A HISTORIC symbol of the Freeminers will adorn the Forest of Dean District Council chamber to “put some civic pride” in the authority.

Freeminer is the ancient title given to a Forest of Dean miner who has earned the right to work personal plots.

To become a freeminer the 1838 Dean Forest Mines Act stipulates that a person must have been born in the area known as the Hundred of St Briavels and to have worked underground for a year and a day.

Councillor James Bevan (I, Lydney East) brought forward proposals last week to procure a coat of arms based on the Forest of Dean District Council chairman’s Freeminers badge of office and for it to be instated on the chamber podium panel behind the chairman’s seat.

He told the meeting in Coleford on December 14 that he came up with the idea “after sitting there around 18 years looking at that blank screen behind [the chairman]”.

“I’ve been to other council chambers and they’ve had a nice motif on there,” he said. “I feel it’s time this council had a little bit of an uplift and we got something we can be proud of.”

He said lots of people admire the council chairman’s chain and its uniqueness with a freeminer on it. “I feel quite proud and I think we should have it up on the podium.”

His motion was seconded by Cllr Ian Whitburn (I, Coleford). But Cllr Harry Ives (C, Lydney North) asked how much it was likely to cost and what benefit it would bring to Forest of Dean residents.

Chief executive Nigel Brinn said he did not know the costs but said it would provide investment in the room and “promote the freeminer emblem”.

Cllr Bevan said it was a point of prestige more than what it would benefit for the community. “This gives this council that uplift,” he added. Cllr Ives agreed it would bring a degree of prestige to the council but it would cost taxpayers’ money.

“I don’t feel the residents of my ward would consider that a good use of taxpayers’ money to increase our own sense of prestige in this chamber,” he said. “It’s an unnecessary expense and use of taxpayers money that would bring no benefits to the residents of my ward.”

Cllr Sid Phelps (G, Lydbrook) said he respectfully disagreed with Cllr Ives and that it would give the council civic pride. “Foresters and non-Foresters alike would be proud of this,” he said. “But I’m a bit concerned about committing to this without any idea of the cost.

“Obviously, if it’s a couple of thousand, I’m sure [chief finance officer] Andrew Knott could find the money.”

Cllr Philip Burford (I, Hartpury and Redmarley) congratulated Cllr Bevan for coming up with “a real gem of an idea”. “You are absolutely, totally and completely right,” he said.

“We need to have something on that board so that when people look at our meetings and see what is going on they realise this isn’t just another room full of people chewing the fat. This is the Forest of Dean District Council who do things for their residents, work for them and do the best we can for them.”

But Cllr Jackie Dale (G, Pillowell) disagreed. She said it was an unnecessary expense and would prefer to be looking at some trees.

“A beautifully painted local picture of some trees would be great,” she said. “It would cost very little.

“What we do in this council is more important than looking at something behind the people sitting at the podium there. What we do is what brings us prestige.”

Councillors voted in favour of the motion by 21 votes in favour, 11 against and three abstained.

Speaking after the meeting, Verderer and Freeminer Rich Daniels said it was great the council was taking it up.

“It’s pretty much adopted as an emblem of the Forest,” he said. “You see it everywhere.

“It’s based on a little brass at Newland Church of what is thought to be the tomb of Greyndour who took the freeminers to the king. He was responsible for collecting them up to take them to the king to serve.”

Freeminers fought in France during the Hundred Years War at the battles of Crecy in 1346 and Agincourt in 1415. Dean miners were an important part of the King’s armoury and became known as the ‘King’s Pyoneers’ who used to create earthworks and undermine fortifications, as well as being useful fighters.

Coming from the Forest of Dean, the miners were said to be experts with the long bow, excellent archers through formal practice on Sundays, but also through hunting and poaching. They were renowned for their hardiness and ferocity in battle.

Speaking in a personal capacity, Jason Griffiths who is the honorary secretary of the Royal Forest of Dean Freeminers’ Association said: “The fact this long-standing symbol of the Freemining tradition will be on display in the heart of the Forest of Dean’s local government is very positive.

“It demonstrates how important Freemining has been and continues to be in shaping and safeguarding the Forest’s distinctive landscape, people and culture.

“Every time the Forest has been threatened, Freeminers have been in the vanguard of the fight to protect it – from mediaeval times; to the days of Warren James; preventing atomic dumping in the 1950s; and most recently as part of Hands Of Our Forest.

“It is heartening to know that Freemining continues to be held in such high regard by so many.”