The site at Camp Mill has a history going back nearly 400 years, to the time of King James I. It owes its existence to the brook that flows down the Soudley valley which was used to turn waterwheels for powering machinery.
Over the years the site has been used for at least six different purposes. Unfortunately, there is very little written evidence to give us a detailed picture of the industries and buildings that existed on the site. However, it is possible to piece together a brief history from records, maps and plans.
Iron Forge 1612-1674
Between 1612 and 1674 it is believed that there was an Iron forge on the site. A number of Iron forges were built at this time by order of King James I, who controlled the mining rights in the Royal Forest of Dean. During this time the Forest of Dean was the main iron-producing area in England.
Iron Foundry 1823-1876
The 19th Century was a time of great expansion for the industries in The Forest of Dean, particularly coal and iron mining. In 1823 Samuel Hewlett set up an iron foundry on the site to make products needed by these new industries. Examples of which can be seen in our museum include rails, wheels and mileposts for horse-drawn tramways, and the Lightmoor beam engine.
Corn Mill 1876-1888
During the 19th Century the population was increasing as people moved into the Forest of Dean to work in new industries. In 1876 the foundry buildings at Camp Mill were converted into a corn mill. Corn mills were built near streams around the Forest of Dean, they used waterwheels to drive machinery that ground wheat into flour for making bread. The miller at Camp Mill was a man from Cinderford called Edmund Lane.
Leather Board Factory 1888-1908
In 1888 the buildings were leased to John Mason who converted the mill to make leather board used for making inner soles and heel stiffeners for boots and shoes. Leather board was made from waste leather, paper and rags which turned into pulp by mixing with hot water and grinding with beaters. The leather board factory closed in 1908 due to difficulties in obtaining raw materials.
In 1912 James Joiner converted the site into a sawmill. It produced timber for making railway wagons and sleepers. There were about ten sawmills operating at this time in Forest of Dean. In 1925 the two waterwheels were replaced by a water-driven turbine and a steam engine. Later these were replaced by two 150 horsepower diesel engines. The turbine can still be seen in the pit between the mill building and the waterwheel.
Scrap Metal Yard 1960-1981
The site was used as a scrap metal yard for about twenty years until it was relocated to a different site. The pond had been filled in but the mill building and cottages still remained.
The Dean Heritage Centre 1983-Present Day
The Dean Heritage Centre is run by the Dean Heritage Museum Trust, a registered charity formed in 1979 out of public concern that the heritage of the Forest of Dean was disappearing fast. In 1981 the Trust acquired its current site at Camp Mill and with generous donations from the local community was able to open a museum to the public in 1983.