Coleford is a small market town in the west of the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, England. The population is recorded in the 2001 census as being 8,351. It is situated approximately four miles east of the Welsh border and close to the Wye Valley, a popular walking and canoeing area. It is the administrative centre of the Forest of Dean district.
Coleford is not far West of the Wye Valley AONB.
Coleford takes its name from one of two brooks that merge in its centre and was, as its name suggests, a fording point. The streams were culverted in the 19th century, but the one flowing through St John’s Street was reopened in 2001 to allow for maintenance work, before being recovered.
Coleford is one of the oldest Forest of Dean towns, largely developed before, and not deeply affected by, coal mining, which became the Forest’s staple industry during the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. For this reason it differs visually from Cinderford, the other major Forest town. Coleford’s architecture is mainly Georgian in appearance, although many of the façades cover much older structures.
In 1798, work commenced on Whitecliff Ironworks, situated on the south-western edge of Coleford. Despite being managed by the noted Scottish metallurgist, David Mushet, the works were not successful and ceased production by 1816. Other notable buildings include The Angel public house, with its large arched entrance, hinting at coaching inn days; what was Trotters Department Store, now home to Fairways Furnishings; and the clock tower in the town centre. This tower was originally attached to an octagonal church, built in 1821; but when, in 1882, the edifice was considered too small for the town’s population, the main building was demolished. A much larger ecclesiastical building (St John’s) was built on a hillside overlooking the town. A market hall stood next to the clock tower until the 1960s.
Coleford was more able to adapt to the mine closures of the 1950s than its neighbour Cinderford. Today, due to its prime location in the heart of the Forest, it is popular with walkers and cyclists, and the local council has been striving to encourage further tourist interest. There is a large factory here, originally called Carters, then Beechams, and now part of GlaxoSmithKline, the sole production facility for Ribena and Lucozade. One old building that has survived is the former goods shed for the defunct railway line to Monmouth; it is now the Coleford GWR Museum.