The six villages and settlements that make up the area covered by the Neighbourhood Development Plan have                                Speech House their very essence deeply rooted in the history of the Forest of Dean and its traditions.  This is a heritage of people forging their living from the forest and the minerals found beneath its surface in a tradition that is rooted in royal hunting grounds with commoners’ rights that can be traced to the Verderers Court dating back to 1216
Originally the early medieval boundaries were formed by the rivers, Severn, Wye, Leadon and the Rudhall and Ell Brooks and the land so encircled defined by Charter of AD1227-1228 (Grundy 1936, 65-155) was, reserved for hunting, left unfarmed and known as the ‘Kings Waste’ and governed by the restrictive ‘Forest Law’ 

boundary stoneBoundary stone at OldcroftThe boundaries of the Forest as it now is were revised in 1656 (Hart 2002, 183-186) first marked by the digging of boundary ditches and later by installation of Boundary Stones on the same line, with Speech House (Grade 1 Listed) at the centre. These stones were renewed in 1838. Marking the extend of Royal Lands around the Royal Lodge of Speech House these stones still (technically) have legal significance directly linked as they are to the concept of Kings Waste and the boundaries of Speech House itself. Settlement and habitation (encroachment) was only allowed with royal permission where such encroachment had advantages to those controlling the Forest for the Crown.  This can be seen with the growth of settlements at the edges of the Forest itself, the Lodges deep in the woods and the scattered nature of habitations all of which go to make the Forest today.  The Verderers who have the judicial overview of the Forest still sit, as they have done since 1641, in the Courtroom of the Speech House

The status of the Forest, it’s traditions and rights are fiercely protectedwarren jamesWarren James - image courtesy of The Fountain Inn, Parkend by those who live within its boundaries. These long-held positions can be traced through local lore, the fight against enclosures encapsulated by Warren James in 1831, through to modern organisation of Foresters in HOOF and Forest Voice, both still active in preserving the ‘Vorest’. And, of course, the work of the Verderers continues.

The area was dominated in the nineteenth century by the growth of iron mining, Iron foundries and coal mining. Minerals and mining form the backdrop to the development of the six settlements: Parkend with its forges, Whitecroft, Pillowell and Yorkley to coal and Oldcroft and Viney Hill to quarrying, with all six using the forest for timber to support the heavy industry around it. Parkend became the centre of Forestry operations with the Forest Training School setting up in 1904 in the old forge building and the Deputy Gaveller moving his operations there in 1920. Yorkley, Pillowell and Viney Hill had particularly close links to the Severn and traditional occupations of lave net and elver fishing that supplemented family income.

Former Forestry School, ParkendFormer Forestry School, ParkendThe industrial development of the 19th and 20th Centuries required the development of an extensive infrastructure and a complex of rail and tram lines and tunnels, such as at Oakenhill, linking the mines, quarries and forestry operations to the docks at Lydney or down to the small ports on the banks of the Severn.  Smaller mines were taken over and larger mines such as The New Fancy Colliery opened in the 1860s operating to its closer in 1944; with most of the major collieries also shutting down in the following twenty years.

The industrial development was accompanied by the growth on non-conformist worship. Wesley launched the Methodist movement with his speech at Speech House. Now the mostly redundant chapel buildings are a feature of the landscape. The area had a growth of brass bands and choirs starting in the 1850s with colliery and village bands, many of which continue today. The Whitecroft Male Voice choir reached such prominence that they regularly appeared on BBC Radio in the 1920s. Recreational activities were encouraged by the ideology of self-improvement that partly responded to the growth of beer houses in the same period.


The First World War had an impact on the area in terms of increased demands for coal, timber and service recruitment. A home-produced supply of acetone, an explosives ingredient, was facilitated by the growth of the ‘Distillation Works’ that also distilled tar and other products from wood at Cannop crossroads. Forestry still plays a huge part in the economic life of the area. Light engineering companies produce high quality products. Tourism has grown rapidly in recent times and supports many local businesses. However, many residents now have to travel to Gloucester or Bristol for work.

The Forest responded to the call of duty in both World Wars not only in responding to the need for resources but also with its men and women going into the forces. The Pillowell recreational ground, and Parkend and Whitecroft Memorial Halls and other memorials are a testament to local casualties. The Second World War had a more significant cultural impact with the arrival of US servicemen, barracks and munitions stores mostly concentrated within the area of the plan. This saw many women marry service men from overseas, children come from London and also land army and other service personnel come from different parts of the UK and Europe.

Our area is still a vibrant and active part of the Forest, our six villages and hamlets are typical of the way settlements were allowed under ‘Forest Law.’ This NDP area includes habitation, land use, flora and fauna that still reflect the tradition and heritage of the Forest’s past and well as it’s present.  We are proud of our history and location and look forward look to help shape its future in a changing world with positivity and confidence. 



We are greatly indebted to the work of Roger Deeks for his original document and to Stephen Yates for his knowledge of the early history and boundaries.   We have to be grateful to their vast knowledge of the local area and its history.  This would have been far harder to write without this input