There's Nothing Like Education.
The Old Men's Legacy
Records of the United Forest of Dean School Board in 1876 revealed that several sites for the new school for Cinderford had been looked at. Their chosen option was for the "poor Crown land at Bilson Green", most likely because of its cheapness - "thirty shillings a perch" - (160 perches = 1 acre)
Any one of the scores of old miners living in their insanitary cottages spread around the Green could have told these astute gentlemen that the area was riddled with old surface workings where their fathers and grandfathers had followed the shallow coal seams into the hillsides abandoning these little levels and bell pits when water became a problem. Never-the-less, the old school reached its century with no undue anxiety. An odd depression or so in the playing field appeared not to worry the powers-that-be who decreed that "a new school was still years away." The main building was re-roofed in 1989 - and Shire Hall maintained that the depressions "ruled out the possibility of any near-surface voids or mine-shafts in these areas."
A year later the County Education Committee "had a systematic plan for the refurbishment of the school and this was still in progress."
An environmental garden area was created, with pond, flowering shrubs, "butterfly" plants, weather vanes bird boxes, sundial and seating. A sad sign of the times perhaps, that children who lived surrounded by the trees of the Forest could no longer safely run wild and learn their natural history in its true context as our early scholars had been able to.
In late 1994 extensive cracks began to appear in plaster and brickwork and the alarm bells began to ring. The ancient outside toilet block was, at long last, demolished, and all classrooms had toilets provided indoors with washbasins included. Re-decoration continued as the school was gradually brought up to current expectations, even though the Governors were still expressing their disquiet at the state of the buildings. Drilling rigs were brought in to search for the old culvert which had collapsed in the late seventies. Geological consultants arrived to explore the depression in the field and the local press got in on the act together with TV. newshounds. Was the school really sinking into the depths ??
Endless discussions ensued about Bilson's future. Eventually in 1995 the experts published their findings. The school had been built on shallow foundations, probably over mine spoil. The old culvert which had been built by unemployed miners in the 1920's had, yet again, collapsed and ground water was running through this loose material. The green fields on the hill slopes above the town which had once absorbed this rainfall had long since been built over and now presented an impervious slope of slate roofs and tarmac roads. The bore-holes confirmed the presence of old mine workings under the site at many levels - the legacy of our great-grandfathers. An ironic outcome for the building which arose in 1877 with such high hopes for the education of their children.
Faced with such unpalatable evidence the Governors were presented with three options. They could make the old building safe - or even re-develop the site with a new school built on more secure foundations. Or they could build a new school on the Latimer site, which, incidentally had always been planned. And this of course was the final decision. Bilson and Latimer would both lose their identity and a new combined Primary School would arise at the Latimer site on the hillside above the town, very near to the ancient footway which once brought the miners from their scattered cottages at Collafield and Greenbottom to their little pits in the valley. The wheel had turned full circle.