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 1 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 its 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. Vederers are still appointed by the crown but today their role is largely to liase between the Forestry Commision 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 the Forestry Commission.