The History of Coleford

The Regard and Eyre Roll of 1282 indicates a roadways formation very similar to that found in Coleford at the present time showing it rather as the hub of a wheel and being the confluence of the three streams along which it developed. At that time it was a small settlement in comparison to English Bicknor, Staunton, Newland and Clearwell where manorial settlements existed. However there was already reference to the Kings Fish Pool through which flowed Thurstan's Brook. The roadways alongside this stream being known as the Poolway, from which has arisen local house and estate names. At this time King Edward was anxious to gain the help of the local inhabitants in the war against David who had started the Welsh revolt on 21st March of that year and word went out from Gloucester that men would be commandeered to work for the king.

Coleford became regarded as part of the parish of Newland and burials were at Newland graveyard. Newland church had existed since 1220 (dedicated from at least 1352 as the church of All Saints). Before the end of the thirteenth century forest clearance had taken place and agriculture was established at Poolway, Bradeswallelonde (probably Broadwell), High Nash, Tufthorn, Crossways, Bury Hill, Lower Five Acres and Coalway Road and further towards Newland.

Iron ore extraction was known to be in evidence in nearby Scowles and Perrygrove (now known as Puzzle Wood), working on outcrop areas. Small furnaces and forges were set up near to the deposits. Cinderhill, on the south end of the town received its named from the slag deposits found there. Charcoal played an important part in the smelting of iron and probably accounts for quite a substantial amount of wood being removed from the surrounding areas. The production of charcoal usually took place in the woods, the product then being transported to the smelting bloomeries via the old hollow ways.

Coal mining existed at areas of outcrop at The Gorse, on the road towards Berry Hill and near Thurstan's Brook above Poolway (in an area which now forms part of the Forest Hills Golf Course. The outcrop is the High Delf Coal Seam.

By the beginning of the fourteenth century Coleford has a recognised small market and because of its network of tracks and roadways as well as several inns and alehouses its importance was increasing. Many dwellings were now in evidence and by the close of the century the tree cover of the forest was receding to the higher ground. Furnaces existed in the Whitecliff valley where later the Whitecliff furnace was built.

A chapel of ease in the centre of the town is known to have existed by 1489 although for religious purposes the inhabitants looked to Newland as mentioned previously. Burials from Coleford continued to be a Newland until 1868 when the town had its own cemetery (at the top of Victoria Road).

Education seems to have been restricted to a chantry school at Newland which dated from the late Middle Ages. This was restricted and the foundation of Edward Bell's Grammar School did not take place until around 1630. This school eventually removed to Coleford in 1876 and closed in 1968 when pupils transferred to the new Royal Forest of Dean Grammar School at Five Acres. The buildings are now part of the Bell's Hotel and Golf Club. Other schools were created in Newland Street, Whitecliff and a girl's school in Coller Lane (now Lord's Hill). The Boys School was built in 1882 using stone from the demolished town centre octagonal church. This stood in Boxbush Road and now forms part of Coleford House Day Centre.

Coleford was involved in the Civil War, a skirmish taking place in the town when an army consisting of 1500 foot soldiers and nearly 500 horsemen were opposed by a party of Parliamentarians led by Colonel Berrowe. According to folklore the attacking forces lost Major-General Sir Richard Lawley who is said to have been shot through the eye and the town's market hall was damaged. It is said that the streets ran with blood. The Royalist army marched on towards Gloucester.

The town was eventually granted a Charter by King Charles II, dated 30th April 1661 for a market and two fairs, the market to be held on Friday and the fairs to be on 9th June and 24th November. During these two days a Court of Pie Powder was also to be held. (The fairs were later changed to 20th June and 5th December - due to an alteration to the calendar in 1752, when eleven days were taken off the month of September). The market house that was damaged in the Civil War skirmish was not in the centre of the town and probably stood somewhere near the bottom of Lord's Hill. The next Market House, a single storey building was erected somewhere between 1661 and 1681 on the waste ground in the centre of town and was financed by Henry Benedict Hall and others. In the period 1702-14 a second storey was added. By 1804 it is believed that living accommodation existed within the Market House, by which time a stone built structure existed. By 1865 the property was owned by Isaiah Trotter and others who formed "The Coleford Market Hall Company". The building was partly demolished in 1866 to be reopened on 12th February 1867 following improvements as the final Market Hall, also known as the Town Hall. This was demolished in 1968 to make room for a road widening and improvement scheme. The site of the last building is marked by an acacia tree that now stands at one end of the pedestrian area in the Town Centre.

Coleford had a Workhouse from 1786 until somewhere around 1820 and provided accommodation for 10 men, 10 women and 12 children. Families entering the workhouse would be split up into the various units.

Roads leading to Coleford had toll or pike houses at Poolway (shown right), Coalway Lane End, Whitecliff, Sling and Berry Hill. It was impossible to enter the town by road without paying a fee. These finally closed when the Turnpike Trust handed over its roads to Gloucestershire County Council around 1889.

Anyone wishing to learn more of Coleford's history is recommended to read Dr. Cyril Hart's excellent research work entitled "Coleford - The History of a West Gloucestershire Forest Town" which may be found in the Coleford Library and from which the information given above has been gathered.

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