Sunday, May 27, 2012

Forest of Dean in the Twenty-First Century

With the end of the mining era some decades past, the Forest has had to adapt and find other ways to endure in the modern period. The area remains, as it has been for at least a thousand years, a royal forest. Many abandoned mines have been razed, with remnants of its past to be seen in former industrial towns. The area is now reknown for its natural landscapes. Indeed, one of its largest industries today is tourism.
Native born residents can still claim gales and become freeminers; they can also raise sheep in certain protected areas, as the law permits. But a growing number of residents are commuting to work in larger industrial cities that surround the protected forest.

For all of you Harry Potter fanatics, the Forest has been the focus of several scenes in the early movies.

Aerial view of the Forest of Dean looking towards Ross-on-Wye.

Natural landscape of the Forest near Hereford.

Links of interest:

English Bicknor


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Forest of Dean: Part 2--Coal Mining

I mentioned previously that one of the early industries in the Forest of Dean was timber. But there were others, including production of charcoal and mining of iron ore. Charcoal production was a rather large industry for many centuries. Timber was stacked in a very precise manner. Controlled burning of the stacked timber resulted in the production of charcoal (rather than ash). The charcoal was then used in the smelting of the Forest’s other strong industry—iron ore. It is well known that iron ore was mined in the Forest prior to and during the Roman occupation. Indeed, the industry remained strong, especially in the Imperial centuries; that is, until the late nineteenth century when mass production had exhausted most of the deposits. But there was still one industry that appears to have stood out from the others; especially in more recent centuries---Coal.

Effigy of 15th century Free Miner on display at Newland Church

Free Miners and Coal Mines in the Forest of Dean
Coal, like its earthy cousin, iron ore, was mined for many centuries before the Industrial Revolution that made it a principal source of heat and energy. As a Royal Forest, however, mining (whether iron ore or coal) was limited to those individuals who were born within the Forest itself. These Forest natives, who mined iron ore or coal, were known as Free Miners. Under laws of the Crown (whose administrators worked from St. Briavels Castle), Free Miners could file claims (gales) and work the land. Revenues and royalties were taxed by the Crown in return for these rights. Here is an extract from the 1838 Dean Forest Mines Act:
"All male* 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 in a coal or iron mine within the said Hundred of St Briavels, shall be deemed and taken to be Free Miners."

Portrait of iron miners in their working dress.

For centuries, the mining industry in the Forest of Dean was characterized by small gales scattered across the countryside and controlled by Free Miners. The gales were relatively shallow; just the tip of the iceberg, if you will. These small operations, which did not have the benefit of a large labor force, or access to expensive equipment, like pumps and steam engines, could only scratch the surface of the true riches that lay beneath the hills of the Forest. Even as the coal industry was booming in other parts of the country, with large and powerful companies, medieval customs were upheld in this area of Britain.
Here are a few names of gales that were active in or near Ruardean Hill in 1787. The Hopewell had been in existence as early as 1637 when it was first mentioned in the literature, patented to Edward Terrington:


At the turn of the nineteenth century, the coal mining industry was well on its way internationally. Britain was an aging world empire and an economic superpower. Wealthy conglomerates and powerful outsiders were still unable to gain access to the potential of the Forest of Dean, despite attempts to abolish the Free Mining rights. However, some did manage to establish large mines in the Forest through lax enforcement of existing law, as well as having some free miners stake claims on their behalf. As the century progressed, these large operations came into conflict with the much smaller gales of the Free Miners.
Finally, in 1838, the matter was resolved with the passage of the Dean Forest Mines Act (from which I quoted above). Free Miners rights were preserved with one very significant caveat, or loophole. While the crown still granted gales only to native born of the Forest, the Free Miners were given the option of then selling their gales to anyone, including foreigners (outsiders). The era of intensive mining had begun in the Forest, with much of the coal being shipped out to other markets. Through the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, large coal and iron mines were established in the Forest and the mining industry exploded. As I mentioned above in the introduction, this explosion in mining exhausted the iron ore industry by the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Below is a summary of coal and iron ore retrieved from 1841-1965.

Coal and Iron Ore retrieved from Forest, 1841-1965*
Iron Ore**
** Measured in tons
 Mid-nineteenth century illustration of the Lightmoor Colliery

At one point in the late 1800s, there were more than 5,000 colliers throughout the Forest.
Coal production in the Forest was at its peak in the first decades of the twentieth century, but declined significantly after 1940. This increase of production was made possible through new legislation in 1904 that granted establishment of collieries to mine the deep deposits. In 1920, more than 7,000 colliers were established. Through this period of incredible growth, small gales continued to be operated by Free Miners. These gales were shallow, with limited output, the bulk of which was used for local consumption.

Undated photograph of Free Miners working a gale in the Forest of Dean.

After its peak in 1936, the industry began to decline rather quickly. A number of mines closed in this period when drainage became more costly than the output. Less than half of the colliers were operating in 1955; within ten years as the table shows, coal mining was essentially done. Today, a very few Free Miners still have claims and mine small gales, as they have done for centuries. Several of the large abandoned, mines and collieries have been preserved as museums. But the casual tourist traveling through the countryside today will see little evidence on the landscape of the Forest’s rich history of coal mining.

Recent photograph of the Cannop Drift Mine, owned by Steve and Richard Harding.

Links of interest:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Forest of Dean: Part I

As stated previously, the Forest of Dean is located in the southwestern area of England, in Gloucestershire (or Gloucester) (see the figure below). The Forest is generally bounded by the River Severn and River Wye (portions of which form the border with Wales). I highlighted the two principal towns from whence our Whittington ancestors lived; ­Ruardean and Bicknor. The River Wye divides the historic town of Bicknor; consequently, there are now two distinct communities: English Bicknor and Welsh Bicknor.

The cultural history of England spans several millennia. Stonehenge is perhaps the most popular monument in the country. Located on the Salisbury Plain, about 85 miles south and west of the Forest of Dean, this ancient structure appears to have been constructed in at least four phases spanning the period of BC 3,200 - ­1,100. Within the Forest itself, a number of sites have been documented that date to the Neolithic period. Ruins of a hillside fort have also been documented that pre-date Roman occupation (ca. AD 43 - ­410). Iron ore was mined in the Forest by the Romans, though settlement does not appear to have been nearly as extensive as other areas of the island. In the subsequent post-Roman period (ca. AD 410­ - 650), England witnessed a barrage of intruders, including the Irish, Picts, Angles, and Saxons. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (compiled ca. AD 890) wrote that in the year 577: “Cuthwine and Ceawlin fought against the Britons and slew three kings….and they captured three cities, Gloucester, Cirencester, and Bath.”At this time (at least from what I’ve read), the Forest of Dean was not included in what would become the county of Gloucestershire.

The Forest of Dean was first mentioned in the Domesday book; a census, so to speak, commissioned by William the Bastard (aka William the Conqueror). The book was prepared in AD 1085 and includes information on several communities in the Forest, including Ruardean (sp. Ruuirdin in the book). The county of Gloucestershire under Norman rule (William and several generations of successive Kings were Norman) consisted of numerous small towns and settlements, as well as land holdings. It was the Normans who initiated the concept of Royal Forests, which were established by the monarchy to reserve the game and trees for use by the Crown. One of the area's historic landmarks is St. Briavel's Castle, which was constructed around 1209 as a protectorate of the Royal Forest of Dean. Residents born and residing within protected Royal Forests were given limited rights to land development, including rights to pasture and mining; however, outsiders could not develop within their boundaries. We all remember how Robin of Loxley became a “Hood.”

In these early centuries of Norman rule, the main industry was forestry. Timber was used by the Crown, especially for the construction of ships. Over the course of many centuries, settlement increased in the Forest, mainly by encroachment by outsiders, which was illegal. By the early 19th century, a number of small settlements and communities had developed in the Forest as a result of these illegal activities. Rather than just kick them all out, the government decided to grant legal status to these lands; from this point on, further encroachment was strongly resisted.

Internet links for the curious:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Whittington and You

So how exactly does the Whittington Family fit into our complex lineage? I have a completed chart that would show you, but it’s much too large to display on the blog. I will attempt to explain it in the biblical sense. Henry Horsham Whittington (1849-1902) married Anna (Hannah) Gough (1851-1923). Together they had eight children. It would appear, based on Clare’s research, that three of the children produced heirs that have extended the family line to the present. These three children included Clara Ellen Whittington (1874-1954), Mary Ann Whittington (1880-1935), and Joshua T. Whittington (1888-1959). 

Undated photograph of Anna and Henry Whittington 
Clara Ellen Whittington
Our lineage (the Jones and Myers clans) is descended from Clara Ellen, who married Thomas Arthur Myers (1862-1906). The couple had seven children before Thomas passed away in 1906, including Arthur Thomas Myers (1896-1984)--Grandpa Myers. Clara Ellen married George Hildebrand shortly after her first husband, Thomas Arthur died; they had two more children, Paul and Clara Hildebrand. You may remember Uncle Joe’s stories of his childhood talking about George, and how he wished that he had simply called him Grandpa. Arthur Thomas married Elizabeth Ann Moran (1901-1988) in 1922, and they had eight children, whom all of you know. Other descendants of Clara Ellen include the Burnett, Barrick and Reese families, many of whom still live in the Carbondale area.

Arthur Thomas and Elizabeth Ann Myers, 1922.
Joshua and Mary Ann Whittington 
We also have cousins descended from Joshua Whittington (1888-1959). For those of you who frequent Carbondale, you’ll recall a nice little restaurant called Ben-Mar on Main Street ( Marina and Patrick Whittington own and operate the restaurant with their children (Patrick the descendant). Other families in Joshuas’s lineage include Chellino and Greathouse. Of the third Whittington child discussed above, Mary Ann Whittington (1880-1935), there are the Cook and Higgin’s families. I have not listed all other related families, but will do so when the time comes. Many of these families still reside in the Carbondale area.

So there is the whole story in a nutshell; the Whittington, Myers and Moran family history in just a few paragraphs. You will all be tested as soon as I find a gadget for creating multiple-choice quizzes.