A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 10, Westbury and Whitstone Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1972.
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WOOLASTON is a parish of scattered hamlets lying midway between Lydney and Chepstow. Roughly rectangular in shape, it rises from the River Severn to the high ground of Tidenham Chase. The account printed here relates to the area that until 1882 formed the parish, comprising 3,303 a. excluding river foreshore and tidal water. (fn. 1) The area included Madgett, a detached piece of cultivated land on Tidenham Chase, and a long, narrow neck of land extending to the steep valley of the River Wye opposite Tintern Abbey. In 1882 the detached portion of the parish at Madgett, comprising 308 a., was transferred to Tidenham. (fn. 2) In 1935 the strip of land between the River Wye and the road from St. Briavels to Chepstow, containing 219 a. and including a small part of the hamlet of Brockweir, was transferred to Hewelsfield, and 54 a. of land north-east of the Cone brook were transferred to Alvington. At the same time the irregular shape of the parish boundary with Tidenham south of Ashwell Grange was straightened by the transfer of 113 a. to Woolaston. (fn. 3) In Ashwell Grove a clearing of 3 a. called Piccadilly formed a detached part of Tidenham until 1882. (fn. 4)
The northern part of the parish near Brockweir consisted of the riverside meadows between the River Wye and the steep wooded scarp of Madgett Hill. The promontory on which Ferry Farm stands was called Yewtree Headland (Iwes Heafdan) in 956, and yew trees were growing there in 1969. (fn. 5) The northern boundary followed the brook at Brockweir for almost a mile and then ran eastwards along the 600-ft. contour. The land, which was still heavily wooded in 1969, falls steeply for 400 ft. with streams flowing south-eastwards to the Severn. The parish boundary follows the course of the northernmost until its confluence with the Cone brook and thence, with the exception of the meadow north of Mickla Bridge and a small piece of land at Cone Pill the boundary runs with the Cone to the Severn. The Severn forms the southern boundary, the pills along its bank being much silted and the bank suffering erosion. (fn. 6) On the south-west the boundary follows the stream that flows into Horse Pill from the road from Gloucester to Chepstow, but north of the road it takes an erratic course unrelated to topographical features. It is likely that originally the boundary ran along the Piccadilly brook from its source, near which there occurs the place-name Mereway Grove, to Wyvern Pond. A park belonging to the lordship of Woolaston but in the fee of Tidenham was given to Tintern Abbey by Walter de Clare in 1131 (fn. 7) and the name Park Hill, first recorded in 1661, (fn. 8) was still applied in 1969 to the hamlet known also as Bowlash immediately north of Mereway Grove. The park was presumably included in the assart of 200 a. in Tidenham Chase, made by Tintern Abbey by 1282, for that clearance can be identified as Ashwell Grange, consisting probably of all the land between the Piccadilly brook and the post-1935 south boundary of the parish. (fn. 9) The extraordinary course of the boundary before 1935 may be explained as a division of the assarted land between Tidenham and Woolaston, for tithe disputes over the park and assarts at Tidenham and inclosure of arable at Ashwell occurred in the early 13th century and 1291 between Lire Abbey, appropriators of Tidenham, and Tintern Abbey. (fn. 10) The whole parish lay in 1273 within Tidenham Chase, regarded as part of the Forest of Dean in the 13th century. (fn. 11)
The ground above the 250-ft. contour in the north part of the parish lies on the Carboniferous Limestone with a small area of Millstone Grit near the road from St. Briavels to Chepstow at Little Meend. The rock lies close to the surface at Madgett, which suffered from a shortage of water before the main supply was piped to the fields c. 1955. (fn. 12) Between the hills and the Gloucester-Chepstow road the land, falling gently to 100 ft., is on the Old Red Sandstone, which also underlies the small hamlet of Plusterwine south-east of the road. The meadow land south-east of the road is on the Keuper Marl. (fn. 13) There are numerous springs and wells in the upper beds of the Old Red Sandstone, and Lydney R.D.C. provided a piped supply to Netherend from one spring at Woolaston Common before 1930. (fn. 14) Ashwell Grange and High Woolaston Farm had a private supply from two of the springs in 1969. (fn. 15)
At Edge Farm, near High Woolaston, where there was a field called Single Berrow (fn. 16) in 1683, a small Iron Age camp has been identified, and there are earthworks at High Woolaston Farm. (fn. 17) A large Roman villa in a field called Chesters east of Woolaston Grange was partly excavated between 1932 and 1935. Little more than the bath systems of two periods were uncovered, but the villa was apparently built in the first half of the 2nd century, destroyed and rebuilt c. 320, remaining occupied until the 5th century. During this occupation a harbour in the near-by Lay Pill was apparently much used and the villa is thought to have had a lighthouse to guide vessels past the off-shore Guscar Rocks. (fn. 18) A hoard of c. 250 Roman coins from c. 313 to c. 346 was discovered at an unidentified site in the parish in 1887-8. (fn. 19)
The hamlet of Woolaston has always been small. In 1086 five families were recorded there, (fn. 20) and c. 1703 there were 10 families. (fn. 21) Apart from Woolaston Grange, where the remains of a medieval chapel built by Tintern Abbey stand in the farmyard, and the rectory built in 1814, the few houses on the Gloucester-Chepstow road are of late-19th- or 20th-century date. At Gumstalls, where in 1969 there stood a pair of early-19th-century cottages and a house which was the National school from c. 1818 to 1862, (fn. 22) there was a house by 1476. (fn. 23) High Woolaston was regarded as a separate hamlet by c. 1703 when it contained 20 families. (fn. 24) Fragments of medieval pottery have been discovered in the valley south of High Woolaston Farm, (fn. 25) and the remains of a building on the site were levelled c. 1960. Other foundations have been found in orchards near the farm, including those of a ruined cottage on the north side of the road which it was proposed should be pulled down in 1873. (fn. 26) North of the 16th- and 17th-century farm-house four cottages were converted into a single dwelling c. 1960, (fn. 27) and another indication of the former size of the hamlet is that in 1769 there was a blacksmith's shop. (fn. 28)
Most of the older houses in the parish are in two groups at Plusterwine and Brookend, within the area of the medieval manor of 'Aluredston', which comprised the eastern part of the parish. Its boundaries cannot be defined precisely but it extended to the Cone brook and River Severn, and included the port at Cone Pill. (fn. 29) Plusterwine Farm was certainly part of the manor, although the suggestion that the 19th-century names of the homestead, Alnwick Grange, (fn. 30) and its out-buildings, Atwood Grange, are derived from Aluredston seems unlikely. (fn. 31) The presence of woodland in 1086 suggests that Aluredston manor included Woolaston Common and Woodside. (fn. 32) The latest reference to the place-name, the first element of which is the personal name Alfred, occurs c. 1750 when Platts House at Brookend was located at 'Alverston'. (fn. 33) There were 10 families at Aluredston in 1086, (fn. 34) and 12th-century pottery has been found at Brookend. (fn. 35) There is a medieval building and a moat at Plusterwine House. (fn. 36) By c. 1703 there were 35 families in Plusterwine hamlet. (fn. 37) Burnt House and the former post office at Brookend are 17th-century houses with steeply pitched gabled roofs. Tan House was built in the late 17th century and Brookend House, formerly the Woolaston Inn, bears the initials 'IMW 1713' on the gate-posts, which almost certainly stand for James and Mary Woodroffe (both d. 1728). (fn. 38) The other older houses at Plusterwine and Brookend date from the late 18th or early 19th century, although Possession House was recorded in 1694. (fn. 39) In Plusterwine Lane and Kerrin Lane four houses and bungalows have been built since c. 1960.
The most populous part of the parish in 1969 was Netherend, where there are numerous stonebuilt 19th-century cottages, many of which have been rendered or rough-cast, and altered internally, in the mid 20th century. In 1815 there were 22 small houses and cottages in the hamlet scattered along the roads leading to Woolaston Common, and by 1842 there were 64. (fn. 40) About 50 houses were built at Netherend between 1945 and 1958, (fn. 41) including council houses erected by Lydney R.D.C. By 1969 73 council houses stood in two groups in Severn View Road and near the Netherend Inn, and apart from scattered new houses built privately since c. 1950 18 houses were in the course of construction north of Burnt House. The primary school, Methodist chapel, all three village shops, and post office were also in Netherend in 1969. A small group of 19th-century houses stands above the lane leading to Cone Mill, of which the easternmost was enlarged by the manager of the former paper-mill c. 1880. (fn. 42)
On the higher ground in the parish, much of which was waste land before inclosure in 1815, many stone cottages were built in the late 18th and early 19th century at Woolaston Common, Woolaston Woodside, and Park Hill. A few were built on encroachments of the waste in the late 17th century, and by c. 1703 there were already 20 families living at Upperend, which comprised the area about Woolaston Common. (fn. 43) The cottagers found employment in the woods, quarries, and coal mines of the Forest of Dean and Tidenham Chase, but the isolation of the cottages led to their abandonment from c. 1900. In 1958 only seven out of 17 cottages at Park Hill were inhabited, but since then four new houses have been built or rebuilt and many of the older cottages have been modernized. (fn. 44)
At Brockweir only a small portion of the village formerly lay in Woolaston parish, which included Brockweir Farm, the Moravian church with dwelling attached, and the hall and former school. Brockweir Farm, which is L-shaped and built of stone, appears originally to have consisted of a rectangular two-storied structure of three bays, dating from the late 16th or early 17th century. The surviving front entrance indicates the position of the former cross-passage. The only original features visible are a stone fireplace at the west end of the older range and a partly-blocked four-light window with hollow-chamfered mullions in what has become an internal wall. The west end of the building was raised in height and extended northwards, probably in the early 19th century. In 1969 the stone slates which had covered the roof were replaced by tiles.
The deep valley east of Brockweir is crossed by Offa's Dyke, constructed between c. 784 and c. 796, and here enlarged and used later as a mill-dam. The dyke also forms the west boundary of the detached portion of the parish at Madgett where the nature of the strong bank and ditch suggests that it was built to protect the Saxon vill of Madgett whose lynchets run to the dyke. (fn. 45) No population at Madgett was recorded in 1086. (fn. 46)
In the whole parish there were c. 120 communicants recorded in 1551, (fn. 47) and 250 in 1603. (fn. 48) The population was more stable than the figures suggest, for in 1563 there were 48 households, (fn. 49) in 1608 52 adult males, (fn. 50) in 1650 49 families, (fn. 51) and in 1672 55 persons who were assessed for hearth tax. (fn. 52) A growth of population followed, for by c. 1703 there were 85 families (fn. 53) and c. 1710 there were 96 houses with 400 inhabitants. (fn. 54) There was a rapid growth from 459 c. 1775 (fn. 55) to 613 in 1801, 884 in 1821, and a peak figure of 1,110 in 1851, perhaps partly due to the presence of railway navvies in the district that year. The population declined steadily to 852 in 1891, when there were 29 uninhabited houses in the parish, and with some fluctuations to 786 in 1961. (fn. 56)
The principal road through Woolaston runs from Gloucester to Chepstow. It follows the course of the Roman road from Gloucester to Caerleon for much of its route, but south-west of Brookend the Roman road is believed to have diverged northward past Gumstalls and the church before rejoining the modern road north-east of Stroat. (fn. 57) Part of the diversion at Gumstalls was still a green lane in 1969, and may be the road from Brookend to the church mentioned in 1545. (fn. 58) The course taken by the modern main road has been in use at least since the 10th century, for the crossing of the Piccadilly brook and the Black brook at Twyford was recorded in 956. (fn. 59) That was the place from which Twyford Hundred was named, but the name was corrupted to Wyeford from the mid 13th century and to Wyvern Pond from c. 1900. (fn. 60) Although there was a bridge on the main road by 1769 a ford then remained on the side road to High Woolaston, (fn. 61) and the pond was not finally filled until 1963 when a petrol-station was built on the site. (fn. 62) The length of the Gloucester-Chepstow road through the parish was a turnpike road from 1757-8 to 1871, (fn. 63) but the only major change in its course was made before 1769 when a more southerly route at Netherend was abandoned. (fn. 64) The road from Wyvern Pond to High Woolaston was called Mislin or Millin Lane in the late 17th century, (fn. 65) and the lane from High Woolaston to Stroat was still in use in 1782. (fn. 66) From Lay Pill a medieval track called Packer's Way has been traced by the Roman villa westwards towards the Gloucester-Chepstow road, and a hollow way runs from the church north-west to skirt Edge Farm and climb towards Tidenham Chase. (fn. 67) Souters or Showters Lane, recorded in the 17th and 18th centuries, (fn. 68) was the name given to the road at Netherend. One branch to Woolaston Woodside was called Cormins Lane in 1694, and may have continued as 'the old and usual way' to St. Briavels mentioned in 1682. At Woolaston Common a lane, which in 1969 survived as a green lane, ran from Upperend to Hewelsfield in 1683, (fn. 69) the principal road at the Common being known as Upperends Street in 1761. (fn. 70) At Plusterwine lanes from Green Pool to Wickets Bridge and Mickla Bridge across the Cone brook were mentioned in 1680 and 1681 respectively. Mickla Bridge was only a footbridge in 1681, but in 1969 it was a small stone bridge wide enough to take vehicles.
In the west part of the parish a way from Brockweir to the chase gate in 1681 (fn. 71) was presumably the same as 'the right road from Brockweir to Chepstow' which passed over Madgetts Hill north-west of Madgett Farm by the waste land called Madgetts Green c. 1700. (fn. 72) It continued southwards by the green lane from Beeches Farm, the road to Madgett Farm used in 1969 being made in 1813. (fn. 73) There was a way from Madgett to the ferry to Tintern in 1824, (fn. 74) and from the ferry to Brockweir in 1777. (fn. 75) The latter was pitched with cobblestones near the ferry in 1969, and is said to have been cobbled where it crossed the riverside meadows at Brockweir. (fn. 76) The ferry to Tintern was established by the abbey, and in 1535, when the keeper was paid £4 a year, it was believed to date from the foundation of the abbey in 1131. (fn. 77) The ferryman in 1282, Henry le Passur, was said to carry poachers out of the Forest of Dean, (fn. 78) and the ferry was presumably used by Bishop Richard de Swinfield when he travelled from Woolaston to Tintern during his visitation of Hereford diocese in 1289. (fn. 79) The ferry became unnecessary after the building of a bridge c. 1876 for the mineral railway from the Tintern wire-works to the Wye Valley line. The mineral line was closed c. 1935 but the bridge was used for vehicular access to Ferry Farm in 1969. (fn. 80) The stone farm-house is a two-story building with small attics of early-19thcentury date. It was probably largely rebuilt after 1813 when it was becoming ruinous (fn. 81) but a diagonal chimney shaft of earlier date has survived at the south end.
The railway from Gloucester to South Wales, which passes through the parish, was opened in 1851 (fn. 82) with a station at Woolaston approached from Plusterwine. The station was used for the conveyance of materials to and from Cone paper-mill in the late 19th century, but its distance from the village limited its use by passengers. (fn. 83) It was closed in 1954 and was later demolished. The Wye Valley branch line from Chepstow to Monmouth was opened in 1876, crossing the river Wye half a mile south of Brockweir by a bridge which was dismantled after the closure of the line in 1964. (fn. 84)
Three brewers, one at Brockweir, were recorded in 1476 and two unlicensed alehouses in 1660 and 1752. (fn. 85) In 1685 there was a house at Brookend called the 'Worcester's Head', (fn. 86) which was presumably the same as that called the 'Duke of Beaufort's Head' in 1772. (fn. 87) It is a late-18th-century house, which for much of the 19th century had a smithy adjoining it; (fn. 88) it ceased to be an inn c. 1908. (fn. 89) From c. 1820 it was usually called the 'Old Duke's Head' to distinguish it from the 'Duke's Head' almost opposite on the south side of the Gloucester-Chepstow road. (fn. 90) The latter, called Brookend House in 1969, (fn. 91) was an inn by 1800, owned by Edmund Woodroffe, (fn. 92) and was called the 'Duke's Head' until 1842; (fn. 93) in 1856 it was known as the 'Queen's Head', but from 1863 was called the Woolaston Inn. (fn. 94) It has been a private house since 1961 when a new Woolaston Inn was built on the north side of the road at Brookend. (fn. 95) The Swan Inn is recorded from 1815, (fn. 96) and the 'Rising Sun' and Netherend Inn were beerhouses before 1876. There were then two other beerhouses in Netherend and Woolaston Common, one called the 'Carpenter's Arms' probably dating from before 1863 and surviving until c. 1908. (fn. 97)
A Friendly Society was registered in 1834 and an Independent Benevolent Society in 1844. (fn. 98) The parish was given a cottage in 1908 for social functions, and in the same year clothing and blanket clubs were established and a coal club was in existence. (fn. 99) A Memorial Hall was built in 1958. (fn. 100) A cricket club was mentioned in 1897. (fn. 101) The placename Plusterwine which occurs first c. 1661 as 'Plesterwinde', (fn. 102) is believed to be derived from 'plaistow', meaning 'a place for games', (fn. 103) and the churchwardens reported a custom of 'roughing on All Hallows Night' in 1576. (fn. 104)