The people living and working in the Royal Forest of Dean depended on many local skills and crafts to earn a living. Here is a list of the skills and crafts
Charcoal is made by the controlled burning of wood, where there is insufficient air for complete combustion. Air is present in the gaps between stacked logs, and in the pores of the wood. All other sources are controlled by the charcoal burner, through vents at the base of the kiln. The heat from the fire in the centre of the stack raises the temperature inside the kiln. The water content in the wood is then driven off as steam; this is followed by a chemical breakdown releasing carbon dioxide and volatile products such as tar, oils and naphtha. A small fire in the center of the heap is able to carbonize the whole kiln with relatively little wood being burned away. Charcoal burning is dirty and time consuming. Much skill is needed to produce charcoal properly. A typical burn will take anything from 18-36 hours, depending on weather conditions and the moisture content of the wood. Closing the kiln down too early will result in "brown ends", the wood only being scorched. Too much air will substantially reduce the final yield of charcoal. The final product is a solid black residue with a high carbon content (about 30%). Also present are Hydrogen (10%), Oxygen (5%) and mineral ash with trace elements of Potassium, Sulphur and Nitrogen.
Activated charcoal this is used for water filtration, sewage treatment. Refining chemicals and removing the colour from liquids. It can absorb eighty pints of gas to the 6 pints of ordinary and is essential to the manufacture of modern breathing apparatus. Activated charcoal is made by heating the charcoal to 900 °C, driving off all the material that obstructs the pores of ordinary charcoal.
Briquette a mixture of brick dust and charcoal fines.
Brown ends scorched wood that has not properly carbonized. Usually added to the next burn to complete the charcoaling process.
Charge an incendiary of wood and charcoal placed at the base of the kiln to start the charcoaling process.
Corrack a tool for raking the crust off earth kilns.
Earth kiln / turf kiln an earth-covered heap used to burn charcoal until the introduction of metal kilns in the late Nineteenth Century. These were usually sited in forests until the wood supply was exhausted, resulting in a nomadic lifestyle for the charcoal burner. Despite its name, sieved earth rather than turves were used to retain heat.
Fines / chalm charcoal dust-the finest grade of charcoal, primarily used as a soil conditioner by the horticultural industry.
Lumpwood charcoal charcoal made from split cords of wood, ideal for use on barbecues.
Mottle peg central peg placed in the heart of the kiln and removed when stacking is complete, leaving an aperture down which to pour embers to fire the kiln.
Pit kiln the earliest form of charcoal production, the wood being charcoaled in a covered pit. Strangely, there is no archaeological evidence that this technique was ever used in Europe.
Retort an advanced kiln adapted for the extraction of charcoal by-products. These replaced small portable kilns but were made redundant by the competition from oil by-products.
Round ladder a curved ladder used by colliers to reach the top of the kiln stack.
Shool a long-handled shovel.
Slag waste and finings left after a burn, traditionally used to surface roads and footpaths
Stangs a two-man device for carrying water
Swill a basket made of woven oak bark, used for carrying charcoal
Wood collier a charcoal burner. The term often denotes an apprentice or labourer employed by the artisan "master-burner".
"Dressing the stack" the process of filling the kiln with cords of wood
"Sorting the crop" the process of removing brown ends after end of burn
Basketmaking was developed at an early stage of man's evolution. In Britain, we used oak, hazel and willow as the material for making the strong rigid containers necessary in everyday life as well as using these skills to erect fences and houses from wickerwork or wattles. Early baskets were probably much like those found in the farms of highland regions until the second half of the twentieth century. 'Frame' baskets were constructed with wild materials on simple but time-consuming principles, and in these areas basketmaking mostly remained a seasonal job. In lowland Britain the weaving of willow, using different techniques, developed into a profession and ultimately a very large industry. The number of craftsmen employed and the output of their labours must have been immense, but such are the temporary nature of willow and the humble status of the basketmaker that the evidence of the scale of production has all but disappeared. In practically every instance where today we use cardboard, plastic or plywood, two hundred years ago this would have been wickerwork. Fruit and vegetables were gathered from the fields into baskets; fish, poultry and dairy produce were all packed into wicker for the journey to the town markets. Jobs requiring the transport of bulky materials such as manure or rubble needed baskets, and not only were rural items such as animal muzzles, bird traps and beer strainers made of willow, but so were the travelling trunks, hat boxes and umbrella holders of the well-to-do.
Blacksmiths work with "black" metals, especially iron. The black color comes from a layer of oxides that form on the surface of the metal during heating (called fire scale).
The term "smith" originates from the word "smite", which means to hit. Thus, a blacksmith is a person who smites the black metals.
Blacksmiths work by heating pieces of wrought iron or steel in a forge until the metal becomes soft enough to be shaped with tools such as a hammer. Heating is accomplished by the use of a forge fueled by propane, natural gas, coal, charcoal, or coke.
Blacksmiths may also employ an oxyacetylene or similar blowtorch for more localized heating. Color is important for indicating the temperature and workability of the metal: As iron is heated to increasing temperatures, it first glows red, then orange, yellow and finally white. The ideal heat for most forging is the yellow-orange color appropriately known as a "forging heat." Because they must be able to see the glowing color of the metal, many blacksmiths work in dim, low-light conditions.
The techniques of blacksmithing may be roughly divided into forging (sometimes called "sculpting"), welding, heat treating and finishing.
Forging is also referred to as sculpting because it is how the metal is shaped. Forging is different from machining in that material is not removed by these processes (with the exception of punching and cutting), rather the iron is hammered into shape.
There are five basic operations or techniques employed in forging: drawing, shrinking, bending, upsetting and punching.
These operations generally employ hammer and anvil at a minimum, but smiths will also make use of other tools and techniques to accommodate odd sized or repetitive jobs.
What does a blacksmith do? : Blacksmiths form, shape and join metal by hot forging. They heat the metal to the correct temperature so that it can be shaped
if necessary, join it to another piece of metal by various methods of welding and riveting and
‘finish’ the metal for its required use.
There are three types of blacksmith :
Artist blacksmiths : make decorative items such as wrought iron gates, railings, sculptures and furniture
produce their own style and designs or create pieces to suit specific commissions
sometimes restore antique ironwork &
find markets for their work, for example by attending craft shows and fairs,
carry out the administrative tasks involved in running a business.
Some blacksmiths are trained and registered as farrier : , A farrier will shoe horses alongside their blacksmithing work.
Industrial blacksmiths : make functional items for use in industry or on business premises, such as: large industrial components,
Blacksmiths may use: traditional hand tools such as hammers and anvils,
power tools, such as power hammers, drills, air chisels and hydraulic presses,
engineering machinery such as centre lathes, millers, grinders and welding equipment, and use
various metals, including wrought iron, mild steel, brass, bronze, copper.
Coppicing is the art of cutting of trees and shrubs to ground level allowing vigorous regrowth and a sustainable supply of timber for future generations.
Trees and shrubs that are cut down this way can produce shoots that grow over 30cm in a week and a coppiced tree can live many times longer than if the the tree had not been cut down at all. Coppicing is carried out in coups throughout the wood, typically on a seven year rotation. The immediate effect of coppicing is to allow light back to the woodland floor prompting the flowering of many woodland plants.
Cut hazel in coppiced woodland may not have obvious uses to us today, but throughout the ages such material has been the mainstay of construction.
For 700 years the Free Miners of the Royal Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, have mined coal but now their future is in doubt. It was the skill of their forefathers in tunnelling under castle fortifications that earned them the right, by Royal decree, to mine anywhere in the forest without hindrance. The coal face is narrow and the miners must work lying on their stomachs. Clay above the coal becomes waterlogged from the forest above and covers the miners in a grey film. The sheer weight of the clay is supported on pit props cut from the forest timber. Coal is loaded into the carts by shovel and each cart, weighing half a ton, is winched from the coal face and then pushed out of the mine by hand. In the past pit ponies and even children were used to pull the carts to the surface.
Any man born within the Hundred of St Briavels and had worked in a mine for one year and a day, was entitled to mine for coal or iron ore within this area. They were also entitled to quarry stone. A man who met the same criteria, but had only worked in a quarry for a year and a day, was only allowed to quarry stone.
Dues to the Crown in respect of these activities were, and still are collected by the Forest of Dean Gaveller, who also controls the granting of such rights to this day.
Building with dry stone is one of the earliest skills developed by man, used for building shelters, fortifications, burial mounds, ceremonial structures and animal enclosures. The Neolithic village of Skara Brae, in Orkney, built in about 3000 BC and buried in sand for thousands of years until rediscovered, demonstrates the early development of skills in dry stonework. The magnificent Iron Age fortified buildings of Scotland, called brochs, which have stood for thousands of years, are proof of the durability of this ancient craft.
Dry stone walling is so durable because it contains no mortar to crack and fail, but is held together merely by the weight of stone, and by the skill of the builder who selected and fitted the stones together. Dry stone structures are constructed in such a way that as they slowly settle with time, they become stronger and more closely bound. A correctly built structure of durable stone contains nothing which can deteriorate or fail. Dry stone structures use only natural material, with many walls and other structures built of stone gathered at the surface or by quarrying outcrops. Dry stone is infinitely recyclable.
Dry stone walls dominate the rural landscape wherever stone is near the surface. The thin soils and exposed conditions limit tree growth, and so the characteristic landscape of fields and dry stone walls has developed. In most of these areas stone provided a fortuitous building material in the absence of timber for fencing or bushes for hedging, but where surface stone was over-abundant, walls were an essential way of clearing the ground for grazing and cultivation.
In areas such as parts of Wales and the South West, where soils are deeper and surface stone less abundant, stone-faced earth banks are the traditional method of enclosure. These banks provide shelter from the wind for both animals and crops, as well as using up surface stone. Sometimes a hedge is planted along the top to provide additional shelter. Various combinations of stonework, bank, ditch, hedge or fence are used according to the site and the circumstance.
The skill of dry stone walling has a fairly continuous history, being practised by farmers wherever land needed enclosing or walls repairing. At times of agricultural change, notably during the enclosure era, there was an expansion in the amount of walling, with a large number of skilled workers employed during the late 18th and early 19th century. By 1820 the walled landscape was largely complete, and was kept in good repair for about a hundred years until the mechanisation of agriculture brought the next wave of change. The latter part of the 20th century has been characterised by a huge reduction of the numbers of people working on the land, and the demise of the multi-skilled farm labourer. Craftsmen wallers had only been needed in times of agricultural expansion, and by the 1960s walling as a full-time occupation had virtually disappeared. It was then that the conservation movement gained momentum, in time to learn the skills from those who remained.
There has been a change in policy towards hedgerows, from one which subsidised their removal in the cause of agricultural efficiency, to one which is beginning to provide protection for 'important' hedgerows, and give some assistance to the cost of creating and maintaining hedgerows. However, protection is still limited, and rates of hedgerow loss have only at last begun to decline in the last decade.
There has also been a revival in the craft of hedge laying. Traditionally this was only carried out by farm workers.
Why are hedges laid? : However close stems in a hedgerow are to each other, some animals will manage to push through. By cutting the base of each stem partly through and bending the whole plant sideways, the space between is effectively sealed. Further, as well as the cut stems remaining alive, new stems shoot up vertically from the heel/stump and from the bent over branches, producing a lattice of diagonal and vertical stems, to create a very solid barrier.
Why are there different styles? : Basically it depends on the animals kept in by the hedges, the climate and how the plants grow in the area.
Usually the side of the hedge towards the road has the stems showing, "the front". If animals were that side, they would chew the bark and kill the hedge, so the twiggy prickly ends are put to the animals side, - animals enjoy the young shoots but are put off by the pickles. If there are animals both sides, you. must arrange to have twiggy prickly bits both sides, so the stems are protected both sides, or fence the front, until it sprouts new growth.
Big animals, like bullocks or horses, can lean on hedges, so unless the hedge is tall, about 4ft 6ins, laid away from the roots towards the animals, with close, well-driven stakes and a binding on top, the hedge can be broken, or even jumped.
Sheep usually push through the base of a hedge, so stems must be close at the bottom, sometimes having dead wood (i.e. twiggy bits removed during preparing the hedge for laying) pushed into the ground each side of the hedge. The, hedge itself can be between 3ft and 3ft 6ins Again a sheep hedge may be only 18 inches high when first laid, to ensure a dense base, then allowed to grow to the right height.
Some areas have a lot of wind, so hedges tend to be laid lowish, and having a few living stems left as stakes to anchor the hedge until the thin cut parts have become strong.
Other areas have a lot of snow, so twigs are arranged to give a smooth, rounded top, so that the snow slides off.
Originally, bushes for hedges were often planted on banks, but in some areas where it is rocky, mountainous and wind-blown, shrubs are stunted, so a bank is created to give height and bushes on top are laid with twigs each side overlapping the bank each side, so that the bank cannot be climbed.
Why are hedges not left tall for wildlife? : Hedges were created to keep animals in fields, but the wildlife finds them useful too! The care of hedges must be concerned with keeping them in the condition to fulfil their original purpose.
Tall hedges allow predators, crows and magpies, to get into kill eggs and nestlings of smaller birds, so they are not good havens for wildlife. A low, dense hedge allows in small birds, small mammals and insects, but keeps out predators, as there is not room for them to go between the twigs.
Shouldn't hedges have elderberry and cotoneaster, etc. in them, to provide food for birds? : Hedges were created to keep animals in fields, and the hedge plants therefore must be those which deter animals from pushing through, e.g.. blackthorn, hawthorn. The hedge plants must be suitable to grow along side one another. Elderberry and sycamore will kill nearby hedge plants, because their profuse growth smothers the slower growing more useful plants, starving them of water, air and light. Some plants with berries can be poisonous (e.g.. yew, privet, laurel), so must not be grown where animals can reach them.
Glossary of Hedge Laying terms
Bank : A raised earthwork, usually acting as a barrier and often faced with turf or stone. To build or repair a bank.
The slope of a bank, hedge or wall expressed as an angle or as a ratio of horizontal to vertical dimensions.
The thin twigs of the pleachers on the far or field side of Midlands type bullock hedge. Also known as frith (Surrey).
Flexible stems or wire laced along the top of a hedge to hold the pleachers in place. Also known as edders, ethering, heathers, heathering or winders.
Pleachers which are bent out before being tucked between two stakes, in order to protect the cut stools of other pleachers (Wales).
Small twiggy or thorny branches, also known as brush.
Bullock fence :
Any bank, fence, hedge or wall, usually 4-4'6" (1.2-1.4m), designed to contain cattle.
The larger, basal end of a tree or branch.
Brushy deadwood cuttings pushed in at the base of a hedge to protect the cut stools (Powys).
Short ends of a trimmed branch left on a pleacher to help hold other pleachers in place.
The traditional unit of hedge measurement, 22 yards (20m).
The top or crown of a bank (Devon).
The practice of periodically cutting down trees nearly to ground level and allowing them to regenerate.
A horizontal layer of turfs.
A deadwood stem with a sharply hooked top, pushed down through a laid hedge to hold pleachers in place. Also known as a tie (Wales and the S. West).
A stem cut off where it emerges from the laid hedge and left to act as a living stake. Also known as a cropper, pole or standard (Wales).
Cut and lay :
The process of cutting part way through a standing tree and then bending and positioning (laying or layering) the stem to form a barrier. Also known as cut and pleach, pleach, plash or (South West) steep and lay or stoop and lay.
Any wood which is cut or broken off completely.
A long narrow trench dug as a boundary, barrier or drain. In Ireland and parts of Wales, a bank or other raised barrier.
Double brush :
The practice of bringing in pleachers from both sides of a hedge to a central line of stakes in order to create a wide, symmetrical sheep fence (Wales).
Double dig :
The process of preparing a planting bed in two stages, first by removing the soil to a depth of one spit, and then by forking the soil at the bottom of the trench to further break it up.
The steep side of a bank or wall.
Far side :
The side of the hedge normally without a ditch or steep bank face, also known as the field side.
A structure serving as an enclosure, barrier or boundary, loosely used to include hedges, banks, ditches or dykes.
A line of closely planted shrubs or low-growing trees forming a fence or boundary, usually one or two rows wide.
(See 'Cut and lay'.)
The tallest shoots of a plant where most vertical growth takes place.
Ley farming :
The practice of using a field for arable and pasture in rotation.
Any wood which is not cut or broken off completely from the supply of nutrients from the roots.
Near side :
The side of the hedge, normally with a ditch or steep bank face, from which most hedging work is done.
Tamped earth fill supporting the turfs or the facing stones in a bank.
A live stem cut and laid to form a stock barrier. Also known as a plasher, plesher, pletcher, plusher, sear or stolling.
The practice of cutting a tree's branches back to the main stem and allowing new ones to sprout.
A thorn, usually hawthorn, plant or hedge. Also known as quickset.
Shard: A gap in a hedge or bank.
Sheep fence :
Any bank, fence, hedge or wall, usually lower than a bullock fence, designed primarily to contain sheep.
Single brush :
The practice of bringing in pleachers mainly from one side of a line of stakes to create a relatively, narrow, rather asymmetrical hedge (Wales).
A rough unit of depth measurement used in digging, equal to the length of a spade blade.
A deadwood pole or post driven into the hedge to hold the pleachers in place.
The living trunk of a shrub or tree.
The stump or cut base of a shrub or tree from which grow new shoots. Also known as the rootstock.
The projecting portion of stem which remains to be trimmed off the stool after a pleacher is cut and laid. Also known as a stob or ear.
A shoot springing from a root or underground part of a stem at some distance from the parent plant and eventually becoming a separate individual.
A fault in turf hedging, when the bottom of one course of turfs is allowed to project over the top of the course below (Devon). Also known as datching (north Devon).
Thorn: General term for the hawthorn or whitethorn (Crataegus spp, usually Crataegus monogyna) or the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa).
A sapling, also known as a teller.
Top cut :
To trim the leaders of a shrub or tree at a point well above ground level.
To cut back the smaller branches of a shrub or tree in order to keep the plant from growing too large, or train it to a desired shape. Also known as breast, brush, pare or switch.
Surface earth filled with the matted roots of grass and other plants, cut out for use in facing a bank.
The freshly cut surface of a stool, pleacher or trimmed branch. Also known as burr (Wales).
Hurdles are portable wooden frames or screens mainly used as temporary fences. There are two types: gate hurdles made from cleft poles; and wattle hurdles which are made basket-like and made from interwoven rods. Originally both types were used for holding sheep and other animals. Wattle hurdles have the longer history as they are known to have been used before the Christian era for hut making or cart sides, and from then onwards for all kinds of hut and house construction, including the "wattle and daub" in-filling of wooden framed houses, some of which survives today.
Wattle Hurdles :
Wattle hurdles are made from coppice hazel or willow, some of which is cleft and some left in the round. The hurdle is started by fixing upright "sails" or "shores" in a hurdle mould, the two end pieces being left in the round and those in between being of cleft wood. Weaving is started with the round rods and finished with several rows of round rods, braided to give a firm top edge.
The finished hurdle is usually 4-6' long and about 3' high, but larger hurdles are made for special purposes. Willow hurdles are made in a similar manner, but the sails or shores are usually held upright in a vice formed by two stout square timbers bolted together. The Hazel is cleft or split. First a billhook is used to start the split, then the hazel is run through a break set on a shave horse base. The run or line of the split is keep in the centre by applying either tension or compresion to the rod as the split move down.
Gate Hurdles :
The material used is coppice poles of oak, ash, elm, willow or chestnut, cleft with a froe in a brake, and trimmed and pointed with an axe and drawing knife. The gate hurdle is 6-8' long and 3-4' high and consists of 6 or 7 horizontal bars, or "slotes", two heads or end pieces, and two diagonal braces. The bars fit into mortices in the heads, made by boring two ½" holes at each end, and removing the core between using a mortice chisel or mortice knife. Sometimes a jig or frame is used on a low bench for assembly, but often it is down on the ground, the rails being fitted into the heads and pinned with a nail or oak peg through the projecting tenon. The braces are fastened with long nails clenched over.
The pole lathe is an ancient tool, in use over 2,000 years ago. It is still popular today, because it can be simply made from a coppice pole and a few other pieces of wood. The piece to be worked is held by two fixed or 'dead' points, and is rotated by a cord that passes around it. The cord is fixed at one end to a treadle, and at the other to a flexible coppice pole. As the treadle is depressed, the cord rotates the piece of wood to make the cutting stroke, at the same time bending the pole. As the treadle is released, the pole straightens, rotating the piece of wood away to make the return, non-cutting stroke.
The pole lathe is safe to use, because the piece of wood will stop turning the moment the treadle is stopped. The speed can be adjusted by the speed at which the treadle is operated. A pole lathe requires no electricity, and can easily be set up in the woodland or in a workshop. Turning green wood does not produce dust or splinters, so goggles are not necessary.
By pressing down on a stirrup or pedal, the work revolves and the spring pole or in some cases, fixed bow is drawn down. The pressure of the foot is released causing the work to spin rapidly and allowing the turner to concentrate on manipulating the cutting tool. The Celts used lathes to turn spokes and axles for their magnificent chariots, bowls, bracelets, wax patterns for cast objects, soft metal and most important of all, grindstones. The Celts and Romans were also the discoverers of the technique of metal spinning, which was used to produce military helmets and dishes. The acme of pre-medieval metalcraft has got to be the Roman twin piston mine pump in the National Archaeological museum of Madrid. This wonderful machine was operated by two slaves to empty water from the vital silver mines of northern Spain which produced the coinage to pay the Imperial army. It is constructed of beautiful and complex bronze castings and resembles the pumps of the early industrial revolution. It is claimed that the pistons were lapped to fit, but I have not read any detailed technical reports of this artifact. It is probable that some of the wax patterns were turned, if not some of the finished castings. It lay undisturbed until recently, in the flooded mineshaft it was built to keep dry.
The Pole Lathe continued to be used almost unaltered from about 500 BC until the early part of this century. However, the inefficiency of its bi-directional action led to the development of continuous rotation lathes by the late middle ages, powered by assistants turning a large flywheel which transmitted the motion via rope bands to the work on the lathe.
Stone carving is an ancient activity where pieces of rough natural stone are shaped by the controlled removal of stone. Owing to the permanence of the material, evidence can be found that even the earliest societies indulged in some form of stone work. Work carried out by paleolithic societies to create flint tools is more often referred to as knapping. Stone carving that is done to produce lettering is more often referred to as lettering.
Stone carving differs from stone quarrying in that it is the act of shaping or incising the stone, whereas quarrying is the activity of acquiring useful stone, usually in blocks, from geological sources.
The term stone carving is of particular significance to sculptors being a reference to a particular way of producing sculpture, as opposed to modelling in clay or casting. The term also refers to the activity of masons in dressing stone blocks for use in architecture, building or civil engineering. It is also a phrase used by archaeologists, historians, and anthropologists to describe the activity involved in making petroglyphs.
Stone carving tools have not changed significantly since the technique of forging steel was developed. The pneumatichammer was introduced between 1885 and 1890 (powered by huge steam driven air compressors), and has pretty much replaced the wooden mallet and iron hammer. Carbide tipped tools began appearing in the middle of the 20th century.
Most limestone carvers still prefer the old hand forged chisels, and keep a wooden mallet close at hand. The basic concepts of carved stone work haven't changed much in thousands of years, even as the tools have slowly evolved.
The three basic types of chisels remain the same: a point for roughing out the stone, tooth chisels (also called claw tools) for shaping and modeling the forms, and flat chisels for the finished surfaces and details. Within each class there are endless variations; for example gouges, bull-noses and miter tools are all variations on the flat chisel.