The Forest of Dean is renowned for its mining and industrial heritage and has been for many years. Although the nationalisation of the coal mining industry in 1946 prompted a decline in mining, independent freeminers are still permitted to mine in the area to this day and will be exempt from the ban on coal due to be introduced in 2023.
In this blog instalment, we want to tell you all about the Darkhill Ironworks. During your stay with us, speak to reception to get a copy of the Darkhill Walk route and map before heading out from the Tudor Farmhouse Hotel to explore the rich mining heritage (or download it here).
On the outskirts of Ellwood, just one and a half miles from the hotel you will find some terraces of stone walls which are all that remain of Darkhill Ironworks; the brickworks dating from around 1818; and the neighbouring Titanic Steelworks. It was here in the early 1800s that David and Robert Mushet, a father and son team, carried out experiments in iron and steel production. These experiments led to the development of the first steel railway rails, previously these had been made from iron.
After David Mushet retired, Robert focused more on steel production, specifically with steel alloys which gave the name Titanic Steelworks as he aspired to form a titanium and steel alloy. Eventually, though he invented R Mushet’s Special Steel or RMS. It was this invention that led to the eventual closure of the steelworks as Robert was persuaded by his business partner Samuel Osborn, that the future of steel production lay in Sheffield. In 1871 the Titanic Steelworks closed however some of the processes of manufacturing RMS were still carried out there to protect the secret to its production.
The works at this site ceased in 1874 when ownership of the land passed to the Severn & Wye Railway & Canal Company who used a small part of the land to run a track across. By 1960 the buildings had been demolished and the resulting rubble forms part of the hardcore used in the construction of the Severn Bridge.
Owned by the Forestry Commission, this raised area of land surrounds Clearwell Caves which has evidence of mines in the area dating back 7000 years. This area was prolific for iron ore and ochre mining, the latter of which can still be purchased directly from Clearwell Caves.
From this vantage point, you can also see the ancient woodland of Puzzlewood. Many people will recognise Puzzlewood from its many appearances in TV and film across the years. You can read more about that here.
Further along the Darkhill Walk, you will enter the village of Milkwall. It was here that a colour works, which processed and refined the ochre up until around 1940, was situated. The iron ore and ochre pigments mined in the Forest of Dean are of an exceptionally high quality and have been used for many hundreds of years, in fact, there is some unproven speculation that ochre from the Forest of Dean may have been used by Michelangelo when he painted the Sistine Chapel. This is unlikely to be proven either way, but it would be lovely if it were true.
The Darkhill Walk is a circular route of approximately four miles and will take you around one and a half to two and half hours to complete. Please bear in mind that there are some steep ascents, the fields may contain livestock, some of the route is along quiet lanes so you should be aware of traffic, and the route may be muddy or slippery in wet weather. Walking boots or strong shoes are recommended, and stick is always handy to keep brambles and thistles out of your way. Mobile phone coverage along the route can be very patchy. You should also make sure that you are dressed appropriately for the weather and have enough water and refreshments with you.
You will finish off your journey by arriving back in Clearwell and heading back to the hotel. Why not have a relaxing soak in the stunning bathroom in your room or enjoy a refreshing drink and food in our beautiful bar and restaurant afterwards?