. Its Commissioners might comprise the Constable of the Castle of St. Briavel's, the verderers of the Forest, the magistrates of the neighbourhood, and about thirty other persons, any two of whom, under the presidency of one of the former, should form a Court, and decide cases of debt from 10s. to 10 pounds, with power to direct payment of the debt by instalments, or levies upon goods on failure of payment, there being no imprisonment of the person except for fraud, which should then take place in the county gaol at Little Dean, where, or at Coleford, the Court should meet the first Monday in every month. Such was the purport of the Report the Commissioners made to Parliament on the 7th July in this year.

[Picture: Court Room in St. Briavel's Castle]

The Fourth Annual Report of the Commissioners of Woods, &c., dated the 28th of August, 1832, states that Messrs. Hill had obtained the permission

of the Crown, under a lease for thirty-one years, and a rental of 25 pounds, to remove all that they could find of the slag, cinders, and refuse of the ancient ironworks; thus resuming an occupation which had been discontinued for many years. The new Fancy Pits were now furnished with two engines and we also find that for a time timber ceased to be supplied from this Forest to the Royal Dockyards.

The Dean Forest Commissioners resumed their sittings the next year (1833) on the 12th of April at Newnham, and proceeded to hear further evidence "as to the rights and privileges claimed by free miners;" but the only important occurrence which ensued was the presentation of a "Memorial," by Mr. Mushet, on behalf of parties not free miners, specifying the claims which such proprietors and occupiers of coal and iron mines in the Forest had to the support of Government in maintaining their position in the district. The Memorial states that "foreigners" had possessed coal and iron mines time out of mind, as appeared by the case of several gentlemen and freeholders of the parish of Newland, who, as long since as the year 1675, claimed the right to open certain works without any objection being made by the free miners, a liberty which, whenever it was acted upon, seems always to have benefited the public; that none of the documents of the Mine Law Court appear to exclude foreigners from working the mines; on the contrary, the Resolutions of that Court, passed 1775, establish such a right, allowing the free miner to sell or bequeath his property in the mines to any persons he may think proper; that the old gale-books contain the names of many persons not free miners, which, with similar testimony from Messrs. Tovey, James, &c., showed such to have been the uniform practice for sixty years; that the foreigners have always carried on their works with the full knowledge and authority of the Crown; that the free miners do not possess the necessary capital for carrying on the works, in which the foreigners have invested 700,000 pounds; and, lastly, that the Crown has gained several thousand pounds per annum in consequence. Twenty-one persons signed this Memorial, as also the representatives of the Forest of Dean and the Cinderford Iron Companies.


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