Edward Hunt's Forest of Dean Miscellany

Fact, Fiction and Fantasy

The Book of Dennis

In a book of her poems published in 1841 Catherine Drew, the Forest poetess, described the tradition as follows:

But I am told that many ages back,

For courage good, the miners did not lack;

A foreign army did our land invade,

And blood and carnage, then was all the trade,

They pitch’d their tents, and then without delay,

They waited anxious for the bloody fray;

But our bold miners underneath did get,

And many a ton of powder did set.

So up they blew the unsuspecting foe –

Their shattered limbs came rattling down below;

Our land thus clear’d, our liberty thus sav’d.

Our noble miners dug the Catrif’s grave.

The king with honour did them so regard,

Made them free miners as a just reward;

The Forest charter to them granted was,

And firm and sure were made the Forest laws.

Whatever the truth there is in the legend, it is certain that some years before the time of Edward I, by 1244 in fact, the Dean miners were allowed to mine for iron-ore and coal. Confirmation was given for this privilege or right in the reign of King Edward, but which King Edward - I, II or III - is not certain. The oldest extant document containing miner's rights is dated 1610, and is a transcript of an earlier one. The original was compiled, when we do not know, by 48 free miners who set out their ancient rights in writing for the first time. The document came to be considered by the miners as their Magna Carta, and in the 19th century became known as the Book of Dennis. No-one knows why it was so called. A 1673 transcript of it entitled 'The Miners Lawes and Privilledges' begins: 'Bee itt in minde and Remembrance what the Customes and ffranchises [privileges] hath beene that were granted tyme out of minde and after in tyme of the Excellent and Redoubted Prince King Edward unto ye Miners of the fforrest of Deane and the Castle of St Briavells and the bounds of the said fforrest'; and it stated the miners' rights to take iron-ore and coal in the Forest 'without withsaying of any man', to set out their right to build roads on which to carry coal from the mines to the nearest King's highway and to take timber for use in them from the Forest without payment. In return for these rights and privilges, it stated, the miners had to pay royalties on the minerals they removed from the earth, which they gave to the gaveller who acted as the king's representative for this purpose.

  The above extract is taken from
                "Warren James and the Dean Forest Riots"
                by Ralph Anstis
                Publisher: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1986

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Edward Hunt