Local History of English Bicknor

Modern history - annual straw figures appear outside Dryslade Farm

View across Bicknor from Symonds Yat Rock Lodge, Dec 2017

English Bicknor is a parish in Gloucestershire within the Forest of Dean district. A farming community of around 400, it also relies strongly on tourism and is in the glorious Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

There are scattered early finds from the English Bicknor area showing there was human activity throughout the prehistoric period (including scattered flints, roman pottery, and a perfect tanged and barbed arrowhead) and animal remains in the miles of caves below the village include auroch, beaver, hippo and mammoth.

And, of course, there is the Iron Age hill fort of Symonds Yat Rock - the best representation of this is the pottery sculpture at the entrance.

That Bicknor is probably an old English name meaning 'place on the hill' makes it likely there was a small Saxon village, and there would also have been scattered huts throughout the Forest.

English Bicknor Castle was built immediately after the Norman invasion. It is keep and bailey construction. The inner square keep is surrounded by an inner bailey, with four square towers; there is a larger outer bailey all surrounded by a moat. Only the mound and earthworks can be seen today, but a large square tower base was uncovered during works on the school in 2014. It is not known when the Castle went out of use, but by the mid 14th Century it seems to have been abandoned - perhaps as a result of the Black Death.

The lovely 12th Century Church of St Mary is within the Castle's outer bailey. This Grade 1 building has some later medieval additions and 19th Century reconstruction. There are Norman arches and carvings by the famous Hereford School.

In the 17th Century English Bicknor was the scene of major rioting against the enclosures. The land was mostly forest at this time. The people were not used to being ruled and resisted losing their homes and livelihoods (mostly as miners, tree cutters or quarrying) as they were pushed off the land. The leader 'Lady Skimmngton' (John Williams) was a Bicknor man.

1800s Bicknor had its own almshouse and workhouse and the village pretty much ran itself with locals volunteering to be responsible for roads, for example, and taking turn to act as parish constable. There were several pubs, including

-The Rock (previously The Cock)

-The Royal Oak (now Oak Cottage)

- The New Inn (so-called because we already had a pub, but now the only one)

- The Bear Inn (the site is now the Almshouses)

- The Pales

The village has several 'big houses' including

- Bicknor Court which originated as an early Medieval hall house. A famous inhabitant was Robert Kyrle, renowned for being a double turncoat during the Civil War.

- Bicknor Cottage, built around 1870

- Bicknor House

- Eastbach Court, long home to the Machens

- The Old Rectory

- The White House, a 1600s farmhouse almost untouched as it was tenanted

We are in an old mining area - for iron and coal. Hillersland Colliery was run by James Harper. Lime was also extracted, and our lime kilns survive near Bicknor Court.

The School was opened in 1834, the Village Hall in 1934.

The Village Hall

Until we had a hall the only meeting place was the School, which caused a lot of problems and interrupted lessons. In 1932 eighty-eight people attended a meeting and gave unanimous support for a village hall. Mr Machen stated that he would give the land for it and that they should aim for a hall at about £500.

Money raising included:

· Plays by the new dramatic society

· Dances and dancing lessons

· Whist drives

· A Christmas draw to guess the time on a sealed, stopped watch to win the timepiece

· Carol singing

· Sale of photos of the school play

· A band recital

· Two matches against English Bicknor Cricket Team (over 40s and ladies teams)

· A summer fete

· Rustic sports at Eastbach Court.

Collectors went house to house aiming for 3d per family per week. Grants came from the Community Council and the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust plus an interest-free loan. The committee between them then donated over a quarter of the money.

The site, part of Baynhams, was conveyed to the trustees. Harold Trew of Gloucester was appointed architect for a £40 fee. Jones Bros. of Christchurch built the hall for £577.14s.

On Friday 15 June 1934 Sir Russell Kerr of Newnham opened the hall.

Events in the first year included:

· A bazaar to raise hall funds

· Cricket team teas

· Summer dance

· Whist and bridge

· Badminton

· Social evenings with a one penny entry fee (cards, cribbage, skittles, billiards, newspapers etc)

· Dancing

· Weekly County Library service (Mrs Smith was in charge for 22 years)

· Ghost Train performed by Bicknor Dramatic Society

· Concerts

Mr Milton was caretaker from opening to 1955 (with a short gap).

Summer Fete 1938

The activities at the hall ran from 3pm to 2am and included:

· Bowling for a pig

· Trick cycling

· Hoppy horse

· Chinese clothes line

· Non-stop whist drive

· Evening dance

War Years

Black-out and petrol rationing made getting to events difficult. It became a requirement that village halls close by 11pm. For the war effort Air-Raid Precaution and First Aid classes were held; the Ladies Guild was formed to roll bandages and make hospital swabs; lectures were given for housewives on cooking under rationing. The Home Guard met three times a week from 1941. Troops (first the Pioneer Corp, then American troops) had Sunday evenings and club nights in the hall.

Youth clubs ran through the 1940s, 50s and 60s (originally separate boys and girls clubs).

In 1946 moving pictures began to be shown in the hall. The WI formed in 1947.

In 1965 the rest of Baynhams was acquired to provide the playing fields.

1975 saw the first Mothers and Toddlers Club.

In 1999 the luncheon club, which still runs today, was formed.

The Committee also ran flower shows, bonfire nights and organised village outings. The 1951 bonfire burned for three days.

Extension One

By 1953 it was already clear that the hall was not big enough to meet all the demands and a Building Fund was established to enlarge the hall. By 1981 £3,000 was in the Fund; with the addition of generous grants the extension was begun, to include bar, clubroom, skittle alley and facilities for the football team. Gas heating was installed.

Extension Two

In 2009 the hall was extended and refurbished to its current state. Disabled access was tackled, a high standard new kitchen built and new heating and broadband installed. Funding came from local fundraising, the Big Lottery Fund and many others.

It continues to be a vibrant hub of the community, and we can only apologise for missing out some of the many events and activities that have happened here.