Famous names of Coleford

Mushet : bettering Bessemer

Robert Mushet (1811-91) was a metallurgist who perfected the Bessemer process for making steel. His father, David Mushet, moved from Scotland in 1810 to run the Whitecliff furnace but soon had his own ironworks at Gorsty Knoll. 

Robert Mushet was born in the house which is now the Forest House Hotel on Cinder Hill. Invented in 1855 by Henry Bessemer, the Bessemer process involved removing impurities from iron by oxidation, reducing the cost and speed of steel manufacture. Mushet’s discovery of adding ferromanganese in 1856 improved the malleability of the steel and the quality of the final product making the process practical for large scale industrial use. Mushet himself was the first to make rails of steel rather than cast iron, vastly improving their reliability. The material was quickly taken up by railways throughout the world. Mushet also produced the first commercial steel alloy in 1868 by adding tungsten. 

Despite his discoveries, he had to be rescued from near insolvency by Bessemer who had benefited from Muchet's modification to his process.

Edna Healy : Famous for far more than being a wife

The biographer and documentary film-maker Edna Healey (née Edmunds, 1918-2010) was born in Coleford and educated at Bells Grammar School, allegedly the first pupil from that school to win a place at Oxford University. 

She met Denis Healey, the future Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, at university and later married him in 1945 after he had served in the Second World War. 

Edmunds trained initially as a teacher and after raising a family pursued her career as a writer and award-winning television documentary maker. Her books include Wives of Fame, The Queen’s House (A Social History of Buckingham Palace) and a biography of the wife of Charles Darwin, Emma. 

Mary Howitt : Caught by Carroll

mary howitt2

Mary Howitt (née Botham, 1799-1888) was a poet and author of the children’s cautionary rhyme The spider and the fly, parodied by Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland. She was born in Coleford, educated at home and began writing at an early age. Her father, Samuel Botham, was an industrialist from the Midlands who was a partner in a bid to develop a coke-fired furnace at Whitecliff.

Angus Buchanan VC MC : Bravery in the field

Angus Buchanan VC MC (1894-1944) was the son of a local doctor and won the Victoria Cross for bravery while serving with the South Wales Borderers in Messopotamia (Iraq) in 1916. He was wounded three times and blinded but after returning home still managed to attend Oxford University and gain a degree in law. After the war, Coleford residents raised money in recognition of his bravery which he asked to be used to provide somewhere for young children to play. Thus land was purchased to create the Angus Buchanan Recreation Field in 1919. He is buried in the cemetery next to the recreation field which bears his name.

Dennis Potter : Potted history

Dennis Potter (1935-1994) is one of the most significant writers for television there has been. He is best known for his serials mixing fantasy and reality, intermingled with popular songs, The Singing Detective and Pennies from Heaven, the latter gaining him a BAFTA award and Oscar nomination. 

Born in Berry Hill, he attended Bell’s Grammar School in Coleford (now the location of the Bells Golf Club). 

He described the Forest of Dean as “a heart-shaped place between two rivers, somehow slightly cut off from the rest of England”. 

His radio autobiography, The Changing Forest, published in 1962 is a study of the people and traditions of the area at a time of profound social change.