As part of our research, we investigated the history of the road passing along the front of the Fountain Inn. Some reference is made to it in our book, but it was generally considered a little too off-topic. Here, however, we've expanded on that information with a more detailed account of what was once part of an important early route through the Forest.
The precise age of our lane is unknown, but its full extent was recorded in 1670, and described as running north-westwards from Purton Passage, through what is now Yorkley, and over Parkend Bridge, before connecting to an ancient track called the Coal Way; which ran downhill from present-day Coalway to Coleford.
In Parkend, the section between the crossroads and the junction with Folly Road is known today as Fountain Way, although the earliest reference we've seen to this name is only 1976 and it appears to be an adopted name.
This map shows the road in 1776, with the cottage that went on to become the Fountain Inn marked 'IV'.
By this time it was already an important route through the Forest and, long before Lydney docks were built, it was used to transport timber to docks on the River Severn at Purton Passage and Gatcombe.
This map shows the layout in 1834, the very same year that James Kear opened up his house as the Fountain Inn.
The tramway mainline can be seen running top to bottom, past the furnace. The branch to the right is the Ivy Moor Head Branch Line, constructed in 1810, and the branch running past the pub, is the Milkwall Branch Line.
After crossing the Coleford to Purton road directly on top of Parkend Bridge, it runs along the opposite side of the road to the pub, heading westwards. To maintain a level gradient it was necessary to construct a raised embankment for the tramway and, logically, the road would also have been raised at the same time. Even today, it’s striking how steeply the ground falls away on both sides of the road by the pub.
Evidently, this was not a safe arrangement as, in December 1854, the Monmouthshire Beacon published a letter from someone complaining about the “dangerous state of the road opposite the Fountain Inn, at Parkend”. The author goes on to write “On the off-side, upon a steep gradient, is a sharp curve of the tramway…. and for some dozen yards, besides a margin of two feet for a footway, there is not the slightest protection from a fall into a yawning void three of four yards beneath”.
This 1854 map, from the same year as the letter, shows the Fountain Inn has now been greatly extended and cottages have been built opposite.
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint the precise location the correspondent is referring to, it seems to be the section now occupied by the garden of Number One, Railway Cottages. The 'yawning void' is now separated from the pavement by a brick wall.
Another newspaper article from the Monmouthshire Beacon, in July 1860, reports the occurrence of a mass brawl in Fountain Way. It apparently started with just two men who’d been drinking at the Fountain Inn, but quickly escalated after villagers rushed to join in. The paper reported that the incident might have ended in a serious manner, if it were not for the “praiseworthy interference of the Parkend Division of the Royal Forest Corps of Rifle Volunteers”
In 1868 the Seven and Wye Railway Company began to substantially upgrade its network by laying broad gauge steam railway tracks alongside its existing tramways. In 1871 they also constructed railway sidings near to, what is now, the sports field. The sidings were connected to the mainline by the Marsh Wharf Sidings branch line, which was slotted in between the tramway and the road. The difficulties created by the lack of space for this arrangement are discussed at length in our book, so are not repeated here.
In 1875, the Milkwall tramway was superseded by a railway branch line, connecting Parkend to Coleford. It didn’t pass along the front of the pub, however, and instead took a rather awkward route via Coleford Junction, (now the lorry park) which involved trains having to reverse from there to Coleford.
This 1895 map provides a good illustration of how busy the lane had now become. An industrial decline in the 1870s had resulted in the closure of Parkend Ironworks, but it had now passed and coal mines across the Forest were prospering once again. Two tracks can be seen passing the Fountain Inn; the one closest to the pub is the Marsh Wharf Sidings (railway) branch line. The one shown above it is the former Milkwall Tramway, which was repurposed to connect collieries on the western side of Parkend with Marsh Wharf Sidings.
This was a very busy period in the Fountain Way's history and, a mentioned in our book, in 1900 a gentleman wrote to the Commissioner of Woods, complaining “It was bad enough stepping out of the Fountain Inn onto a public road but that, if this were successfully negotiated, access was gained onto an unfenced railway where shunting was often taking place at night!”.
Technological advances, improvements to the road network, and increased regulation, combined to make most horse-drawn tramways largely obsolete by the end of the 1800s; although some did continue to operate long after then. The Bicslade Tramroad at Cannop, for example, was the last horse-drawn tramway in the Forest, and was in regular use right up until the 1960s. The tramway rails in front of the pub were removed around 1900, and the track bed was adopted as an extension to Crown Lane, running alongside the, still active, Marsh Wharf Sidings railway branch line.
Photo: Stone tramway sleepers, in the foreground, still in-situ over 200 years after they were laid.
This photograph of one of the cottages opposite the Fountain Inn dates to the early-1900s, and appears to have been taken after the tramway was removed.
It shows the house in use as a barber's shop, and the sign reads; 'Hair Cutting and Shaving Salon'. Open nightly'. We might presume then, that the barber also had a day job.
No passenger trains operated on the line passing along Fountain Way, but as this photograph from November 1973 shows, it did occasionally accommodate privately chartered excursions.
Photo: © Peter Green. Courtesy of R.C.T.S.
By the 1970s freight traffic on the branch line had declined significantly. Having survived the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, both the branch line and the mainline to Lydney were closed by British Rail in 1976.
Photo: The very last train to pass along Fountain Way, on May 7th, 1976.
Photo: © Neil Parkhouse.
The track and level-crossing gates remained for a few years, but were removed by 1980 and Fountain Way returned to become a, relatively, quiet lane once again.
Photo: Original level-crossing gate latch from Fountain Way.
Marsh Wharf Sidings were dismantled and landscaped in about 1985, as the high stone walls there were considered to be a danger.
Today, very little evidence of the railway's existence on Fountain Way survives. An enamel railway warning sign remained in-situ, opposite the pub, until 2008 when it disappeared, presumably after being stolen.
In late-2020 Dean Forest Railway reinstated a short section of the Marsh Wharf Sidings branch line. A Parkend wagon, owned by John Buckley and refurbished by the railway's Wagoneers Restoration Group, has now been installed at the boundary to our property, and serves as a permanent reminder of Fountain Way's remarkable past.
Photo: John Buckley (DFR) standing by his Parkend Wagon.
© Andy Buckley.
Just below Parkend school there is a milestone which once read “Coleford …4, Purton Passage …5”. As part of its anti-invasion preparations during World War II, the British government instructed all navigational signposts to be removed and, sadly, some unknown villagers took the instruction a little too literally. The text was chiselled off and is now unreadable.
After the war ended, larger motoring associations embarked upon a programme to erect temporary road signs, but sadly the large Parkend AA road sign on display in the bar didn't come from our lane. It was oringinally screwed to a garage door at the top of Fancy Road.
In 1810, the Severn and Wye Railway Company constructed a horse-drawn tramway, running from Lydney to Lydbrook, and passing through Parkend. In 1812, they added a branch line which ran from Parkend to Milkwall.