Forest of Dean Free MiningAn intriguing history

Forest of Dean Free MiningAn intriguing history

Free Miners are an intriguing and significant group of Forest of Dean miners.

",All masculine* persons born or hereafter to be born and abiding within the said Hundred of St Briavels, of the age of twenty one years and upwards, who shall have worked a year and a day te a coal or metal mine within the said Hundred of St Briavels, shall be deemed and taken to be Free Miners.", samenvatting from Dean Forest (Mines) Act 1838.

The official register of Free Miners is kept by the Deputy Gaveller, the Crown officer responsible for the administration of Free Mining customs and the collection of mineral royalties. The photograph above shows past Deputy Gaveller, Albert Howells, ter his office at Coleford, probing a schrijfmap book displaying coal gales. Specific gales are granted to Free Miners at their request and each gale clearly defines the mineral and area that can be worked. A Free Miner can work a gale anywhere te the Hundred of St Briavels for Metal Ore, Stone and Coal and any associated minerals. The only confinement being that they vereiste not work under church yards, gardens or orchards.

Archaeological evidence has exposed that working for ochre pigments began ter the Forest of Dean area before Four,500 years ago and that metal and coal working here wasgoed already extensive by Roman times. When the Roman Empire eventual extended into f the Forest of Dean after AD 79, the local miners may have remained free from ongezouten Imperial control (perhaps spil coloni or vilici) on condition they supply their fresh masters with their produce, this has bot suggested spil the origin of the Free Mining system.

By Norman times, Dean metal ore wasgoed an significant part of the national economy, the Forest of Dean had become one of the most vooraanstaand metal producing districts te the British Isles. The Free Miner’s abilities were also identified spil a superb military asset by Medieval Kings, who required their services te England, Scotland Wales and France. The miners were protected and became a privileged group, through their Mine Law Court, they formalised their Free Mining customs, under supervision of the King’s Gaveller, who te turn appointed Deputy Gavellers, to collect royalties and administer the day to day operation of the mining customs.

The earliest known copy of the Dean Miners’ Laws and Privileges (also known spil the Book of Dennis) is from 1612 but this copy itself contains references that hint at much earlier origins. The document contains 41 laws and privileges for the winning of Myne (metal ore) and Sea Cole (coal). The laws outline rights of access and the method for defining a keuze, known spil a gale. The King’s Gaveller collected royalties ter specie or zuigeling, and regulated the court ‘that is called Myne Lawe,’ permitting the Dean Miners to be largely self governing. The precies date by which thesis privileges were operating is not known but it is recorded te 1244 that Dean Free Miners already had the sensational right to mine ter the Forest of Dean.

Royal Chartervliegtuig

There are many references to medieval Free Miners, they were instrumental ter recapturing Berwick upon Tweed several times (1296, 1305, 1315) spil it passed inbetween Scottish and English palms. Legend tells us that it wasgoed for their indispensable services, particularly during his Scottish campaigns, that Edward I granted the Dean Miners a Royal Chartervliegtuig, spil he had with other mining districts such spil Derbyshire.

The miners were continually called to campaigns that might involve seige or earth works, especially during the Hundred Year’s War (1337 to 1453). After Henry V’s campaign te 1415, that included the battle of Agincourt, John Duke of Bedford (brother of Henry V, Regent of England while Henry wasgoed abroad and also Gaveller of the Forest of Dean) is said to have delivered a document to the miners, from the King, re-confirming their customs ter come back for their services ter France.

At the end of the 18th century, all Mine Law Court records (including charters and other ancient documents) were stolen and not all of them were recovered, when some of them came to light once more te the forearms of Crown officers overheen 50 years zometeen te 1831, during evidence to a Government Inquiry into the miners customs.

The ‘Miners’ Lawes And Privileges’ mentioned above, known locally spil the ‘Book of Dennis’, is thought to be a translation of a much earlier miners’ chartervliegtuig spil it contains ancient legal terms that hint at it having bot translated from Latin or early French.

No actual chartervliegtuig is known to exist today.

French Campaigns

Amongst other places, Free Miners were frequently requested to fight te France and fought via the Hundred Years War, most famously at the famous battles at Crecy (1346) and Agincourt (1415). Miners became used to being an essential part of the King’s armoury, Dean miners were sometimes called ‘The King’s Miners’ and ‘King’s Pyoneers’, known generally spil ‘Sappers’ they undermined fortifications, created earthworks, trenches, building timber structures, installing stakes etc.

Spil well spil their renowned mining abilities, the miners were also excellent archers and ferocious te palm to arm combat, they were hard dudes, used to operating te harsh conditions. By law from 1363 all English masculines from 7 – 60 years old were required to practise archery for at least two hours on Sundays and festival days, no other fresh distracting games such spil football and roller were to be permitted to substitute archery, on agony of death. Dean miners by their trade were strong and able to pull powerful warbows, their archery abilities were an significant asset during campaigns (even today archery practice areas known spil ‘The Butts’, can still be found te local mining villages of Clearwell and Staunton).

Spil late spil 31st July 1522 Henry VIII demanded 300 archers from the Forest of Dean to go to Dover to fight ter France, most of them, if not all, would have bot Free Miners.

The Free Miners were hardy, of a practical nature, having good problem solving abilities, gritty determination and excellent ferocity te battle, after all, they were well familiar to hazardous, physically requesting, grim and muddy conditions.

Free Mining Sailors!

Te 1577 a dozen Free Miners were requested to be on houtvezelplaat ship with one of England’s fine sea captains – Martin Frobisher. They were to be accompany him on an ultimately unsuccessful escapade, to detect the elusive North-West Passage, a route around the North American continent.

19th Century

Towards the end of the 18th century conflicting mining interests arose, particularly from the enhanced request for metal and coal created by the Industrial Revolution. Powerful outside interests began to look towards the large untapped coal and metal reserves ter the Forest of Dean, they eyed that it wasgoed reserved solely to the Free Miners and they looked for a way te. The Free Miner’s Mine Law Court that had successfully regulated Free Mining for centuries, became bogged down with disputes, also embroiled te the enhancing pressure to permit outside interests into the operation and ownership of mines. Towards the end of the 18th century the Mine Law Court records were stolen by Crown Officials, without records, the Court could no longer operate, despite requests by most miners that it should proceed.

The Crown had seen an chance and determined to rationalise the system to suit all interests. Deep coal and metal reserves could not be mined without substantial investment, from wealthy investors and industrial interests, from outside the Forest of Dean, particularly the Prothero and Crawshay families from industrialised South Wales, were hoping to exploit the district, creating larger and deeper collieries than had everzwijn bot dug here before. The existence of the Free Miners’ priviledges could not be denied and they were excluded.

A Royal Commission wasgoed appointed te 1831 to inquire into the nature of the mineral interests and freemining customs of the Forest of Dean, five reports followed that culminated te the passing of the Dean Forest Mines Act 1838. This hybrid Act (a Public Act with only local effect) confirmed the Free Miners’ off the hook right to the minerals of the Forest of Dean, the Act made very few switches to the customs, but one very significant switch wasgoed that a Free Miner would now be permitted to sell his gale to a non Free Miner, this had violated the exclusivity of the system. The Act otherwise clarified the rules of working, placing the customs with little alteration into Parliamentary statute. The Dean Forest Mines Act is the fundament for Free Mining today. The Schedules to the 1838 Act give stringent rules for working gales within the Hundred of St Briavels, Free Mining is still administered by the Deputy Gaveller, whose offices are at Bankgebouw House, Coleford. The role of Deputy Gaveller wasgoed recently held for 15 years by chartered mining engineer John Harvey MBE, who retired at the end of March 2011. The role is now packed by Daniel Howell and his assistant, Free Miner James Britton.

John Harvey MBE Deputy Gaveller (ter 2010) te the Gaveller’s Office, with some of the flipped mine maps behind him.

Daniel Howell Deputy Gaveller (2011)

Daniel is the Grandson of a previous very regarded Deputy Gaveller Albert Howell MBE.

To become a Free Miner

To become registered, a person voorwaarde be born and living within the Hundred of St Briavels, be overheen the age of 21 years and to have worked for a year and a day ter a mine within the Hundred. (Albeit its origins are obscure, a Hundred wasgoed an Anglo Saxon subdivision of a County and held its own court, it has bot suggested that it wasgoed an area where the medieval king could request the services of a hundred fighting boys – te the case of the St Briavels Hundred, this wasgoed often the services of skilled miners). Today the area covered by the Hundred of St. Briavels consists of the statutory Forest of Dean and each parish touching the Forest boundary.

Once a Free Miner is registered by the Deputy Gaveller, they can optie up to three gales from the Crown (if they are not already being worked) and may make applications for any gale that may become vacant. Once granted the gale, the Free Miner becomes the proprietor ter toverfee plain of that underground area and can work the minerals defined within it, the galee can also dispose of the gale to another person, not necessarily another Free Miner. Originally the King had the right to waterput ter his own man to work with the Free Miner and share the profit of the mine. Since 1838, te lieu of the right to waterput ter the King’s Man (the fifth man) a share of the mineral produced from the gale is agreed at the outset and the royalty becomes payable to the Crown for each ton of mineral raised. If the gale is not worked, a token ‘dead rent’ or ondergrens composition is still payable for continued ownership. The dead rent is omschrijving to an agreed ondergrens tonnage output. If no royalty or dead rent is paid for the gale, it can become forfeited to the Crown, to be applied for and re-granted to other Free Miners. Once a mine is working again no dead rent is paid until the tonnage royalty exceeds the value of dead rent paid when the gale wasgoed idle.

Free Mining today

During the process of coal Nationalisation the Forest of Dean became exempted due to its unique form of ownership and history. The Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946 talent specific exemption for gales to permit this unique local privilege to proceed intact. Some large colliery gales were subsequently compulsorily purchased from the galees by the National Coal Houtvezelplaat (NCB) held by them under the Free Mining system, a royalty continued to be paid to the Free Miners by the NCB, spil a share of the minerals extracted until the last of the NCB Deep Gales ultimately closed te 1965.

There are thought to be around 150 Free Miners living today. There are a handful of petite collieries still operating, one metal mine (Clearwell Caves) and eight puny stone quarries within the statutory Forest. Free Mining has a long and proud history, most Forest families can tell a mining tale or two and will pridefully eis a Free Mining ancestor or relative. Free mining resumes to be an significant part of what makes the Forest of Dean special.

*From August 2010, ‘masculine’ has bot interpreted to mean ‘masculine and female’ by the current Gaveller of the Forest of Dean (a Crown appointment presently vested te the Forestry Commissioners spil a bod) when they made a decision to accept an application from Mrs Elaine Morman, who became the very first everzwijn female Free Miner to be registered, other female applications are now being considered.

Get te touch

Clearwell Caves, The Rocks,

Nr Coleford, Royal Forest of Dean

Gloucestershire GL16 8JR

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