Dean, Forest

DEAN, FOREST of, a liberty, in the hundred of St. Briavell's, W. division of the county of Gloucester, comprising the divisions and walks of Denby, Herbert, Little Dean, Speech-House, Worcester, and York, and containing 10,692 inhabitants: the centre of the Forest is 5 miles (S. W. by W.) from Newnham. This district, extending from north to south twenty miles, from east to west ten miles, and lying between the rivers Severn and Wye, was anciently occupied by the Silures, and probably obtained its name either from the contraction of the Gaelic word Arden, a wood, or from the British Danys Coed, the wood of fallow deer, for which it was famous for many centuries. Within its original bounds were situated the very ancient towns of Tudenham and Wollaston; also, on the margin of the Severn, the Abona of Antoninus, long since reduced to a small village called Alvington; and on the Wye, Breulais Castle, embosomed in an almost impenetrable thicket, and now fallen to decay. In the reign of Henry II., so dark and intricate were its tracts or cross ways, that the most daring outrages and robberies were committed with impunity, until restrained by the discovery of its rich mines of iron and coal, and the consequent establishment of forges by authority of parliament, together with the erection of villages for the residence of the miners and manufacturers; before which, the six lodges for the keepers of the several walks were the only houses in it. All the inhabitants are exempted from rates and taxes, and have free liberty of pasturage and to cut wood, and the privilege of sinking mines, the sixth part of the produce of which is due to the crown, and is collected by the gaveller.

The extent of the Forest, as defined in the 12th of Henry III., and subsequently confirmed, is 23,015 acres belonging to the crown, exclusively of freeholds obtained by grants. Charles I. conveyed the coppices and waste soil of the Forest, except the Lea Bailey, with all mines and quarries, to Sir John Wyntour, for £10,600, and a fee-farm rent of £1950. 12. 8. for ever; at which time there were standing 105,557 trees, estimated to contain 61,928 tons of timber, and 153,209 cords of wood. The civil war putting an end to the patent, the inclosures were thrown open, and the whole reforested. A renewal of the grant, however, excepting the timber fit for naval purposes, was made by Charles II. to the same individual; and on a survey by the parliament, in 1667, it was discovered that he had committed great encroachments upon the property of the crown, to repair which 1100 acres were then inclosed and planted: from this plantation the royal dock-yards are chiefly supplied. There are orchards producing a peculiar kind of fruit called the Styre apple, the cider made from which is of a superior quality, and bears a high price.

The government is vested in a lord warden, who is constable of St. Briavell's Castle; six deputy wardens; four verderers, chosen by the freeholders; a conservator; seven woodwards; a chief forester in fee and bowbearer, which united offices are held by the Wyndham family, in right of inheritance; eight foresters in fee; a gaveller; and a steward of the swainmote. The officers have power to hold a court of attachment every forty days, a court of swainmote thrice a year, and a court called the justice-seat once in three years. The steward presides at the miners' court, assisted by a jury of miners, who judge upon the particular laws and customs by which they are governed, to prevent encroachments upon each other in the coal and iron works. The courts are held at the Speech-House, in the centre of the Forest, the general aspect of which is picturesque in the extreme, being beautifully diversified with hill and valley, interspersed with the rich and varied foliage of the woods. Pursuant to an act passed in the 36th of George III., roads have been opened in various directions through the Forest, which is also intersected by several tramroads, communicating with the Severn and the Wye. There are four ecclesiastical districts in the Forest, formed in 1842, and of which the livings are perpetual curacies, each endowed with £150 per annum; the churches are respectively dedicated to Christ, the Holy Trinity, St. John, and St. Paul, and are within the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, the three first being in the patronage of the Crown, and the last in that of the Bishop. The buildings were erected by voluntary contributions, and have been endowed with £1333 three per cent. consols. for their repair, by the Commissioners of her Majesty's Woods and Forests; the incomes of the clergy are derived partly from Queen Anne's Bounty, and partly from funds assigned by the commissioners.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.