Thursday, 24 June 2010

Coal Mining in the Forest of Dean

By: Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett
Recorded for BBC Radio Gloucestershire:

Visiting the Forest of Dean for many people, means either forest walks, some cycling, bird watching or generally enjoying the areas of outstanding natural beauty.

However, deep underground in among the sandstone rocks are seams of coal which were laid down long before the last ice age. During the boom years of, the Industrial Revolution, the 19th and early 20th century this fossil fuel was needed to power the country. Thousands of Foresters, went underground to work in the harshest of conditions to dig out the coal.

Today, very little remains of the numerous collieries and transport systems that had developed in the Forest around 200 years ago. So, to discover more of the Forest’s industrial past I visited Robin Morgan, a free miner, who’s still digging out tons of coal from seams deep down in the Hopewell colliery. Robin, in his spare time has developed an old mine, laid paths, put in hand rails to comply with safety regulations, so that visitors can go underground to see the mining heritage and hear about the way of life of those involved in the coal industry.

Wearing a miner’s hat with a lamp on the front, I followed Robin into the cave. It took a while for my eyes to get used to the dark. As we walked down the paths and into the mine proper, Robin told me that in the early days we would have used candles to light our way. As we needed both our hands we would have had a candle holder called a Nellie, held between our teeth! (Thank goodness for batteries these days!). Fortunately there’s no explosive gas in the Forest pits, so naked flames weren’t a danger. Robin showed me the layers of rock and a seam of coal and explained how it was formed around 300 million years ago. I saw an area that a man would have had to lain on his side and holding a pick in both hands hack away to get the lumps of black coal.

In the early days, boys would have learnt to become colliers starting by dragging coal tubs out of the mines crawling on their hands and knees. The rock would have made their knees raw and the ropes would have dug into the shoulders and caused deep wounds.

Robin showed me some horse shoes that had been found in the mine and told me that a miner’s act in the middle of the 1800’s prohibited women from hauling coal in pits and gradually ponies took over the work. I heard about the ponies and how well they were cared for, becoming very close to the keepers that looked after them. Some of the ponies that worked in the deep mines, lived underground permanently, but at Hopewell they had outdoor stables, now hidden by the undergrowth. Horse drawn tram roads were built to Lydney docks and Bullo Pill so that the coal could be taken down to the river and across to Gloucester and Cheltenham.

Finally, we came out of the blackness of the mine at the far end. Walking out into the bright sunshine we were surrounded by lush green undergrowth. The scars on the landscape of all the mine workings now mostly disappeared. I’d had a fascinating insight into the industrial era of the forest over sixty years ago when ten thousand miners laboured in tunnels under the area I’d travelled over, extracting the black gold on which we had all depended.

If you want to go and visit the mine, Robin is still a full time miner but he does like to show people around. It’s a good idea to ring up and make an appointment and the phone number of the colliery is 01594 810706.

For guided group coach tours of the Forest of Dean - email:

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Westbury Court Gardens, Gloucestershire

 Westbury Court Gardens, Gloucestershire
Recorded for BBC Radio Gloucestershire - Tom Lowe's Saturday Breakfast Show
Westbury Court Garden is a rare survival of a Dutch Water Garden, a style of garden that became fashionable for the well-to-do during the reign of King William III (1650 - 1702)
A group of Cheltenham Wives organised an outing to Westbury-on-Severn to see the gardens. We were shown around by the enthusiastic head gardener who told us about the manor houses that were alongside the gardens here - sadly none of them survive.
By 1959 a developer had bought the estate, intending to fill in the canals, demolish the gardens and build 10 houses on the site. Fortunately the local council intervened. They purchased the garden and gave it to the care and protection of the National Trust in 1967. This became the Trust's first garden restoration, and they set about re establishing the planting schemes that would have been right for a 17th century Dutch style garden.
My photograph shows the view looking north from the tall pavilion. The pavilion had got so dilapidated that the National Trust had to demolish and rebuild it using the evidence of the foundations, and the picture of it in a Johannes Kip's engraving.
Although the pavilion was expensive to rebuild. It greatly enhances the garden, as the canal and geometric shapes of the hedging are best seen from above.
June and early July are probably the best times to visit the garden as they have the largest tulip tree in the country and it was starting to flower, so the head gardener took us across to see it. Nearby we saw an ancient holm oak tree planted in the 17th century and the largest on record.
Westbury is 9 miles south west of Gloucester on the A48
For group guided coach tours email: or for general excursions contact Marchants coaches on 01242 257714

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

A chat with a Free Miner in the Forest of Dean

By: Anne Bartlett the Gloucestershire Tour Guide
Today I was delighted to meet Forest of Dean Free Miner and tremendous character - Dave Harvey. Here he is standing beside a chainsaw sculpture that depicts a catastrophic event in his life:

Dave was working in the Northern United Colliery, deep below ground when the mine roof caved in, trapping his legs - as you see in the picture. He was rescued from the collapsing tunnel by fellow miner Phil Bennett who grabbed Dave under the arms and pulled him away from danger.

The chainsaw sculpture can be seen at the Dean Heritage centre, Camp Mill, Soudley, Glos. I can't guarantee that Dave will be standing alongside it, but his poem "Big Phil Bennett" who saved his life, is printed on a board to the side of the sculpture. Its a very moving tribute to a very brave man.

The museum sells a CD of Dave's songs and poetry.

For guided group coach tours of the Forest of Dean email

Saturday, 12 June 2010

A Group Visit to Broadway and the Arts Festival

By Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett

A picture of a group from Hampshire that I was guiding around the Cotswolds yesterday, getting back on the coach after an enjoyable visit to the village of Broadway.

We had stopped for some sightseeing, some refreshments and a look around the village Arts Festival. Some people enjoyed the art exhibitions and others were wowed by the flower displays in the church.

Broadway Arts Festival is on all next week until Sunday 20th June 2010 to celebrate the work of John Singer Sergent RA (1856 - 1925) and the Broadway Colony.

For guided group coach tours of The Romantic Road around the Cotswolds to include Broadway email:

A visit to Chavenage House, Gloucestershire

By Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett
See TV and Film Location Guide

The other day I took a specialist group from Bedfordshire on a private tour of Chavenage Manor nr Tetbury. Its an impressive Elizabethan house which is over 430 years old and is still in private ownership. It’s a great privilege to be able to have a look around this historic house and it’s particularly special because it has been a location for a number of films and TV programmes including
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Lark Rise to Candleford
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
In Love with Barbara
And A Curious House Guest
To name just some.

All sorts of historic events have taken place here and there are numerous stories to be told.

During the Civil War 1641 – 1645 the then owner of Chavenage, Nathaniel Stevens, was a supporter of the Parliamentarian cause and was reluctantly persuaded by Oliver Cromwell’s son-in-law to add his signature to King Charles 1sts death warrant.

When Nathaniel’s daughter Abigail returned home a few days later and heard what had taken place in her absence, she was horrified at what her father had done. Completely overcome with anger she laid a terrible curse on her father for bringing the family home into such disrepute.

This curse has given rise to a famous ghost story:-

Following the curse, Nathaniel Stephens became very seriously ill and died. On the day of his funeral, everyone had gathered at the house to pay their last respects.

A horse drawn hearse arrived to collect the coffin and pulled up in the driveway. The driver of the hearse looked very strange and appeared to have no head. Then a very odd thing happened. The body of Nathaniel Stephens rose from the coffin and floated over to the hearse. As Nathaniel’s body entered the hearse it bent low in deference to the driver. As the hearse drove away, the strange headless driver turned into the murdered King Charles 1.

There are a lot more stories to be heard on a tour of Chavenage and a visit to Cromwells room will reveal a lot more unexpected tales.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Recognition for Tourism Excellence

By Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett

Tour and Explore along with four other businesses in Gloucestershire has been awarded the internationally recognised "Committed to Excellence" standard from the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM).

In total thirty-three businesses from all over the South West took part in the scheme which lasted for six months. All the businesses identified three improvement projects in a process designed to help them develop a clear vision and gain skills for future business development.

The five businesses from Gloucestershire were:

Anne Bartlett - Tour and Explore
Bairbre Lloyd - Gloucester Cathedral
Colin Badstock - Ramada Bowden Hall Hotel, Gloucester
Jon and Justin Taylor - STITA/Pathfinder
Richard Clements - English Holiday Cruises

The Tourism Skills Network South West in partnership with British Quality Foundation (BQF) and the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM), offered the Tourism Business Excellence Programme for a pilot year. This is the first time the EFQM model has been provided in this way for tourism businesses in the U.K.

The programme was made up of a number of different elements designed to support the businesses to achieve the "Committed to Excellence" EFQM standard, which is internationally recognised. The different elements included three Tourism Business Excellence workshops, four half-day Lightbulb Masterclasses, an organisational self-assessment, and three business improvement projects amongst others.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

A visit to Beachley, Gloucestershire

By Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett

The other day I visited a place right on the south west corner of Gloucestershire that I hadn’t seen for over 50 years.

Many, many years ago as a family, we used to drive to Beachley to catch the car ferry across the wide stretch of the River Severn to Aust near Bristol to save us a 60 mile journey up to Gloucester and down the other side. So, it was a trip back to see if much had changed.

I stood on the jetty and remembered the shear terror of a child as we drove in our car slowly down the slipway. The slipway’s not very wide and we had to make a sharp right hand turn (there was no power steering in those days) We had to drive onto a metal gangway, on onto the ferry, which was moored up, but moving up and down on the waves. We had to drive onto the ferry, then onto a turntable which was pulled round manually by the crew for the car to be pointing in the right direction for parking. And the the crew were continually barking out orders as they had to cram about 19 cars onto the ferry and they were banging on the bonnets of cars saying go over, now back into there…When the ferry was full we’d cross the dangerous fast flowing river to the other side. It took about 15 minutes. Then we’d moored up on the other side and go through the process again – barked orders, onto turntable, gangway, sharp right hand turn, up the slipway and away passing the queue of cars waiting to get onto the ferry to cross to the place we’d just come from.

In 1966 the first Severn Bridge was opened.

Its an interesting place with a car park with views across towards Oldbury. It’s a chance to admire the construction of the bridge which is in fact 2 bridges. The main section spans the Severn Estuary whilst the second smaller section spans the River Wye.

Does anyone else remember the Ferry crossing?