At this point take the main track to the right.
Today, Parkhill Enclosure is a Forestry England plantation. When the trees are mature enough they will be felled and sold. Until then its a peaceful place for dog walkers and holiday makers from nearby Whitemead Park. But, it was not always accompanied by the gentle sound of rustling leaves, running water and birdsong.
In the Nineteenth Century you always heard some form of industrial noise.
To the North, the ponderous thump of stampers crushing slag or the blast of giant bellows at Parkend.
To the west the rattle and screech of the tramway running between Flour Mill and Princess Royal collieries.
To the South, steam vented from the engine that hauled cages up the Princess Royal shaft.
To the east, the high pitched whistles of the steam engines hauling wagons of coal, iron and stone to the harbour at Lydney.
This area was a cradle of the Industrial Revolution: when Britain was forging rapid technological change, and with its increasing wealth, building an empire.
The use of the Forest of Dean was always disputed. From the Norman Conquest onwards it was a Royal Forest reserved for the King’s hunting. Later, in medieval times, the freeminers of the Forest were awarded rights to mine for coal and iron, but this brought them into conflict with later Kings.
Charles I, desperate for money to fight Parliament in the Civil War, sold the Forest to Sir John Wintour. By then, the Forest had the greatest concentration of iron works in the country. Wintour felled 18,000 acres of forest for charcoal for the King’s iron forges. This hurt the local people who rioted in 1641.
Parliament won the war, the King was executed and Wintour was stripped of his rights to the Forest. But, it didn’t last. When the monarchy was restored, Charles II re-asserted Wintour’s rights and he again stripped the Forest of trees.
By 1668 there were grave concerns that there wouldn’t be enough good timber for the Royal Navy, now growing in strength. The King’s navy was mainly supplied from the Royal Forests. An Act of Parliament stopped the tree felling and divided the Forest into 6 areas called Walks totalling 11,000 acres, each with a lodge and a keeper whose job was to enclose the area, plant oak trees and protect them. The York Walk, (part of which you are walking through now) was an enclosed area stretching from Parkend to Whitecroft, Brockhollands, Bream and Ellwood.
The foresters, with much less land on which to graze their animals, rioted, and in 1688 destroyed the Keeper’s lodge just to the north of Parkend. It was rebuilt, but the disturbances continued. Grazing animals, if found within the forbidden areas were impounded and the owners heavily fined. This led to continued resentment, and as late as 1735, newspapers were reporting that ‘villainous gangs of persons’ were breaking open the pounds to release their animals.
But there was little improvement in the supply of timber for the navy. When the Napoleonic wars broke out there was a huge demand for timber from the forest. Nelson who passed near to the Forest in 1802 complained of the poor state of the trees and blamed the “vast droves of hogs allowed to go into the woods in autumn” that ate up all the acorns. So, again the Crown sought to enforce its right with a further act of parliament – again allowing the enclosure of 11,000 acres. Edward Machen became Deputy Surveyor of Dean in 1808 and set about planting oaks for the Crown around Whitemead Park where he lived and Parkhill Enclosure.
Unrest over fencing off enclosures continued into the Nineteenth Century. Machen reported that several trees planted near Parkend and on Bream’s Eaves had been ‘wilfully cut off in the night’, the plantation gates had been broken down and animals driven into the forbidden areas.
In June 1831 a local man, Warren James, called on the Foresters to destroy the walls and fences at Park Hill Enclosure. For several days nearly 2000 men, women and children joined in the destruction. Order was not restored until martial law was declared and enforced by dragoons from Merthyr Tydfil. Warren James was caught hiding in a coal pit on Hang Hill in Bream. He was sentenced to death, later commuted to transportation to Australia. He was eventually granted a pardon but he died in Tasmania in 1841.
The Industrial Revolution brought a rapid increase in population. Outsiders, referred to as ‘foreigners’ by the locals, came to work in the coal mines, iron works, stamping mills, tinplate works, lime kilns, brick kilns, stone and wood saw mills around Parkend. But, working conditions were poor and it was not until the beginning of the Twentieth Century that they began to improve. By then these industries were becoming uneconomic and were closed down. By the early Twentieth Century most of the heavy industry was gone, and this part of the forest became the peaceful woodland you are walking through today.