Gloucester
Soudley
Gloucestershire GL14 2UA

 

 

Wikipedia tells us “Soudley is a small village to the west of Cinderford in the Forest of Dean, West Gloucestershire...”

Although this is correct, the reality is that when locals talk about “Soudley” they are referring to the whole valley and its two settlements, Upper and Lower Soudley.

Soudley is typical of many Forest valleys but much deeper and narrower than most. The fast-flowing Soudley Brook carved a deep, steep sided dale through ancient oak and beech woods as it rushed down from the plateau of the Forest of Dean to Blakeney.

In olden days, these fast-flowing streams were used to power waterwheels operating blast furnaces and corn mills. In the Soudley Valley, one such site (Camp Mill) has been restored as the Dean Heritage Centre (DHC). This is a wonderful place to visit to gain a true appreciation of the history of the Forest of Dean, its people and its industrial past.

Iron Forge 1612-1674
Between 1612 and 1674 it is believed there was an iron forge on the site of the DHC. During the same period, there was also an iron blast furnace higher up the Soudley valley. A number of iron forges and furnaces, including those at Soudley, were built at this time by order of King James I who controlled the mining rights in the Royal Forest of Dean. During the 17th century the Forest was the main iron-producing area in England.
 
At first, charcoal was used in bloomer furnaces to smelt the iron. Much better productivity could be achieved with Blast furnaces which were introduced at the end of the 16th century. Bellows were used to force a blast of air through the burning charcoal in the furnace waterwheels turned by the fast flowing streams powered the bellows.
 
The impure smelted iron was suitable for making cannon and shot. To produce the purer wrought iron, cast iron needed to be re-heated and hammered to remove the impurities. This was done in a forge. Again, fast-flowing water was needed to to drive the waterwheels which powered the bellows and hammers.
 
In 1674 a decree was issued by the King that all the furnaces and forges in the Forest of Dean, including the Soudley forge, should be demolished. This was because too many trees were being cut down to make charcoal needed for the iron industry.
 
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Iron Foundry 1823-1876
The 19th century was a time of great expansion for industries in the Forest of Dean, particularly coal and iron mining, and the railways. In 1823 Samuel Hewlett set up an iron foundry on the DHC site.
 
A dam was built across the Soudley brook to create a pond which would have been at the upper end of the present museum car park. A leat was built parallel to the brook to bring water to the foundry. This leat can still be seen and carries water to the museum’s waterwheel.
 
Opposite the Dean Heritage Centre is Morgan’s Pool – the lowest of a chain of four small lakes known as Soudley Ponds. These are Sites of Special Scientific Interest and popular walking spots. There is a road to the ponds from Upper Soudley, and a car park beside the top pond.
 
Because the valley is so deep and narrow, the road clings to the hillside as it winds its way up towards Cinderford. On the way, a road diverges to a superb viewpoint overlooking Newnham, at Blaize Bailey. From here there are magnificent views across the horseshoe bend of the River Severn. On a clear day it is possible to see the tower of Gloucester Cathedral.
 
The hub of valley life is the White Horse Inn at Upper Soudley. Locals meet at the pub to play skittles, pit their wits on Quiz Night, or just gossip and enjoy a quiet drink of Real Ale or traditional Scrumpy Cider. Homemade meals are served and their specialty is Sunday Roast.
 
The Soudley Valley is particularly beautiful in Spring when the woods are carpeted with bluebells, and Autumn when the trees and bracken are turning golden brown.
 
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Getting There
From the B4226 Cinderford to Coleford road, take the minor road through Ruspidge to Soudley (signposted to the Dean Heritage Centre).
 
Google Map - Soudley