Gales and galees: gales are sub-surface land areas, within the Forest of Dean and Hundred of St Briavels, that are subject to the rights of Freeminers and can be worked for the specified mineral. By arrangement with the Deputy Gaveller, other minerals subsequently found in the gale may be mined, at an improved royalty to the Crown. The Deputy Gaveller holds maps and plans of all gales and is responsible for their administration, including application of legal duties, the rules and regulations made in the Award of mines 1841 and particularly the collection of dead rents or royalties.
A gale can be obtained by a non Freeminer, through a Freeminer selling or gifting the gale to them. A galee holds the property in fee simple and operates it under the Dean Forest Mines Act. A galee is therefore practicing Freemining, whether a registered Freeminer or not.
The Coal Act 1938 and Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946 gave specific exemption for this unique local privilege to continue intact. 52 mainly large colliery gales, were subsequently purchased by the National Coal Board (NCB) who became galees.
After Coal Nationalisation in 1947, small Freemines continued to operate alongside the NCB, some obtained 36(2a) licenses to work outcrop NCB owned coal, or holding an NCB 'bare licence' having no cost or conditions attached, so they could register with the NCB, to be able to sell lump coal through NCB collieries, or small coal to powerstations. Some Freemines worked without requiring a license as they only sold to the local market.
As the larger deep mines closed, many ex-NCB colliers took up their right to register as a Freeminer, obtaining their own gales, to continue mining.
More recently, with the passing of the Coal Industry Act 1994, legislation changed in relation to licensing in the Forest of Dean coal field, there have been many discussions about how licensing under the Act should apply. There is now a special licence issued for coal gales, under Part II of the 1994 Act for the Forest of Dean and exception was made in conjunction with the Forestry Commission, as to how the licensing applies.
Part 40 of the 1994 Act adds:
40 (4) Nothing in section 38 above shall confer any entitlement to withdraw support in connection with the working of any coal or coal mines comprised in land in the Forest of Dean or any other part of the area of what was the Hundred of Saint Briavels in the county of Gloucester, being land in respect of which the privileges of free miners are exercisable.
To become a Freeminer today.
A miner must be born and living within the Hundred of St Briavels, be over 21 years old and to have worked for at least a year and a day in a mine within the Hundred of St Briavels. Today the Hundred of St. Briavels includes the statutory Forest of Dean and every parish touching the Forest border.
Once a person matches the correct qualifications, they can apply to be registered in the Freeminers registration book, held by the Deputy Gaveller. There are over 4,300 Freeminers registered since the 1840’s. Once registered, a Freeminer can claim gales from the Crown (if not already being worked) and can make applications for other gales that become available. When granted, the miner becomes the owner of that underground area (gale) in fee simple and can work the minerals defined in it. A royalty is paid to the Crown annually for each ton of mineral raised, otherwise a minimum ‘dead rent’ or "composition" is paid if the gale is less productive, or idle. The ‘dead rent’ or ‘composition’ is equivalent to a royalty on an agreed minimum tonnage output (since 1838, this was in lieu of the Crown's right to put in the 'fifth man' and take a profit share from the mine - known as the 'King's Man or Fifth Man' traditionally there were usually four partners in a mine).
Freemines are found working full time, part time, evenings, or just a day on the weekend. Mines may offer full time incomes, they can be a useful supplement to the household income, or can be a personal interest. There is great satisfaction and a sense of achievement, working for yourself or in a small group, solving challenges (often in an individualistic way) making every day different. Trainees absorb the tradition through working alongside experienced Freeminers. Although offering hard work, with on the job training, it is a satisfying experience.
The Freeminers' Association are working with the Forestry Commission, through the Forester's Forest, to offer statutory training and ensure Freemining remains a living tradition and unique part of the Forest of Dean.