For thousands of years ochre and iron ore has been mined at Clearwell Caves. You can still meet a Freeminer here; men whose ancient birthright exclusively entitles them to extract minerals within the Hundred of St Briavels and the Royal Forest of Dean.
Clearwell Caves are a working mining museum where you see the impressive caverns the miners have created. Displays throughout the workings tell the miners' story. Iron ore from the Caves has made tools, weapons and machinery throughout the centuries. The iron ore occurs as ochre powders and is used as artist's pigment. Red, yellow, purple and brown ochre is still mined here. The iron mines are an important part of the Forest of Dean's story.
Until this month, the mines were operated by father and son team, Ray and Jonathan Wright. Ray Wright was a founder member of the Royal Forest of Dean Caving Club from its creation in 1964. Club activities were mainly based upon exploring the mysterious abandoned iron ore mines in the area. Almost 50 years ago, Ray could see that most people had no idea of the hidden world beneath their feet in the Forest of Dean; so he began work on a way to show people this unique underground world. In 1968 Clearwell Caves opened with just one cavern; each year another cavern was opened up, until the present nine impressive caverns could be accessed. In 1984 Ray was joined by his son Jonathan and together they have operated the mine, providing a wide range of exciting activities. It is with great sadness that we have to announce the passing of Ray Wright, whose staedy hand and inspiration will be a massive loss. Jonathan continues to operate the mine and to take the vision forward into the future.
Earl of Wessex Enjoys a visit to the Caves
The Earl meeting Ray Wright, with Jonathan Wright and Elaine Morman
Thursday 24th April 2014 The Earl enjoyed a guided tour by Ray and Jonathan Wright through the underground caverns. He was visiting the Forest of Dean and asked particularly to include a visit to Clearwell Caves, we were pleased to show him what we do. During the visit he was presented to pupils from Clearwell Primary School, receiving a portrait drawn by one of the pupils.
Demonstrating a 'billy'
Explaining how the miners held their candles in their mouth
After looking around the caverns he was presented with a selection of ochre pigments mined at the Caves; the Earl suggested he has an artist brother that would like to use them! After signing the visitors book, he was whisked away to rejoin the Countess at the Speech House, where he met representatives of the Verderers, Freeminers, Commoners, and Forestry Commission. They unveiled the recently renovated obelisk marking the ventre of the Forest and planted two trees.
Filming at the Caves
Jonathan and Ray with Matt Baker from Countryfile in 2010
Dr Who: Matt Smith filming 'Time of the Angels' broadcast April 2010
The Caves have been popular with film companies who have used the atmospheric caverns to create stunning backdrops for their stories. Amongst the many popular programmes and films that have been made here are: Atlantis, DaVinci Demonsl, Dr Who, Merlin, Dalziel and Pascoe, Blakes Seven, Narnia, The Changes, Kidnapped and many others.
Merlin: 2009 - Bradley James and Colin Morgan hiding.
Merlin and Arthur meet the Druids in 2010
Freemining has been in Jonathan's family for over 200 years and he is proud to be continuing this tradition into the 21st century.