Ralph Anstis – Warren James and the Dean Forest Riots

The Disturbances of 1831


The full story of the riots in the Forest of Dean in 1831, and how they were suppressed, is told here for the first time.

The book also gives the background to the riots; it discusses the simple lives of the foresters before the arrival in Dean of the Industrial Revolution, and how they lived in the Forest, pasturing their animals there and using it as if it was their own. It also describes the ancient way the free miners used to mine their iron and coal and how they regulated their mining activities through their Mine Law Court.

It sets out the two main causes of the riots: the determination of the government to enclose large areas of the Forest for growing timber, thus restricting the foresters’ access; and the influx of ‘foreigners’ eager to exploit not only the Forest’s coal and iron resources but also the foresters themselves.

Dominating the story is the enigmatic character of Warren James, the self-educated free miner who led the foresters in their attempt to stave off their increasing poverty and unemployment, and to protect their traditional way life from the threats of advancing industrial change. The tragic account of his unfair trial, his transportation to a convict settlement in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), his reprieve for political reasons, and his death far from the Forest is set against the background of the sordid and heartless times in which he lived.


Part 1 • The Background
1 Dean and the foresters
2 Riots and disturbances in the 17th century
3 The Forest goes to ‘wreck and ruin’
4 Warren James
5 History of the free miners
6 Edward Machen and the reorganisation of the Forest
7 The tramroads come to the Forest
8 Warren James grows up: the foreigners in Dean
9 Growing unrest
10 Warren James gets involved
11 The Treasury attacks free miners’ rights

Part 2 • The Riots
12 Prelude to the riots
13 The foresters rise
14 ‘Law is at an end in the Forest’
15 Collapse of the riots
16 Principal rioters in gaol
17 Causes analysed

Part 3 • The Trials
18 Preliminaries
19 Trial of Warren James
20 Other Foresters tried
21 Examination of sentences

Part 4 • The Aftermath
22 Transportation for life
23 The hulks
24 The transportation system
25 Van Diemen’s Land, and the voyage out
26 Warren James in exile
27 A Commission looks into matters
28 Warren James’s pardon and death
29 Epilogue

Appendix 1 — The Free Miners After 1838
Appendix 2 — Family Tree of the James Family

Ralph Anstis was a Londoner who moved to Coleford permanently in 1984 after his retirement from the Civil Service. Over the course of some 20 years, with his beloved wife Bess at his side, he immersed himself in the local history of the Forest of Dean and became a respected author of non fiction and fiction.