Oral History

Forester’s Forest

The Dean Heritage Centre Oral History project is part of the NLHF funded Foresters’ Forest Landscape Partnership Programme formed from an association of local organisations and community groups within the Forest of Dean. The aim is to raise awareness and participation in the built, natural and cultural heritage of the Forest. This 5 year project runs until March 2022.

DHC Oral History Project

The Forest Oral Histories project is to digitise and catalogue our unique collection of around 170 audio cassette tapes from the 1980s to 2000s. Digitising them will not only preserve the audio recordings but also enable access to a wide range of people. The recordings are interviews of Foresters talking about various aspects of their lives in the Forest of Dean.  They are fascinating to listen to and reveal what life was like in the Forest fifty to a hundred years ago. People talk about their experiences in mining, forestry, various industries, childhood, schools, growing up, shopping, towns and villages, Forest dialect and much more.

The collection was begun by Elsie Olivey, a founder of Dean Heritage Museum, who could see Forest life rapidly changing and decided to preserve people’s memories by recording them. In an interview on Radio Severn Sound in 1984 Elsie describes why she is doing the interviews:

‘We go out and talk to old people in the Forest. We are trying to get the old ones first because that’s the generation that is fast disappearing. We talk to….men …on mining…and women …domestic service… ….things on tape you get never read in the history books because you are getting the thoughts of the people themselves’.

Collections Officer Nicola Wynn  ‘Much has been written about the history of the Forest of Dean, but the recorded interviews further enrich this history by recording the unique personal experiences and memories of people. They really bring history to life and allow us to connect with people’s lives. The recordings reveal the heart and soul of daily life and are by turns fascinating, poignant and moving.’

We are collaborating with project partners Voices from the Forest who have recently recorded interviews of people taking a biographical, life story approach to discover the occupational histories of men and women in the Forest of Dean in the last half of the twentieth century. These recordings have been added to the DHC Oral history archive. We have also collaborated with the Forest Dialect project which looks at the development and distinctiveness of the Forest dialect. This project is partially based on DHC oral history recordings.


Voices from the Forest website:


Forest Dialect website:




Much work has been carried out by volunteers Pat Lacy, Roger Thorne, Alice Paddock, Sue Pawling, Christian Horton, Owen Adams and Lauren Wynn. We would like to thank them for all their time and efforts, without them this project would not have been able to happen.


The legacy of this project will be an oral history archive of nearly 200 recordings spanning the 20th century. An important social history archive for the Forest which will be a valuable resource to historians and people interested in Forest history. Look out on our website, Facebook page and newsletters for further updates and events.

Help wanted

Dean Heritage Centre is trying to contact interviewers,  interviewees and their relatives to ask their permission to use the recordings. We would like to collect more information about the people interviewed. We would greatly appreciate help from the public in tracing the relatives of the people interviewed. We have created a list of names and further information which can be viewed on our website. Please have a look and if you are a relative or friend or you have any information for us please contact us.


The interviews cover a wide variety of topics:


Industry & Work - Coal mining (free mines & large collieries), saw mills, iron mining, brickworks, nail making, tin plate, transport, farming, forestry, fishing, haulage, teaching, armed services, Rank Xerox

Home & family life – cottages, furnishings, washing, bathing, toilets, gardening, clothing, lighting, cooking, keeping animals

Towns & villages – descriptions, shops, events, cinema

School – various school experiences, teachers, walking to school, games played

Domestic service – experiences in what was the most common work by women

Religion – church, chapel, Sunday school, Temperence, outings & treats

War – both WW1 & WW2, life in armed services and on the home front, Americans in the Forest

Poverty & hard times – living through 1920s, 1930s and war years, living with little money

Strikes/Unions  – General strike of 1926, lockout 1921, Speech House demonstrations

Sheep –some miners running sheep

Health – before the welfare state, doctors, the Dilke hospital, home remedies, illnesses & accidents

Dialect – many examples of strong Forest dialect

Leisure/culture – choirs, cinema, songs, sport, fairs, days out, walks, social gatherings, events

Camp Mill (now Dean Heritage Centre) – saw mill, people living in cottages, children playing

Migration – moving in or out of the Forest for work

Miscellaneous – gypsies, old customs, humour, courtship


Accessing the recordings

Full recordings – can be accessed by visiting DHC

DHC database - this searchable database holding all catalogued records is available at DHC

Please contact the Collections Officer to make an appointment to visit DHC


Fact sheets  are provided below:

Dean Heritage Centre Oral History Project

Click here for information sheet describing the project

Batch 1

This is the Elsie Olivey collection, the original collection and the oldest recordings. The interviews were carried out in the early 1980s with people who grew up in the 1900s to the 1930s. A rich source of information and interest for early 20th century life in the Forest. Includes many detailed recollections of mining.

Click here for Batch 1 list of interviewees, occupations and content

Batch 2

12 recordings of interviews arranged by Elsie Olivey through The Forge Centre for Visual Impairment in Cinderford in 1999/2000 plus various other recordings of interviews from the 1990s up to 2000. Also includes the song The Jovial Forester, Forest choirs and radio programmes on free miners and fishing on the Severn.

Click here for Batch 2 list of interviewees, occupations and content

Batch 3

Various interviews recorded in the early 2000s. Interviews of Foresters from early to mid-1900s. Includes several interviews with local farmer Eric Freeman.

Click here for Batch 3 list of interviewees, occupations and content

Batch 4

Various interviews from the early 2000s. A diverse range of recordings of people's experiences living in the Forest 1920s - 2000s.

Click here for Batch 4 list of interviewees, occupations and content

Excerpts – all less than 5 mins
These recordings are under copyright. For information about permissions of use please contact the Collections Officer details below.

Click below to listen to 1997.36.1 William Bowdler talking about Camp Mill at Soudley
William Bowdler was from Soudley. He worked at Eastern United colliery in the 1910s then went on to work for Gloucester Aircraft Company.

Click below to listen to 1997.36.5  Tom Gibbs talking about how he went from school to university
Tom Gibbs, born 1900, grew up in Ruardean and Plump Hill in the early 1900s. He became a teacher at Double View, Plump Hill, Abenhall & Steam Mills Schools.

Click below to listen to 1997.36.8 Amy Adams introducing herself as born in a mining family in the Forest.
Amy Adams, born 1891, grew up on Ruardean Hill. She trained as a seamstress and worked all her life.

Click below to listen to 1997.36.11B Mary Hale talking about how they used to feed themselves with their garden and a pig.
Mary Hale, born 1895, grew up on the Gloucestershire/Herefordshire border moving to Ruardean when she married. Mary had various jobs throughout her life, supporting her family of 12 children.

Click below to listen to 1997.36.24 Harry Barton talking about men digging coal during the 1926 Miner’s strike.
Harry Barton, born 1898, grew up In Cinderford. He worked as a miner in local collieries as well as serving in WW1.

Happy is the Eye Film

As part of the Forest Oral Histories project, Dean Heritage Centre commissioned artist & documentary filmmaker Ryan Powell to create a film on the Forest of Dean drawn from our recordings. 

The film uses recordings and photographs sourced from the Dean Heritage Centres archive and the Voices from the Forest project, to build up an image of life in the Forest of Dean during the 20th century, with a focus on ways that people directly interacted with the natural landscape as part of their way of life.  Almost every scene in the film is in fact made up of several shots that have been blended together to create a new image.

The film will be showing in the Dennis Potter room on the top floor along with explanative text. The film lasts for about half an hour and Ryan has done a tremendous job of capturing so much of the beauty, landscape and Foresters’ memories of the Forest. Come and have a look!

The film can also be viewed online, please follow this link:



Frequently Asked Questions

Q. I recognise one of the interviewees. Can I contact you to see what information you have or give you information?

A. Yes, see contact details are below. Please note that we abide by GDPR regulations.


Q. Can I access the museum database at home?

A. No our museum database does not support an online platform, but you can download basic information on the content of the recordings (see above). You are also welcome to contact the Collections Officer for more information. To access the recordings you can visit Dean Heritage Centre where you will be provided with full access to the museum database.


Q. What information does a catalogue record hold?

A. the museum reference number (also called the accession number), biographical data if known, who recorded the interview if known, dates, a summary of the recording, photographs if there are any and references if there are any.


Q. Are the recordings online?

A. No, mainly due to copyright regulations. DHC is not the copyright holder of most of the recordings. This means we do not have permission to place recordings online. However, under copyright law, we can preserve the recordings and use them for educational use, private study and research.


Q. Are there transcripts for the recordings?

A. In cataloguing the recordings we took a practical decision to not provide transcripts because this is hugely time consuming. Instead we are carrying out summaries for every recording. A summary is from 2 to 4 A4 pages listing all the main themes, topics and stories discussed, and includes timings. This is very useful for finding out what each interviewee is talking about and using the timings to jump to the section you are interested in.

Note – some transcripts are available for the recordings in Batch 1 1997.36. These were carried out by Elsie Olivey and donated to the museum along with the recordings. Please contact the Collections Officer for further information about these.


Q. I am a researcher in dialect/social history/local history/family history, can I use the recordings as part of my research?

A. Yes contact the Collections Officer for more information on how to access the recordings and what uses are permitted. The Collections Officer will be happy to discuss your research with you and give guidance on what are the best recordings for your particular research.



Contact us if you would like to volunteer to help on the Oral History project.

For all Oral history enquiries please contact Collections Officer Nicola Wynn by email Nicola@deanheritagecentre.com or tel 01594 822170.