The Forest of Dean Local History Society is pleased to announce that it has managed to obtain Grade II listing for 4 cast iron road markers in the local area. Five other similar road markers already enjoy the protection afforded by Grade II listing, and the new listings mean that all these nationally unique markers now enjoy protection under the Heritage England listing scheme.
The local road system we currently use essentially did not exist in the 19th century. Rough muddy tracks were the usual means of getting about, and the local population were getting increasingly agitated about them. The Local Government Act of 1888 placed responsibility for the maintenance of main roads in the hands of new County Councils, and more minor roads were, in 1894, passed to newly-created Rural District Councils. However, matters in the Forest of Dean were complicated by the fact that the land was largely owned by the Crown, and
administered by the Office of Woods, and thus fell outside the responsibility of the county council.
After much lobbying and several false starts, the Dean Forest Highways Bill was passed into law as the East and West Dean Highways Act in 1883, setting out that the Office of Woods would be responsible for creating or putting into a good state of repair roads in the Forest, which would then be maintained by the county. Work began on a programme of road creation and repair in 1884.
In the early 1890s a newly-appointed Commissioner of Woods and Forests, Edward Stafford Howard, and a new Deputy Surveyor of Dean Forest, Philip Baylis, managed to get Treasury funding for a renewed drive for more roads. In 1897, a fresh agreement for new roads in Cinderford, Blakeney, Lydbrook, Ruardean, Littledean and Joys Green was made, to be funded by the Office of Woods and subsequently maintained by the East Dean Rural District
Council. Similar agreements were made concerning roads between Lydney and Lydbrook, and at Ellwood. Work was carried out between 1897 and 1909.
On 10 April 1900, Philip Baylis, the Deputy Surveyor of Dean Forest, wrote to the Commissioner of Woods and
Forests, in a letter preserved in the Gloucestershire Archives, proposing the erection of the cast-iron road markers of which the example at Ellwood (see photograph) is one of a surviving group of nine. “I think it desirable that
there ought to be some permanent record placed on the side of the roads which area being made in the Forest at the expense of the Crown stating that the roads were so made… I would have a cast iron tablet placed at each side of the road with the following inscription on it.” He appended a sketch, showing the wording to be used, which set out the ‘act of grace’, as it was described in the Dean Forest Mercury, of the provision of the roads by the Crown.
Ten of the cast-iron tablets are known to have been erected on roads from the 1897 campaign; those roads which
had been finished before 1900 received their tablets retrospectively, and the others after they were completed. Nine of the ten tablets erected survive and all now enjoy the protection of Grade II listing.
The full story of the local road construction programmes undertaken by the Office of Woods in the 19th
and early 20th century is to be found in the latest edition of the FODLHS journal, “The New Regard”. Copies are available in local outlets or via the FODLHS web site (www.forestofdeanhistory.org.uk).
The photograph shows Forest of Dean Local History Society Chair, Simon Moore,
alongside the newly Grade II listed cast iron marker plate at Ellwood.