The story of Forest Church began when Rev Henry Berkin, at that time Curate in Mitcheldean, began work among the foresters about 1809. In those days life in this part of Gloucestershire was very primitive, turf covered cabins with low doors and fireplace were the common dwellings and the labour force was mostly occupied with the iron and coal mining industries. Sheep, poultry, garden produce and the family pig were absolutely necessary to avert starvation.
Men women and children worked long hard hours and were not generally sympathetic to religion, some Wesleyan methodist preachers had been violently attacked and thrown into muddy ditches just a few years before Henry Berkin began his work in the Drybrook area.
Rev Berkin began to plan a Church building on Harry Hill (as it was then known), influential friends of his in London helped with finance, the Crown gave the land and building works began on June 4th 1816.
Holy Trinity Church was first used for worship on February 2nd 1817, though travel from Gloucester was treacherous in winter so the consecration of the Church was delayed until the Bishop could conveniently attend on June 26th the same year.
The Parish Church was the second building erected by Henry Berkin, the first was a School Room (still standing and used as our Church Hall), the third building constructed was a Vicarage which remained in use until the 1970’s when it was sold for other purposes and a new Vicarage was then built at the east end of the Church Yard. Rev Henry Berkin died in 1847 and his grave still exists in our Church Yard surrounded by railings and standing just inside the south east gates.
His successor, one Rev H.G. Nicholls, was another very talented and active parish priest who founded three further schools in this parish (at Drybrook, Ruardean Woodside and the Hawthorns). He also wrote a well known “History of the Forest of Dean”, which was an influential resource book about the origins of the traditions of this beautiful part of Gloucestershire.
In 1866 ill health forced Henry Nicholls to resign and, in the same year, Rev W. Barker took up the task of Vicar of Drybrook. He made it his purpose to see another Church built to serve the nearby community of Lydbrook – the Church of the Holy Jesus.
He served this parish for 31 years, making him the longest serving priest that Forest Church has ever had.
The last Vicar of the 19th century was Rev John Lawton, who served this parish from 1899 to 1922. He introduced a surpliced choir, replaced the old Church Organ with the present instrument, and installed the rack of Tubular Bells in our Church Tower. His refurbishment work also included putting in the present pews, redecorating the Church and improving the heating system.
The East Window of the Church, given in his memory, bears the petition:
“May he rest in peace and rise in Glory “