FOUR lost poems written by a 19th century working woman known as the ‘Forest Poetess’ have returned to the Forest of Dean. 

Forest of Dean poet Catherine Drew wrote the poems in the 1860s and they will now become part of the new Forest of Dean Writers Collection at the Heritage Centre in Soudley. 

The poems were sent from the United States  by one of Catherine Drew’s descendants, Michael Wright. 

Dr Roger Deeks, co-director of Reading the Forest, who has been researching how the poems ended up in the United States, said: “It was through a letter in the Dean Forest Mercury that in 1927, William Gardiner of Cinderford sent the hand-written poems. William had known Catherine and had been given the poems by her son-in-law.”   

Michael also sent an original copy of Catherine’s book of poems published in 1841, of which only 100 copies were printed. 

Remarkably, the donation included Catherine’s own lace-trimmed cotton night cap. The book and the cap were taken to America by Catherine’s son, Absalom, as a keepsake of his late mother when he emigrated in 1874.  

Michael said: “My mother and her aunt Alice treasured and cared for these artefacts as an amazing part of our family history. I am delighted to return them to the Forest of Dean where they can help tell the story of Catherine Drew and be an inspiration to future generations.” 

The Forest of Dean Writers Collection is bringing together a unique collection of material like this spanning more than 200 years, some written in local dialect, that reflects the landscape, people and places of the Forest of Dean. 

Specialists from the University of Gloucestershire are working with the Dean Heritage Centre and local volunteers to research and catalogue more than 400 unique items making up the new collection, while a series of events and exhibitions will showcase the fascinating new material. 

A group of Catherine Drew enthusiasts were given a preview of the items. The group included four ‘history ambassador’ pupils from St White’s School in Cinderford – one of the schools the team has been working with as part of the project.  

The pupils met ‘Catherine Drew’ herself played by the Centre’s historical re-enactor Mary Dutson, who told them about growing up in the Forest of Dean and the dramatic changes Catherine witnessed during the industrial revolution.  

The Centre’s head of engagement, Joanne Clarke, said: “We hope that hearing about Catherine and seeing these incredible artefacts, will inspire local children to be creative themselves.” 

A selection of the newly discovered Catherine Drew artefacts will be included in the first outreach exhibition of the new project at Cinderford Library, from May 1 to May 15.

Catherine Drew’s contributions to Cinderford are remembered today with a cast iron plaque on the entrance to St John's Church - which is part of the Cinderford Town Trail.

The plaque reads: “So the Forest of Dean is my native, my own I prefer to either the city or town, the days of my childhood I trace in delight. When I rov’d on the green on a moon shining night, from the days of my childhood or contrast by Catherine Drew, the forest poetess (1784-1867) resting in this churchyard.”

Aside from her 1841 collection of poems, more of Catherine’s works were published in newspapers. Notably, the Monmouthshire Beacon and Bristol Mercury published “A Poem by an Octogenarian” in 1865.

More information about Catherine Drew and her remarkable life can be found on Reading The Forest’s website. You can also find out more about the Dean Heritage Centre by visiting their website or find them on social media.

Four ‘history ambassador’ pupils meeting ‘Catherine Drew’ played by historical re-enactor Mary Dutson at Dean Heritage Centre
Four ‘history ambassador’ pupils meeting ‘Catherine Drew’ played by historical re-enactor Mary Dutson at Dean Heritage Centre. (University of Gloucestershire)