CHEPSTOW is a market town, head of a petty sessional division, union and county court district with a station on the South Wales branch of Western railway, 141¼ miles from London, 16 south-by-east from Monmouth, 17 east from Newport, 28 south-west from Gloucester and 31½ by rail from Bristol, in the Southern division of the county, hundred of Caldicot, rural deanery of Chepstow, archdeaconry of Monmouth and diocese of Llandaff. |
The town is built on the side of a hill, rising with a. rather steep slope from the right or west bank of the river Wye, near its confluence with the Severn. The tides here are peculiar and sometimes rise as high as 50 feet, the average is 38 feet, but a rise of 70 feet is on record.
The Wye, which separates the counties of Monmouth and Gloucester, is spanned at the north end of the town by an elegant cast-iron bridge of five arches, erected by Messrs. Hazledine, Rastrick and Co. of Bridgnorth, at a cost of £18,000, upon the site of an ancient structure of wood and stone, and was opened 24 July, 1816 ; lower down the river on the east side of the town is the ungraceful, but at the same time highly ingenious, railway bridge designed by Mr. I. K. Brunel, and opened 19 July 1852, at a cost of £65,420; it is 600 feet in length, with span of 300 feet at a height of 50 feet above the of the highest known tide, and three other spans of 100 feet each; the extremely skilful construction of this bridge has made it an object of much interest to engineers, and it has been visited and inspected by scientific men from all parts of the world.
Not long before the abolition of the Marches, in 1536, Charles, first Earl of Worcester, in his capacity as Lord Marcher, granted a new chapter of incorporation to the bailiffs and burgesses of his town of Chepstow, which is then described as having "fallen into great ruin, indigence and decay." The charter was dated December 2nd, 1524 and seems to have been acted upon down to the time of Charles II when its final extinction was due to some dispute between the Duke of Beaufort and the burgesses, owing to which no bailiffs were appointed and the Corporation ceased to exist. The principal officers were the steward of the lord, two bailiffs chosen by the burgesses and two sergeants-at-mace.
The town, or port walls as they are commonly called, are still fairly perfect, except where broken through by the South W ales railway, and extend for about half-a-mile from the banks of the Wye at the southern extremity of the town, along the back of the George hotel, terminating opposite to the western entrance to the castle, and inclosing an area of upwards of ninety acres. The walls were defended at irregular intervals by ten round towers, all of which remain, and the entrance to the town on the south-west was through a large gate-house, still standing, at the top of the principal street, next the George hotel, and given to the bailiffs by the charter of 1524 to be used as the town gaol.
The town, formerly incorporated, was under the control of a Local Board from 1864, but under the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1894" (56 and 57 Vict. c. 73) is now governed by an Urban District Council, and is paved, lighted with gas by a company formed in 1857, and supplied with water from works at Chepstow park and St. Arvans grange, the property of the company; the reservoirs have a combined capacity of 2,900,000 gallons. The town was drained and partially repaved, and a cattle market constructed in 1893-4 at a total cost of about £8,000.
It is not now a port under the Customs, but is attached to Lydney, which is a creek in the port of Gloucester.
The police control is entrusted to the county constabulary, who have offices and a police station here.
The church of St. Mary, which was that of the Benedictine Priory founded here in the 12th century, is an ancient edifice of stone originally Norman but partially destroyed and much injured by modern alterations
In 1841 the whole fabric, in order to provide an increased number of sittings, was extensively altered and rebuilt under the direction of Mr Edward Blore, architect, but these alterations were unhappily of such a nature as to destroy almost entirely the character of the building; the late shallow chancel was erected and the transepts enlarged by destroying the eastern bay of the nave and incorporating it in new transepts; the aisles were also pulled down, and the arcades, consisting of plain round arches on massive square piers, built up; the north porch was removed, and its Norman arch placed under the tower, the western gallery was extended, and other galleries were erected in the new transepts.
During the period 1890-91 a restoration of the church was begun, under the superintendence of Messrs. Seddon and Carter, the diocesan architects, with a view of repairing the injuries done in 1841 ; the flooring of the nave, which had been raised to a considerable height, was brought down to its proper level, the western gallery removed and the nave generally repaired; lofty double arches in the Early English style were thrown across the transepts, and the centre shaft of those on the north side rests on the base of an ancient pier of clustered columns supposed to have been intended to carry one of the arches of a central tower. More recently, a chancel in the Early English style has been erected, with other work, at a cost of upwards of £5,000. It is also intended to partially rebuild the transepts, the raised flooring and deep galleries of which still remain.
The stained east window was erected in 1896 by Baron de Ferrieres as a memorial to his father. In the nave are two memorial windows to Anne Morris, died 5 Oct. 1868, and one other stained window: on the north side of the nave is a canopied tomb of Elizabethan date, with open arched cornice surmounted by pinnacles and shields of arms within scroll-work, and underneath two recumbent effigies, painted and gilt, of Henry (Somerset) 2nd Earl of Worcester, died 26 November 1549, and Elizabeth (Browne), his wife: on the south side of the chancel is a lofty recessed and canopied Jacobean tomb, painted and gilt, to Thomas Shipman and Margaret (Maddock) wife to Richard Clayton esq. her 2nd husband. dated 1620: there are two male effigies kneeling at a desk, and a female effigy recumbent in front, and on the front of the lower part of the tomb are kneeling figures of two boys and ten girls; this tomb has lately (1900) been restored by the Duke of Beaufort; there are also in the church modern tablets ; under the tower is a floorstone with arms and anagrammatic inscription to Henry Marten, the regicide, M.P. (Berks) in 1610, and one of the signatories to the warrant for the execution of Charles I, who died at Chepstow Castle in Sept. 1680: the arcaded stone pulpit was given by the Striguil Lodge of Freemasons No. 2,186 on the 4 Nov. 1891 ; the font is octagonal with quatre-foiled sides, and slender detached buttress supports
The five bays of the nave consist of the recessed arches of the built up arcade, a triforium with small double openings on the south, and smaller single openings on the north side, and a clerestory, containing a single round-headed splayed window in each bay; the ceiling was originally groined, but is now of oak, flat and richly decorated.
Two stages of the Late Norman west front remain; the lower has a deeply recessed entrance of five orders, the arch being elaborately ornamented with zig-zag moulding and other carved work, and between it and the flanking buttresses are two small blind arches, similarly treated; the stage above it is lighted by a triplet of the same date; the two stages of the tower which rise above this have Italian details: the church affords 1,183 sittings.
The register dates from the year 1596, and contains a number of entries relating to the siege of the castle during the civil wars. The living is a vicarage, net yearly value £210, with 66 acres of glebe, and residence, in the gift of Simeon's trustees, and held since 1888 by the Rev. Egerton John Hensley M.A. of Exeter College, Oxford,. chaplain of Chepstow union and surrogate.
Besides the Priory church there were formerly several ancient chapels. That of St. Ewen, in Bridge street, is still standing, but has been modernized and converted into dwelling houses, but there remains one gable, which seems to indicate its former use.
The Catholic chapel in Welsh street, dedicated to St. Mary, is an edifice of stone in the Gothic style, erected in 1827 and seats about 200 persons.
The Cemetery, at Hardwick, formed in 1856 at a cost of about £2,300, has two mortuary chapels and is under the control of the Urban District Council.
The public buildings comprise the Bank buildings, erected by the late John Best Snead esq. banker; and the Assembly Rooms forming part of the Beaufort Arms Hotel.
The "A" Company of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion South Wales Borderers have their head quarters here.
The Freemasons' Hall is in Nelson street. There is a County Club with reading and billiard rooms in Beaufort Square. The Conservative Working Men's Club, Bank buildings, was established in 1884, and consists of a reading and amusement rooms.
The Fire Brigade, established 1889, consists of a captain and 9 men; the engine station is in Lower Nelson street.
The Chepstow Landing Stages Co. Limited was formed in 1889 for facilitating the landing of passengers brought by water to the town.
The trade of the town consists chiefly in grain, timber, bar, coal and building stone. The shipbuilding and engineering establishment carried on by Messrs E. Finch and Co. Limited gives employment to a large number of hands: a corn mill, malting establishments, brick fields, several wharves and boat-building yards.
There are branches here of the London and Provincial Bank Limited, the London City and Midland Bank Limited, and the Metropolitan Bank of England and Wales Limited.
The market day is Saturday, and there is a market held fortnightly, when farming stock is offered for sale. The fairs are held on the market day nearest March 1st, and the market day nearest the Friday in Whitsun week. The principal fairs are the wool and pleasure fair on June 22nd and those on the Tuesday nearest to August 1st (for horses) and the Friday before October 29th.
The Chepstow fishery, celebrated for the salmon caught in the rivers Wye and Severn, is strictly preserved and is held under the Duke of Beaufort by Messrs. Miller Brothers.
The Church Boys' House, close to the parish church, is a neat building of galvanized iron, erected in 1894, and opened 28 Sept. in that year by William Edward Carne Curre esq. of Itton Court, the total cost of fittings was about £472, of which £250 was the gift of Mrs. Bromedge, of Bournemouth. The house contains a gymnasium, reading room, supplied with daily papers and periodicals, smoke room, games room, workshop and library of upwards of 200 volumes. In connection with the house there is a drum and fife and cricket and football clubs. The principal room will seat about 300 persons. The whole is under management of the Rev. Charles Raw Thomas B.A., curate.
There are two almshouses, one of which is in Upper Church street is for ten persons, five men and five women, and is supported from estates in Northamptonshire, bequeathed by Sir Walter Montague, of Pencoyd Castle, in 1614, and now owned by the Duke of Buccleuch, who pays £33 yearly to this charity. The other is in Bridge street, erected and endowed by funds bequeathed by Thomas Powis, of Enfield, in the county of Middlesex, vintner (a native of this place), in 1716, is for twelve parsons, six men and six women, and other charities producing about £200 are distributed yearly.
In the Doomsday Book Chepstow Castle is designated "Estrighoiel" and afterwards known as the Castle of "Striguil". The ruins, which occupy the summit of a rugged limestone cliff, overhanging the Wye, on the north Side of the town. In plan they form an elongated parallelogram diminishing in breadth towards the upper end and containing four courts or wards; the fortress is entered at its northern angle, next the river, by a great gateway, flanked by two drum towers, and opening to the lower ward, at the south-east angle of which is a massive structure, formerly called Bigod's tower, but now better known as Marten's tower, having been occupied for 20 years by Henry Marten, the regicide, who was imprisoned here after the Restoration, and here died in 1680; On the opposite side of the lower ward are the principal domestic buildings, in one part of which is a large vaulted chamber almost overhanging the river and having a curious arrangement for raising stores from the boats beneath. A strong wall pierced by a towered, gateway divides the lower from the middle ward, between which and the upper ward is the grand old Norman keep, on the north side of which is a broad and rather steep flagged way connecting these two wards. Beyond the upper ward is a sunken way and drawbridge leading to the fourth court, and beyond this is the barbican and upper gate-house, defended by flanking square towers, fosse and drawbridge, and by a large drum tower on the south-west.
The oldest portion is the keep, most of which is Norman, though there are some Early English additions and a good deal of Decorated work in the upper part; the middle and upper wards are probably of the same date as the keep, but have been so much altered that little, if any, of the original work remains: the lower ward was probably added towards the close of the 12th century, whilst the barbican is a little later: a portion of the buildings in the lower ward of the castle is still occupied as a dwelling house bv the custodian, and the slopes of the moat, pleasantly shaded by trees, are traversed by paths and furnished with seats, and form an agreeable public resort.
The Domesday Book records that this castle was built by William Fitz Osborne, Earl of Hereford; it was subsequently possessed by the noble family of De Clare, from whom it passed by marriage, to the Marshalls, and from them in like manner to the Bigods. Edward I granted the castle to his younger son, Thomas de Brotherton, and from him it descended. through the noble families of Manny, Hastings and Mowbray. In 1468, William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, exchanged lands with Thomas, Duke of Norfolk, and thus acquired the castle and lordship of Chepstow, which passed into the possesion of Sir Charles Somerset (ancestor of the Duke of Beaufort, the present owner) by marriage with the heiress of Herbert.
During the civil wars Chepstow Castle was garrisoned for the king, who came here in 1645 on his way from Raglan, but in October of that year, being vigorously attacked by the Parliamentary forces it was surrendered by Sir Robert Fitz-Maurice on Oct 11, and after having again changed hands was finally taken by the Roundheads a second time in May, 1648.
During the Commonwealth, Chepstow Castle was settled by the Parliament on Oliver Cromwell in reward for his services, but after the Restoration it was restored to its rightful owners; in 1656 Jeremy Taylor was confined here under a charge of complicity in a royalist plot. When the castle was finally dismantled is unknown, but a garrison was maintained here as late as 1695.
The Benedictine Priory of Striguil, or Chepstow, was the time or Henry I by one of the Norman lords of Chepstow and attached to the Abbey of Cormeilles in Normandy: at the Dissolution the annual revenues of this monastery amounted to £32.3s.4d. The church is now the only remaining portion of the monastic buildings.
Hardwick House, the residence of Ernest Hartland esq., M.A., F.S.A., J. P., is very beautifully situated upon a wooded eminence on the banks of the Wye, and was formerly the residence of Dr Copleston, Bishop of Llandaff, 1828-49. Beyond the mansion, at a place called "The Bulwarks," are the remains of an extensive British camp, which was subsequently converted into a Roman camp; it occupies an area of about three acres.
Thornwell, situated near the confluence of the Wye and Severn, and now a farm-house, was formerly the residence of the Morgan family.
The scenery around Chepstow is very beautiful and the Wye for some miles above winds between lofty perpendicular cliffs of carboniferous limestone, thickly wooded. In the neighbourhood are Piercefield Park, the famous Wyndcliff, and the Moss Cottage, the ruins of Tintern Abbey and Caldicot Castle, Caerwent, an old Roman station, St. Briavel's Castle, Raglan Castle, Monmouth, Symond's Yat, the ruined church of Llancaut, and many other objects of interest. The Mount is the seat of William Pegler esq ; the manor is situated in well wooded grounds of 32 acres. The Duke of Beaufort is lord of the manor and principal landowner.
The population of the local board district and parish in 1891 was 3,378, including 5 officers and 118 inmates of the workhouse; the area is 1,095 acres of land, 85 of tidal water and 101 of foreshore; rateable value, £16,029.