1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dean, Forest of

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DEAN, FOREST OF, a district in the west of Gloucestershire, England, between the Severn and the Wye. It extends northward in an oval form from the junction of these rivers, for a distance of 20 m., with an extreme breadth of 10 m., and still retains its true forest character. The surface is agreeably undulating, its elevation ranging from 120 to nearly 1000 ft., and its sandy peat soil renders it most suitable for the growth of timber, which is the cause of its having been a royal forest from time immemorial. It is recorded that the commanders of the Armada had orders not to leave in it a tree standing. In the reign of Charles I. the forest contained 105,537 trees, and, straitened for money, the king granted it to Sir John Wyntour for £10,000, and a fee farm rent of £2000. The grant was cancelled by Cromwell; but at the Restoration only 30,000 trees were left, and Wyntour, the Royalist commander, having got another grant, destroyed all but 200 trees fit for navy timber. In 1680 an act was passed to enclose 11,000 acres and plant with oak and beech for supply of the dockyards; and the present forest, though not containing very many gigantic oaks, has six “walks” covered with timber in various stages of growth.

The forest is locally governed by two crown-appointed deputy gavellers to superintend the woods and mines, and four verderers elected by the freeholders, whose office, since the extermination of the deer in 1850, is almost purely honorary. From time immemorial all persons born in the hundred of St Briavel’s, who have worked a year and a day in a coal mine, become “free miners,” and may work coal in any part of the forest not previously occupied. The forest laws were administered at the Speech-House, a building of the 17th century in the heart of the forest, where the verderers’ court is still held. The district contains coal and iron mines, and quarries of building-stone, which fortunately hardly minimize its natural beauty. Near Coleford and Westbury pit workings of the Roman period have been discovered, and the Romans drew large supplies of iron from this district. The scenery is especially fine in the high ground bordering the Wye (q.v.), opposite to Symond’s Yat above Monmouth, and Tintern above Chepstow. St Briavel’s Castle, above Tintern, was the headquarters of the forest officials from an early date and was frequented by King John. It is a moated castle, of which the north-west front remains, standing in a magnificent position high above the Wye.

See H. G. Nicholls, Forest of Dean (London, 1858).