|Council:||Forest of Dean|
|Forest of Dean|
Lydbrook is a civil parish in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. It is on the north-west edge of the Forest of Dean proper. It comprises the districts of Lower Lydbrook, Upper Lydbrook, Joys Green and Worrall Hill. It has a mile-and-a-half-long main street, reputed to be the longest main street of any village in England.
The area now forming the present village of Lydbrook has been inhabited throughout history. Artifacts from Hangerberry and Eastbach on the south west corner of the parish, and Lower Lydbrook show evidence of widespread activity from the Mesolithic period (Middle Stone Age 10,000 - 4000 BC) to the present. Flint stone tools from surrounding fields confirm that the area was occupied and farmed for more than 4,000 years.
Lydbrook was inhabited by the Romans as there is evidence of a Roman homestead along Proberts Barn Lane, Lower Lydbrook. The timber building detected on the site may date from the 1st Century AD. A later building with stone walls was still inhabited in the 4th century. The site was a farming and agricultural centre in the Roman period. There is also evidence of Roman activity at Hangerberry with traces of a Roman pavement. A Roman road came from Ruardean through Lower Lydbrook (tracing the Wye) to English Bicknor. A further ancient road existed between Joys Green and English Bicknor via Bell Hill. Traces of a Roman Road also exist from Worrall Hill to Edge End. These Roman track ways show evidence of following previous prehistoric paths. In 1881 it was reported a large quantity of Roman coins were found at Lower Lydbrook. The Dean Archaeological Group's recent excavations in and around Lydbrook have recovered other coins from the Roman period, as well as other artefacts pre-dating and post dating this period.
For those living today there may be differences as to what comprises Lydbrook. There is the village of Lydbrook which for many would include Worrall Hill, Hangerberry and Stowfield. There is also the Parish of Lydbrook which includes Joys Green, Hawsley and High Beech. The complexities of boundaries for Lydbrook have been greater in the past.
Before becoming part of Gloucestershire, prior to the 12th century, the Forest of Dean lay in Herefordshire. For example, Ruardean was an extension of the parish of Walford in Herefordshire and St John's church at Ruardean was a daughter church of Walford Church.
In the same time as the Forest of Dean came into Gloucestershire the Forest had become the preserve of the Crown. The area now covered by Upper Lydbrook and Joys Green, would have been served in times past by the church at Mitcheldean. However, from Norman times until the mid 19th century, it came under the Forest's Bailiff for Mitcheldean (in other words 'the Magna or Great Dean Bailiwick'), and thus was extra-parochial, or outside of a parish.
Lower Lydbrook was divided between the parishes of English Bicknor and Walford (served by the Church of St John the Baptist at Ruardean), with the Lyd forming the boundary. The mid-19th century saw the parochialisation of the Forest. Each area within the legal boundaries of the Forest came under both a church district and a civic district. In 1816 Upper Lydbrook and Joys Green came under the newly created church of Holy Trinity at Harrow Hill, with a mission chapel built in Upper Lydbrook in 1821. By 1842 this arrangement was formalised by the newly created ecclesiastical district of Holy Trinity (Harrow Hill, Drybrook).
The civic boundaries of the Forest differed from the church boundaries and from 1842 Lower Lydbrook and Upper Lydbrook became part of the Township of West Dean, with Joys Green coming within the westmost boundary of the Township of East Dean, the Railway line (constructed later in the 1860s) ran along this boundary. In 1852 Lower Lydbrook, Upper Lydbrook and Joys Green all became part of the newly created ecclesiastical parish of Lydbrook. It was much later in 1935 that the civic parish of Lydbrook was created.
Lower Lydbrook and Upper Lydbrook had developed as separate communities prior to the 17th century and remained so legally until the 19th century. A few of the older inhabitants of the village reported that a toll gate once existed between Lower and Upper Lydbrook.
Lower Lydbrook was settled as part of the parishes of English Bicknor and Ruardean, and was the focus of the iron industry. You only have to look at the location of housing in Lower Lydbrook to see a defined community adjacent to the Wye River and Lyd brook. The pond also served as a focal point, as well a community meeting places. Lower Lydbrook people were buried in the churchyards of Ruardean and English Bicknor (as well as a number being buried at Welsh Bicknor across the Wye). Upper Lydbrook lay within the Forest boundary which had been part of the Bailiwick of Mitcheldean, and had been encroached (housing being built within what was once strictly a Crown preserve), serving as a focus for the mining community.
Lydbrook in 2015
Lydbrook has a shop and Post Office, a fish and chip shop, many local businesses and pubs which include; The Jovial Colliers Inn and Bunkhouse, The Royal Spring Inn, The Forge Hammer Inn and The Jovial Colliers Inn, Waterloo Business Park and Lydbrook Valley Garage. In recent years Lydbrook was featured on ITV and BBC news due to the fact that the centre of Lydbrook was flooded and under up to four feet of water. This was despite being nearly half a mile away from the local River Wye which is situated at the bottom of Lydbrook. This was due to a blockage of an old culvert under the road which contains a stream and the surface drainage for the entire village.
In 2015 Lydbrook saw the closure of a few pubs; The Courtfield Arms has been up for sale for a while and is closed and The Anchor Inn is permanently closed. This leaves just The Forge Hammer, The Royal Spring and The Jovial Colliers.
Although Lydbrook is now developing as a useful centre for exploring both the Wye Valley and the Forest of Dean with its several hotels and Bed and Breakfast establishments, its traditional connection is with industry especially with the iron, coal and timber industries.
The arrival of the Romans brought with them the iron industry into the forest. The proven presence of a Roman community in Lydbrook provides for the possibility of an early iron industry. There will certainly have been iron ore and coal mines, at low or outcrop level. Records for industry in the post Roman and pre-Norman periods are scarce and it is only from the 13th century that numerous records can be found. However, details about Lydbrook can be difficult to isolate, as Lydbrook was not a parish in its own rights, and activity at Lydbrook, is activity at Ruardean or English Bicknor. One attraction of Lydbrook was the northward fast flowing Lyd.
In the 1590s records exist of what became known as the Upper Forge at Lydbrook built by Thomas Bainham and later owned by Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex. In 1628 it was described as standing on "Hangerbury Common, below the King's Forge". By 1668 the Upper Forge had disappeared. Three other forges existed. The Middle Forge built in the 1590s was opposite what is now Beard's bakery building. After the demise of the original Upper Forge, the Middle Forge eventually took on the name of Upper Forge. The Lower Forge was built in 1610 (standing within two hundred yards from the Wye). Standing up-stream from the Upper Forge was the King's Howbrook Forge (also known as the Lydbrook Forge) built in 1612/13. This stood opposite what is now Brook House (was once the Yew Tree Inn). In March 1650 the Forge was demolished. Not far away and built in the same period was the King's Furnace powered by the Lyd (where the How brook joins the Lyd) this ceased by 1674. By the early 18th century only two forges existed, the Upper Forge (the renamed old Middle Forge) and the Lower Forge. In 1702 a further forge existed, although it location is now unknown, the New Forge. This forge was somewhere between the two others as it took on the name of 'Middle Forge'. By 1818 after many changes of hands both owners and tenants, the Partridge family dominated the iron works at Lydbrook. In 1622 there are details of a grist mill and a battering works nearby a disused cornmill. The Lower Forge became in its turn a Corn Mill. Existing also in Lydbrook around the 1690s was an Anvil making works.
By 1798 tinplate production began in Lydbrook through the agency of the Partridge and Allaway families (Thomas Allaway was a tenant of the Patridges). The Upper and Lower Forges had been converted to tinplate works by the Partridges and then were leased by Allaway in 1817. It has been argued that tinplate production began in Lydbrook in 1760, which would have made it the earliest centre for tinplate production. The Allaways firm became 'Pearce & Allaway' in 1820, and then in 1850 'Allaways, Partridge & Co'. In 1871 the business was leased to Richard Thomas who moved into the village and lived at the Poplars, Upper Lydbrook. Thomas expanded his business taking over Lydbrook Colliery and Waterloo Colliery. Richard Thomas died in 1916. The works were closed during the First World War and ceased operating in 1925. The early tin works and rolling mills stood where Meredith & Sons and Lydwood works are today.
In 1818 James Russell purchased the Ironworks upstream of the Upper Forge, opposite the Bell Inn, where he created a wireworks. The enterprise was run by the family until its closure between 1890 and 1900.
In 1912, Harold J Smith purchased land at Stowfield and erected the Lydbrook Cable Works. The First World War provided a number of contracts with employee numbers expanding from 40 to 650 with double shifts being worked. With the end of the War, came a slump in business, and in 1920 the Official Receiver was brought in ending Smith's connection with the factory. The business was bought in 1925 by Edison Swan Electric Company.
With the greater resources available the plant at Stowfield further expanded, and was well placed to help with the Second World War possessing one of only four machines for making lead alloy tube needed for Operation Pluto (Petroleum Lines Under The Ocean), which allowed fuel to be supplied to the Allied invasion force in Europe from Britain. In the late 1940s, Edison Swan was swallowed up by Associated Electrical Industries. Integrated with the Siemens Brothers Cable Works at Woolwich the Stowfield Factory at its height employed approximately 1,100 people. The Cable Works came to an end in 1966 when the factory was bought by Reed Paper Group, which in its turn was taken over by a Swedish Company SCA. If there were any personal losses to Harold Smith as a result of the Cable Works being taken into receivership these were soon reversed as in the same year he opened the 'Temco Works'.
The 18th and 19th centuries saw the village grow through the rise of industry. The first commercially successful blast furnace was sited in Lydbrook and was working as early as 1608. By the 18th century, Lydbook was an important location for the production of tin plate, and a book published in 1861 compared Lydbrook to Sheffield. At the beginning of the 19th century the iron trade was in decline but the coal industry was growing fast. Lydbrook having its own collieries - Arthur & Edward (also called Waterloo as it opened in 1815), The Deep Level, The Old Soot Bag, The Old Engine, Worrall Hill Mine. Lower Lydbrook's situation by the Wye brought about its importance as being a loading place for coal to be taken by barge to Hereford. The flat bottomed barges were dragged originally by men - until the construction of a tow path in 1811. This trade declined after the construction of the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal, but the canal was soon superseded by the railways, which as far as Lydbrook is concerned has 'come and gone'. The community was served by two railway stations and a halt, Upper Lydbrook, Lower Lydbrook (the Halt) and Lydbrook Junction. Not even the famous Lower Lydbrook Viaduct remains which enabled the Severn and Wye Railway from Cinderford via Bilston and Serridge to connect with the Ross and Monmouth Railway. The viaduct rose some 87 feet above the roadway below, linking Forge Hill on the east with Randor on the west. It was built in 1872 and first used 26 August 1874. The line was closed to passengers in 1929 and to goods in 1951. It was dismantled in 1966.
New industries replaced the old with the rise of a cable works, but this closed in 1965, replaced by Reed Corrugated Cases (since mid-1991 renamed SCA Packaging Ltd). Others in Lydbrook found employment with Rank Xerox at Mitcheldean. Other employment in the village is offered through the existence of a small number of light engineering works and three saw mills. The new industries differ from the old because they did not grow out of the Forest because of the minerals, but because of the availability of a work force. Only the saw mills (employing a small number of people) represent a connection with traditional Forest industry. Modern road communications with the surrounding areas has opened the village up to outsiders with the new phenomenon of holiday homes, being once the cottages of the Foresters.
Other notable buildings
The oldest surviving building in Lydbrook is today known as The Priory, which in fact had never been a Priory, but was originally known as Lidbrook Farm. Once the home of the Probert family. The architectural design requires a date in the mid-16th century for this building, owing to the close timbered framework when oak was more plentiful, as opposed to square timbered style of the later period. There is a secret room in this building and claims for tunnels extending from Courtfield and the Anchor Inn. A Priest hole has been argued for, but smuggling has been suggested as an alternative. The house is also reputed to be haunted.
The Old House
Further up the village, in Central Lydbrook, opposite The Anchor Inn is the second oldest house in the village. This is (rather confusingly) called The Old House, and is a red-bricked and square-timbered house which at one stage belonged to Roger Kimble, father of Sarah Siddons (née Kimble - a famous actress 1755–1831). It has an extension built on the side which boasts the date '1718'.
Both The Priory and The Old House are situated in the oldest parts of the village in Lower and Central Lydbrook. It would not be surprising if even older structures were eventually discovered within other houses in Lower Lydbrook.
The two largest centres of housing positioned west and east of the valley are Worrall Hill and Joys Green. The former district took its name from the Worrall family of English Bicknor and the name 'Joys Green' came from Jay's Green on account of the numerous Jays seen in that locality.
Centres of community
Old School Rooms
The Church of England mission chapel completed in 1822, not only provided a place of Christian worship, but provided a school (hence its title of the old school rooms) and a church hall. After 1909 with a new school replacing the building, and a parish church replacing it as a chapel, the mission hall served as a parish hall with all manner of activities taking place.
Another early meeting place was the old 1 penny reading rooms in Mill Lane. The reading rooms were provided by the owners of the tinplate works which began in the mid-19th century. The reading rooms closed down in 1928/9.
The Anchor Hall adjacent to the Anchor public house provided a meeting place in the early part of the 20th century. A cinema was installed in 1914 run by the Albany Ward Company. The Anchor Hall closed in the mid-1920s.
During the Great War a committee was formed to provide items for the welfare of the servicemen on leave. After the War the committee was left with £100. The committee and the Men's Institute (founded in 1892) formed a general committee and proposed the building of a Memorial Hall. Public subscriptions were sought, and a grant from the United Services Fund of £88 was obtained. The local Women's Institute had an original aim of erecting their own headquarters but joined in with the Memorial Hall committee providing from their own funds £100. In 1920 the committee purchased the building and lands known as 'The Poplars', and on 11 November 1926 the Lydbrook Memorial Hall, Men's and Women's Institute came into being at a cost of £3,150 opened by the blind Victoria Cross holder of Coleford, Captain Angus Buchanan.
- "Parish population 2011.Retrieved 27 March 2015". https://neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk/dissemination/LeadKeyFigures.do?a=7&b=11126179&c=Lydbrook&d=16&e=62&g=6427292&i=1001x1003x1032x1004&m=0&r=1&s=1427470676656&enc=1.
- In interviews, with Fr Michael Foster, Vicar of the Parish from 1989-1997
| ("Wikimedia Commons" has material|