Woman wins right to be Forest of Dean freeminer

Elaine Morman wins the right to become the first female freeminer, sparking a row in the Forest of Dean's male preserve.

A Forest of Dean woman has won the right to become the first female freeminer in the 172 years since the title was created.

Elaine Morman, who has worked in her father's ochre mine since her youth, appealed to her MP after being refused the honour because of her gender.

Mrs Morman, 52, was able to argue sex discrimination laws had been breached.

Freeminer is the ancient title given to a Forest of Dean miner who has earned the right to work personal plots.

To qualify, freeminers have to have been born in an area known as the Hundred of St Briavels and to have worked underground for more than a year and a day.

Start Quote

The feedback I have had is that a number of people are not particularly happy with this”

End Quote Deputy gaveller John Harvey

Mrs Morman is employed at the mine at Clearwell Caves, which is a tourist attraction exhibiting the area's historic iron-mining industry as well as a working mine producing ochre.

She said: "I've been going underground since I was six years old, but when I got a full-time job obviously those times got less.

"I think it's fantastic, because I've always wanted to be a freeminer ever since I was a child."

The Dean Forest Mines Act, which set up the ancient right on a legal basis, refers to freeminers as men.

After being refused admittance to the body, Mrs Morman appealed to her MP Mark Harper, who raised the matter in the Commons.

Now the Forestry Commission Gavellers, who administer the right, have relented and registered her.

'Digging for years'

Deputy gaveller John Harvey said: "It is fair to say that there is significant disquiet among the freeminers and the feedback I have had is that a number of people are not particularly happy with this."

Freeminers Association chief Eric Morris said the objections were not exclusively based on gender, but on Mrs Morman's work at a tourist attraction rather than in a hazardous deep mine.

But Mrs Morman said: "I've been mining virtually all my life - my dad always took me with him and I've been digging for years. Now I have the title which befits the job."

Mrs Morman, who works with her father and brother, said the ochre she mined was used to colour goods such as paint and make-up.

"We just do mail order and sell a bit in the shop," she said.

"It's just one of the things we do to do with the caves. It's mainly a tourist attraction, but it's also a working mine."

There are believed to be about 200 freeminers registered in the Forest.

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