"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."
The Dean Forest (Mines) Act 1838.
One day I was rambling about the oak woods a mile or so north of Bream near Clements Tump, when I was startled by a quick rustle in the bracken at my feet, followed by the appearance of a length of thick wire suddenly leaping a foot or two in the air, and at the same moment a dull clang of a bell rang somewhere in the distance.
Such a contraption being the last thing I expected to find in the middle of the forest,
I leapt nearly a couple of feet in the air myself.
All kinds of fantastic notions chased through my head during the split second whilst I was returning to earth,
such as mantraps, concentration camps, deer-poaching, and what-not, but my lightning review was cut short by a new sound,
that of a muffled rumble which seemed to arise a few yards in front of me.
I stepped over the now inert wire and walked forward to the edge of a shallow bank,
and there the mystery was explained, for a narrow rail-track ran up the steep side of the forest and on it were travelling several small trucks laden with coal,
and hauled by a wire rope.
Slowly they rumbled and jolted uphill until they passed out of sight.
I thought this must be one of the queer little coal mines about which I had heard in the Forest of Dean,
so I jumped on to the track and followed it downhill to the mine.
The rails led down into the forest into a cleft where overhanging trees blocked the sunlight, and bracken clung to the damp slopes.
Here men were tunnelling and toiling to extract the black remnants of lusher forests of long ago.
Owing to the fact that many of the coal seams in the Forest of Dean are inclined, and outcrop nearly at the surface of the ground,
it is not always necessary to sink a vertical pit shaft, and a number of mines consist of no more than a tunnel or adit that follows the inclined coal seam into the earth as far as practical or economic circumstance permit.
Such a one was the mine I was visiting, the mouth of the adit being about five feet square,
which was comfortably large enough to allow small trucks to descend to the working face;
when loaded, they were drawn out by a stationary engine that hissed and clattered,
almost hiding the proceedings in steam.
Another engine somewhere in the woods drew the trucks from the mine to a point where the coal could be loaded into lorries,
and the leaping wire and clanging bell which first drew my attention were part of the arrangements for signalling from the mine to the upper engine to commence hauling.
The above extract is taken from
"Roaming Down the Wye" by W.H. Potts
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton, 1949
The Book of Dennis