The easy access to the estuary increased Lydney’s importance as a trading centre and a harbour was built to transport iron and later coal from the forest. The harbour was the last port on the Severn where sea-going boats could unload. Where the River Lyd flows into the estuary is known as Lydney Pill. However, the silting up of the local river, the Lydney Pill, closed the old harbour and a new wharf had to be built. With the charcoal iron industry and coal production thriving and roads through the forest remaining poor, Pidcock’s canal was constructed from 1790 onwards, connecting Upper and Lower Forge at the head of Lydney Pill.
The current canal and basin complex was built by the Severn and Wye Railway and Canal Company between 1810 and 1813. A horse drawn tramway was laid, to move the coal and iron to the wharves after it was brought down from the pits and forges on the Pidcock’s Canal. The new dock on the estuary was started in 1809 and opened in 1813. The outer harbour was finally completed in 1821.
During the hey-day of the docks there was around 300,000 tons of coal being exported annually in over 2000 vessels. The final export of coal from the harbour was in 1960.
The harbour carried on working up to the 1970s by importing logs for the manufacture of plywood at the factory at Pine End and was finally closed in 1977. In 1985 the harbour from the swing bridge downstream was scheduled as an ‘Ancient Monument’, due to the historic importance as a transport link for the Forest of Dean to the Severn.
The swing bridge was designated a Grade II Listed Building in 1988 due to it being ‘a very good example of the direct and sturdy quality encountered in the functional tradition of quay-side design’.
As the last major alterations to the harbour were conducted during the 1870s, Lydney is a rare example of an unspoilt 19th century harbour, built to accommodate sailing ships so its historic importance is disproportionate to its size.
As part of the reconstruction process archaeologists recorded evidence of the docks’ historic use. The results of this work have provided an important insight into how the harbour functioned in the Nineteenth century.
The archaeological work has helped define the historic value of the surviving standing buildings on the site. Additional landscaping works have taken place to improve disabled access and address public safety issues.
On the 23 July 2005 the docks of Lydney were re-opended after the two year project to restore and enhance this historic landmark.
In 1998 the Lydney Docks Partnership was established to create a sustainable future for this Scheduled Ancient Monument.In 2003 they secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund £873,000 towards restoring the docks. This was supplemented by further funding from the Environment Agency, English Heritage, Gloucestershire County Council, Forest of Dean District Council and Lydney Town Council.
Since then the Environment Agency have undertaken extensive restoration and improvement works to the docks, which have been used by shipping for nearly 200 years. These include:
- Restoring and enhancing flood defences running along the side of the dock.
- The installation of four custom-made automated metal-gates and associated mechanisms, in the outer dock and inner harbour. These replaced the older, dilapidated hand-operated timber gates.
- Dredging of the dock and harbour to remove several tonnes of silt (and the odd wrecked car) which had accumulated over the years.
- Full refurbishment of dressed stonework on the walls and the floors of the docks.
- Improving access for all.
- Additional landscape works.
The docks are an important part of the Forest of Dean’s rich heritage and they are also significant to both the River Severn’s and Britain’s maritime tradition. Their restoration means that they will be both a living, working facility for local residents and visitors and hopefully a catalyst for future regeneration in Lydney.
An application to the Local Action Group for further investment of £250,000 to extend the Yacht Club and to provide a cafe and toilets was submitted early in 2011 but due to the impending sale of the Docks this application was not progressed at that time.
Check out the News page HERE for current progress