IFrom the 1820s the large coal mines were run on a 'little butty' system. Each stall was developed under contract by a collier and his mate, the buttymen, who employed four or five men or boys on a daily basis. In the 'big butty' system of the Staffordshire coalfield the contractors were responsible for a whole seam or even a complete pit. In Dean's large mines perhaps a quarter or third of the workforce were buttymen and the rest day labourers, of whom a few were directly employed by the masters. The larger collieries were thus an important source of casual employment, affording seasonal work after the harvest and attracting men from Wales and elsewhere to the Forest. There were attempts to curb the hiring of workmen other than free miners. Many boys, some as young as six, worked in the larger coal and ore mines in 1841, when of 700 hands employed at Bilson colliery 40 were aged under 13. Female labour was not used at the larger mines but women hoisted coal and loaded it on carts and mules at the free miners' pits.
IWith the introduction of deep mines and wage labour the customary system of mining in Dean rapidly diminished in economic significance and the industry entered a troubled period. Disputes arose over boundaries, and the principle that mining in any gale was to cease when mattocks clashed, that is when the mine ran up against another, was increasingly ignored by the driving of long narrow headings to secure coal in other gales. The interests of native free miners and foreign capitalists frequently came into conflict and resentment of foreigners was a potent factor in riots that occurred over commoning rights in 1831.
IThe next year the granting of gales to free miners was halted temporarily and from 1838, following a report by commissioners investigating conditions in the Forest, mining was subject to a statutory framework of regulation. Registered free miners retained the sole right to take gales from the gaveller for mining coal, ore, and ochre within St. Briavels hundred, but, with the confirmation of earlier sales, mortgages, and leases and of the free miners' power to sell or lease, foreigners were able to secure title in law to gales. Mine owners were left free to employ whom they chose. Men born and living in the hundred, aged 21 or more, and having worked a year and a day in a mine in the hundred could register as free miners and 829 had done so by 1841. Their right to take wood for their pits, a custom already withdrawn from those using the Forest's tramroads, was abolished.
IMany provisions of the Act passed in 1838 to regulate mining were implemented in 1841 when commissioners set out the boundaries of 104 gales of coal and 20 of iron ore, awarded them to those judged to be entitled to them, fixed the royalty to be paid, and codified the rules for the conduct of mining. Each gale specified the seams to be worked and the royalty was linked to output. The Crown was guaranteed a minimum or dead rent from each gale assessed on an assumed annual tonnage and when output exceeded that figure ('overworkings') the surplus payment could be offset by any previous 'shortworkings'. Gales granted after 1841 paid royalties in the same way and the amount from each was revised every 21 years. The office of gaveller remained honorary, being vested in the First Commissioner of Woods, Forests, and Land Revenues in 1838 and assigned to another of the commissioners in 1852. Its duties were performed by the gaveller's deputy and the deputy surveyor.
IThe reforms of 1838 and 1841 strengthened trends that had been evident in the industry many years earlier. Production expanded and was concentrated in fewer hands as existing pits were enlarged and new deep mines sunk. William Crawshay (d. 1867) and his son Henry (d. 1879) took a lead in mining coal and ore on the east side of the Forest, primarily to feed the Cinderford furnaces, and their Lightmoor colliery had four shafts open in the mid 1850s.
IHenry, who took over his father's mining and smelting interests in the Forest and became known as the 'iron king' of the Forest of Dean, employed as many as 250 hands to dig ore in Buckshaft, Shakemantle, and St. Annal's mines in the mid 1860s. He also developed Foxes Bridge colliery, at Crabtree hill next to Crumpmeadow colliery, in partnership in 1858 with Stephen Allaway and Timothy Bennett (d. 1861) and later with Bennett's son-in-law Osman Barrett. In 1861 Bennett, a Mitcheldean maltster and miller with substantial local mining interests, sold Resolution and Safeguard coal pits to Henry Crawshay, and in 1889 the firm of Henry Crawshay & Co. Ltd. was established to run the Crawshays' businesses in the Forest. Of Edward Protheroe's large collieries, Bilson and Crumpmeadow were acquired between 1841 and 1846 by a company headed by Aaron Goold, formerly his agent, and in 1884 by the Lydney & Crumpmeadow Collieries Co. Parkend and New Fancy, which Protheroe retained until his death, later had several owners before their purchase in 1883 by, among others, T. H. Deakin (d. 1935), founder of Parkend Deep Navigation Collieries Ltd. Trafalgar colliery near Cinderford, which was in production in 1860, was developed by the Brain family and was the only large mine in the coalfield run by free miners in the later 19th century. The colliery, which in 1882 became the first in England to have electric pumps, took over the workings of Strip And At It colliery to the north, and a short tramroad through a tunnel connected the pitheads.
IThe coalfield's output rose steadily from 145,136 tons in 1841. Production slumped in the early 1860s but it soon recovered and increased to 837,893 tons in 1871. Of the 460,432 tons raised in 1856 Parkend and Lightmoor collieries produced 86,973 and 86,508 respectively and Crumpmeadow colliery 41,507.
IMany mines had an annual output of less than 5,000 tons. They were drifts and shallow pits in the outcrop worked by free miners supplying surrounding villages and farmsteads with house coal, and they represented only a fraction of the coalfield's total output. In 1870 nearly half of the 40 working coal mines were in that category while, at the other end of the scale, six collieries (Resolution and Safeguard, Lightmoor, Foxes Bridge, Crumpmeadow, Trafalgar, and New Fancy) each produced more than 50,000 tons and together accounted for almost three quarters of the field's output. Most of the coal was sent to markets outside the Forest but large amounts were used by local industry.
IThe coalfield's output, which fell between 1871 and 1877, did not show any appreciable increase above the 1871 figure until the end of the century, 1,176,712 tons being raised in 1898. At that time most of the principal collieries were near Cinderford or Parkend and worked the upper measures for household and other coal. Elsewhere a few large mines tapped the lower measures, including the Coleford High Delf seam, near the outcrop to produce coal for gasworks and steam engines. On the south side of the coalfield they included Flour Mill colliery in the Oakwood valley near Bream and Park Gutter west of Whitecroft, both worked by the Princess Royal Colliery Co., and on the north side a large colliery at Lydbrook was worked by the tinplaters Richard Thomas & Co.