The name of the pub can be traced back to the siting of the Lower Forge which stood within two hundred yards of the River Wye. Cyril Hart in his book ‘The Industrial History of Dean’ (David & Charles 1971) notes that it was built around 1610, in which year Earl of Clanricard leassed to Roger Skinner of Lydbrook, hammerman, a cottage and house newly erected by Skinner near the forges (sic) in Lydbrook. The iron forge was in 1616 probably included in the lease (or mortgage) by Richard, Earl of Clanricard and Robert, Earl of Essex to James Hawkins of Clifford’s Inn, London, of ‘two furnaces and furnace places, ruinous and in decay.’
There was once an enormous railway viaduct spanning the valley immediately above the Forge Hammer. The Severn & Wye Railway viaduct dominated the skyline of Lower Lydbrook until it was dismantled in the spring of 1965. The viaduct was constructed by the Crumlin Viaduct Works at a cost of £7,396 and the foundation stone was laid on November 9th 1872. The viaduct was 90 feet above the valley floor and comprised of five stone arches and three wrought iron girders, two with 120 feet span and the other with a 150 feet span. It was opened on 26th August 1874, incredibly less than two years after construction had begun. Regular passenger services were withdrawn on 8th July 1929 and the line finally succumbed to the axe on 30th January 1956.
In 1891 the Forge Hammer was free from brewery tie and owned by F. Thompson. The beerhouse had an annual rateable value of £11.0s.0d. John Arnold & Sons, brewers at the High Street Brewery in Wickwar, had purchased the Forge Hammer by 1903. Closing time was at 10 pm.
When the tenancy changed hands in 1906 from Joseph Hall to Mr H.A. Walker, John Arnold & Sons (Brewers) considered that ‘the house has averaged 196 barrels per year and we think that under good management would do considerably more, as the present tenant is not out for the business, the accommodation has just been much improved. If the tenant understood butchery, with a good wife to assist in the house, we think he could do some trade, as there is no butcher in Lydbrook.’
An amusing, but not verified, tale was reported in June 1968. It was reported that so much water flooded into the back garden of the Forge Hammer in Lydbrook, a keen angler did a spot of fishing there and caught three big chub! He then threw them back into the garden.
The Citizen, 26th November 1968 – Pennies for old folks raises £118: The Lydbrook Old Folks Committee work hard throughout the year to raise money so that the elderly and infirm in the area can have a good holiday and enjoy Christmas. While harvest festival services at most of the local inns make an important contribution, the community rely a lot on a column of pennies built up at the Forge Hammer pub at Lower Lydbrook.
The year was marked by the building of not one but two columns and the previous record of £64 was well beaten when they were toppled by Mr. L.C. Harper, of Minsterworth and found to amount to £118.14s.8d.
Forest of Dean & Ross-on-Wye Pubs – A critical guide by Jon Hurley (booklet,1991): A two-bar whitewashed inn near the Wye with red rexine seating, horsey prints, brasses and the heads of three former denisens of the Forest, a fallow deer insultingly named Herbie, shot in the Forest of Dean as recently as 1981, Brock (demise unknown) and a grinning Reynard. There is also an attractively tiled fireplace surround in which dusty electric logs glowed. The brews included, unusually, Watney Triple Crown, as well as Webster’s Yorkshire, and fancy lagers and ciders. The ethic vowels of a couple of Eastenders could be heard “avin’ a natta” above the sounds of the bandits in the “public”, a more basic place. Snacks were available. A quiet little boozer with a touch of authenticity.
After a period of closure, the Forge Hammer re-opened in July 1996.
An ‘Eating Out’ review in the ‘Forester’ newspaper in August 2008 described the Indian restaurant attached to the Forge Hammer Inn. The assessment was 10/10 for service, food and value for money.
‘Despite its rather inauspicious setting next to the village loos, the Forge Hammer is the jewel in the crown where Indian food is concerned. My friends in the party of four all agreed it was the best Indian meal that they had ever tasted – and that’s coming from connoisseurs. Making our way through the public bar and corridor we were pleasantly surprised by the two-tier restaurant that seats 50. As soon as we entered the dining room we were greeted by Alison Jobson. She and her husband Andy run the Forge Hammer and the key seems to be combining pub and restaurant by catering for the visiting diner as well as looking after locals dropping in for a pint.’
The favourable review was rebuked by a correspondent in the following weeks’ ‘Forester’, (26th August 2008) from a ‘Forest of Dean fan’, who bitterly wrote, ‘I can honestly say that my experience of eating at the Forge Hammer was that it was the worse Indian meal I have experienced’. A year later another ‘Eating Out’ review in the local newspaper gave positive feedback on the River Spice describing the restaurant as one of the Forest’s best-kept culinary secrets, summarizing with ‘the quality of the food is obviously of paramount importance to the staff and the restaurant is building a reputation that will keep people coming back.’
River Spice closed down early in 2012 after the chefs handed in their notice. The restaurant was taken on by Chi Ho Choy and his wife Lin and they introduced Chinese cuisine in March 2012. The menu included satay chicken skewers, succulent roast duck in a plum sauce and specialist Thai dishes.
A commendable recent innovation at the Forge Hammer is the installation of a tiny microbrewery producing two regular ales exclusively for the Forge Hammer. Andrew and Alison Jopman established the Lydbrook Brewing Company in 2018 with production starting in April of that year. Lydbrook Valley IPA and Lydbrook Valley Viaduct Ale, both 4.3-4.4%, are the usual house beers. Andy will sometimes brew an experimental beer.
The Lydbrook Brewing Company must be the smallest brewery currently operating in Gloucestershire.
Landlords at the Forge Hammer include:
1837 James Price
1870 William Hall
1891 A. Burgham
1903 Walter Fear
1906 Joseph Hall
1906 H.A. Walker
1939 John M. Harper
1955-1965 Geoff and Peggy Davis (previously at the Lamb Inn in Stroud for 11 years. Held their Golden Wedding Anniversary at the Forge Hammer.)
1968 Mr and Mrs A. Watts
– Kathleen Elizabeth Maher
1976 Mrs Edith Winifred Ralph (Transfer May 1976)
2007,2022 Andy Jopman