Coleford was first recorded as Colevorde in 1275 when it was part of the Royal hunting forest. Located at the confluence of three streams the main settlement was originally smaller than some neighbouring villages such as Newland and Clearwell. The existence of the Kings Fish Pool gave its name to Poolway and a number of the nearby road names over the years. Coleford was considered part of the parish of Newland by the fourteenth century when a market plus a number of inns and alehouses were established at the junction of the local roads. The settlement continued to grow steadily with the addition of a chapel of ease in 1489 and the first market house. This was burnt down in 1643 during the Civil War.
The town was granted a Charter by King Charles ll in 1661 for a market and two fairs and a new market house was built in what is now the centre of the town. A second storey was added between 1702 and 1714 and by 1850 the building was of a similar design to the one standing at Ross-on-Wye. In 1867 the building was totally refurbished and extended and stood until 1968. The former site is now marked by an acacia tree at one end of the pedestrian area. The clocktower in the town centre belonged to the original octagonal St. John’s Church, built in 1821 and demolished 61 years later when it was decided that there was no room for it to be extended to cope with the growing congregation and was replaced by the new St. John’s Church on the nearby Bowen’s Hill. The memorial cross was built on the spot of the original altar. Since the 13th century the area saw an increase in forest clearance and became a centre for coal mining, charcoal production, iron ore extraction and farming.
For 700 years the local Free Miners mined coal in the Forest of Dean. 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. Anyone born within the Hundred of St. Briavels, and who worked in a mine for a year and a day was allowed to open up his own coal mine. Working the narrow seams in damp conditions demanded a skill that was very rare and allowed this area to become commercially viable for industry.
The local woodlands also provided the raw material for charcoal production. The Forest of Dean had an abundance of iron ore which required charcoal for the kilns to burn at the necessary temperature for the smelting process. During the 1800s the industrial revolution was advancing at full speed and the need for new strong materials in engineering was paramount. Coleford benefited from two railways built in the late 1800s, one running to Monmouth and the other to Lydney, a section of which still runs today from Parkend. The site of the original station has been developed in recent years to form the town centre car park and Pyart Court.
One of the area’s most notable people was local engineer Robert Mushet who in 1857 developed the first alloy steel process. Traditionally iron railway rails had to be replaced every 3-6 months but with ‘Mushet Steel’ their lifespan was extended to over 10 years of hard use. He followed it with high-speed self-hardening steel in 1868 which would be one of the advanced materials used world-wide in everything from mine drilling bits to lathe tools and turbine blades.
More recently modern companies have located to the area, encouraged by the adaptability of the local workforce. Coleford now has the potential to become a very strong town once more with the right investment and the help of the local community.
If you have more interesting facts regarding the history of Coleford, please feel free to send them in to be included on this page.