Parkend, Forest of Dean

Parkend had quite a concentration of tramways associated with local collieries and iron works as well as hosting the terminus of the Oakwood Tramway at Marsh Sidings. The extract from the 1880s OS Map shows them clearly.

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Prior to the construction of the Severn and Wye railway, the Oakwood Tramway connected directly to the Severn and Wye Tramway just to the south of the location of Parkend Station. Parkend dates back to the early 17th century. During the 19th century it was a busy industrial village with several coalmines, an ironworks, stoneworks, timber-yard and a tinplate works, but by the early 20th century most had succumbed to a loss of markets and the general industrial decline. Wikipedia records the history of Parkend as follows:

In 1278 the first record of a hunting enclosure called ‘Wistemede’ – later known as Whitemead Park has been found. The village’s location, at one end of this park, is how Parkend derived its name. In 1612 James I built a charcoal-fired blast furnace and forge at ‘Parke End’, bringing with it the first real settlement, however, ‘The King’s Ironworks’ proved horrendously inefficient and it closed in 1674. It would seem that occupation of the village then ceased until new dwellings appeared from 1747 onwards.

Part of the Fountain Inn dates back to 1767 and is the oldest surviving building in Parkend. The first record of a coal mine in Parkend dates back to 1718, although the remains of several bell pits, possibly dating back to the 1600s, are visible in the woods south-west of St Paul’s church.

With the advent of coke-fired furnaces, Parkend, and its many coal mines, was once again considered an ideal location for the production of iron. In 1799 a new ironworks was constructed near the site of the current post office. Initially it suffered from technical problems, but by the early/mid-1800s it had triggered a major industrialisation of the village.

The need for improved transport links was instrumental in the construction of a horse-drawn tramroad by the Severn & Wye Railway Co in 1810, connecting the village with the docks at Lydney. Demand for coal at the ironworks also lead to the appearance of several large coal mines in the village during the early 1800s, the most notable being ‘Castlemain’.

In 1818/9 another ironworks was also built at Darkhill, just to the west of Parkend, and in 1845 Robert Forester Mushet took over management of the site. One of his greatest achievements was to perfect the Bessemer Process by discovering the solution to early quality problems which beset the process. In a second key advance in metallurgy Mushet invented ‘R Mushet’s Special Steel'(R.M.S.) in 1868. It was both the first true tool steel and the first air-hardening steel. It revolutionised the design of machine tools and the progress of industrial metalworking, and was the forerunner of High speed steel. The remains of Darkhill are now preserved as an Industrial Archaeological Site of International Importance and are open to the public.

In 1825, the lower pond at Cannop and a 1½ mile leat were constructed to provide a constant supply of water to a waterwheel at Parkend Ironworks. Despite the enormous effort expended in creating this supply, it proved inadequate and an engine house and steam engine were added in 1828. A second pond at Cannop was also constructed a year later.
The school and St Paul’s church were built in 1822 and Henry Poole, who had designed both, became Parkend’s first vicar. He moved into the new vicarage in 1829, but the school developed structural problems and was rebuilt, on the same site, in 1845.

A stone works opened in 1850 and a tinplate works was constructed in 1853. It stood to the left of the ironworks, and further along was built a row of terraced houses, known as ‘The Square’, which were used to accommodate the workers there.

In 1864 the Severn and Wye Railway Company began operating steam locomotives on the existing tramway. This proved to be unsatisfactory and 1868 the company also added a broad-gauge steam railway line, but both were removed and replaced with standard gauge tracks by 1874. At around the same time, a loading wharf, known as Marsh Sidings, was constructed and Parkend railway station opened in 1875, allowing the company to also operate passenger trains alongside its freight operations.

Parkend Ironworks

In 1871 a third furnace was added at Parkend Ironworks, but the optimism behind this investment was to be short-lived. During the mid-1870s, industry in the Forest, and across the country as a whole, quickly began to slide into a deep recession. Parkend Tinplate Works, and the ironworks that had dominated the village for 90 years, succumbed to a loss of markets and both closed in 1877. Just a few years before, these two businesses alone had been employing 500 people between them, but even this was overshadowed by the closure of the Parkend coal pits in 1880, which went into voluntary liquidation with the loss of 700 jobs.

By the mid-1880s, the industrial decline that had gripped the Forest was beginning to ease. The mines, which had closed in 1880, reopened in 1885 and by the 1890s they were prospering once again. The ironworks did not re-open and were demolished by 1909, although the imposing engine-house survived to become the country’s first Forester Training School in 1910.

photos from St Marys Sept 05 012

The 1920s proved to be another difficult period for the residents of Parkend. The high demand for coal, that had been created by the First World War, was followed by a slump and industrial unrest. Matters were made worse as the local mines were now finding it difficult to access coal easily, and some had been worked out completely. There were major strikes in 1921 and 1926, and all the village mines, except New Fancy, finally closed for the last time in 1929. There was a considerable knock-on effect for other industries too and the railway closed to passengers in the same year. Parkend stone works closed in 1932, marking the end of heavy industry in the village.

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References

1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkend
2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkend_Ironworks

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