Rosemary and Rue.
Recollections of a Forest of Dean Childhood
The Old Homesteads
"Houses are built to live in and not to look on; therefore let use be preferred before uniformity, except where both may be had." - Francis Bacon.
Then Grancher Joseph moved into Webley's Row he was quite probably moving to cottages which were built by a collier and had been lived in by colliers.
The advent of powerful Cornish beam engines had led to a rapid devel-opment in the deep coal seams and by the middle of the nineteenth century the mining industry was well established. Colliers and their families quickly moved into the area from surrounding villages and the untidy sprawl which was to become our town really began. Fortunately we were spared the monotonous rows of colliery houses which characterised the Welsh coalfields. The fiercely independent Forester had always liked to be his own man and it was customary, even then, for one collier - perhaps a little more affluent than most - to build a row of four or five cottages - one to live in himself and the others to let for a couple of shillings a week.
We never knew who the Webley was who built Grancher's row but it does seem probable that the top house was originally a single dwelling, so perhaps he was a past miner exercising his privilege as a squatter. The staircase in this house was of stone, whereas the other cottages all had the narrow wooden stairs of the period. There were other signs - roughly plastered walls in the bedrooms and uneven flagstones in the downstairs rooms.
Such rows of cottages were scattered haphazardly all over the Green and a web of little lanes and tracks ran amongst them. Webley's Row occupied a corner site with the five green-painted front doors opening directly on to the lane on one side and a sturdy stone wall enclosing the long gardens on the other. The open Green ran all the way down to the valley bottom, peopled with sheep and horses, geese and hens, and even a pig or two on occasions.
One or two big open ditches drained the hillside up which the town straggled, carrying unmentionable debris into the brook which snaked its way down the valley below. From the gardens, smoke could be seen rising from the chimney stacks of at least five pits, as well as the Ironworks, the Gasworks, and the Foundry which gave Grancher's lane its name; smoke which often hung in the valley, obscuring the setting sun in a grey miasma, with the sulphurous smell of Crump Meadow tip mingling with the smoke.
The green front doors, which opened directly into the front rooms, were kept firmly closed most of the time. Two paths, one at the top and one at the bottom of the row, provided access to the back doors, winding their -way through sheds, wash houses and privvies. Grancher had bricked in the path to Top house and roofed it in with a lean-to corrugated roof, thus providing himself with yet another handy shed. Here he kept his ladders, his store of winter potatoes, "sharps" for the pig and fowls, the chimney sweeping brushes, wood, coal, sundry chests and boxes and all the mess of his hoard of treasures. It was his cache and his workshop, his Aladdin's cave of bits and pieces which would one day "come in handy".