The Royal Forest of Dean
From the time of the Norman conquest in 1066 until 1971 the Dean was a Royal Forest. It was used by the Normans as their personal hunting ground and kept stocked with deer and wild boar. In addition the crown had the exclusive rights to timber and to the minerals.
The Hundred of St Briavels was established in the 12th century, at the same time as many Norman laws concerning the Forest of Dean were put in place. St Briavels Castle became the Forest's administrative and judicial centre. Verderers were appointed to act for the king and protect his royal rights, and local people were given some common rights. Flaxley Abbey was built and given rights and privileges. In the 14th century Edward I established the rights of freeminers.
The Forest was used exclusively as a royal hunting ground by the Tudor kings, and subsequently a source of food for the royal court. Its rich deposits of iron ore led to it becoming a major source of iron. Timber was particularly fine and was regarded as the best source for building ships.
The Speech House, between Coleford and Cinderford, was built in 1682 to host the Court of Mine Law and "Court of the Speech", a sort of parliament for the Verderers and freeminers managing the forest, game, and mineral resources. The Speech House is still owned by the crown and leased as a hotel. The Vederers' Court, the oldest court in England, still meets in The Speech House four times a year. Verderers are still appointed by the crown but today their role is largely to liase between Forestry England and the local community.
During the 18th century, squatters established roughly-built hamlets around the fringes of the Crown forest demesne. By about 1800, these settlements were well established at Berry Hill and Parkend.
Although no longer a royal forest, the Dean is still largely in public ownership and is managed by Forestry England.
The Forest of Dean is much loved and cherished by Foresters and the local community, but this importance was not well understood nor its historic roots and heritage fully valued. All this was the driving force behind the Foresters’ Forest programme which received funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in April 2017 being awarded a grant of £2.5m to deliver 38 different community based projects across the Forest of Dean. Working with lead partner Forestry England and 31 other local partner organisations and volunteers, Foresters’ Forest is a group of organisations working in partnership, a broad alliance of organisations and individuals who have a common passion for the cultural, natural and built heritage of the Forest of Dean. Together they are uncovering, revealing, sharing and celebrating the Forest’s natural, built and cultural heritage. Projects include the Hidden Heritage Apps and Walking with Wheels. For more information see: https://www.forestersforest.uk/ There is also a map of their heritage projects here and a timeline covering the Cultural Heritage, Natural Heritage, Built Heritage, and National History of the Forest of Dean here.