St. Briavels (pronounced Brevels) is a medium sized village and civil parish in the Forest of Dean District of west Gloucestershire, England; close to the England-Wales border, and 5 miles (8 km) south of Coleford. It stands almost 800 feet (240 m) above sea level on the edge of a limestone plateau above the valley of the River Wye, above an ancient meander of the river. To the west, Cinder Hill drops off sharply into the valley.
The village, once known as 'Ledenia Parva' (Little Lydney), is sheltered behind the crumbling walls of its 12th century moated Norman castle, which was garrisoned by Miles of Gloucester, 1st Earl of Hereford for King Henry I as early as 1130. The castle was later granted to him with the Forest of Dean in July 1141 when he was made Earl of Hereford.
In the Middle Ages, local miners were highly valued for their digging skills during military campaigns. It is said that, after a particularly successful job undermining the foundations of Berwick Castle at Berwick-upon-Tweed, King Edward I granted 'Free-Mining' status to all Forest of Dean coal and ore miners. This authority gave Freeminers the right to dig for minerals anywhere in the Forest of Dean except beneath churchyards, orchards and gardens. To be a Freeminer, an individual has to be "born and abiding within the 'Hundred of St Briavels', of the age of 21 and upwards who shall have worked for a year and a day in a coal or iron ore mine or stone quarry within the Hundred".
From the 15th to the 18th century open cast stone mining was prevalent in the woods to the west of the village. Many millstones used in the mills and cider presses of the time were quarried in the Hudnalls [hills of the area] and rolled down the hillside to be transported away by barges on the River Wye. Between the 16th century and 18th century timber from the Forest was heavily relied upon for the construction of ships - and almost became exhausted, supplying to the demands of Drake, Raleigh and Nelson.
A Forester, is a resident natural of the Forest of Dean, born within the ancient administrative area of the Hundred of St Briavels. There are still several traditional Forester families living and working in the area keeping the ancient traditions and rights alive.
Freemining, free roaming sheep grazed on common land, and grazing of pigs in the Forest, are rights and responsibilities extended to the people of St Briavels that are still exercised today, although more so elsewhere in the Forest of Dean.
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