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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THE FORMER BOROUGH of Newnham stands on the right bank of the Severn 10 miles south-west of Gloucester at a point where the river was crossed by a ford and a ferry. Flanked by the river on one side and the Forest of Dean on the other, Newnham was a port trading in timber, in oak bark for the tanning industry, and in coal; it was also once a minor centre of tanning, glass making, and shipbuilding. The whole parish was included in early perambulations of the Forest of Dean, but only the southern part in the 13th and 14th centuries; later the whole parish was excluded from the forest. (fn. 1) The southern part of the parish comprised the tithing and manor of Ruddle.
The parish has an area of 1,938 a. (fn. 2) and is regular in shape, covering about 1½ mile from east to west and 2½ miles from north to south. The Severn forms the eastern boundary; on the west the parish is demarcated by the edge of Blaize Bailey at the northern end and by the Soudley brook at the southern. The northern and southern boundaries each follow small streams for part of their length. (fn. 3) The western part of the parish lies on the Old Red Sandstone, which dips to the west so that most of the rainwater runs off into the Soudley brook, while across the eastern part, lying on the Keuper Sandstone, there are a few minor streams: (fn. 4) Orman brook and Water brook were named in the earlier 13th century, Whetstones brook in 1418. (fn. 5) The streams empty into the river by pills of which four have been used as moorings for boats. (fn. 6)
The land rises fairly steeply from the bank of the Severn to the 200-ft. contour and thereafter much more steeply, reaching to 600 ft. in the north-west and falling again precipitously in the south-west corner to the Soudley brook. Across the middle of the parish is a promontory of higher ground, which forms a bluff rising from the river's bank, and on the bluff is built the town of Newnham. Most of the land of the parish, which had apparently been largely cleared of woodland by the end of the 11th century, (fn. 7) has long been agricultural. There were open fields in the Middle Ages, but the latest evidence that has been found of open field land is in 1628. (fn. 8) The greater part of the surviving woodland, c. 200 a. in 1901, (fn. 9) was in the south-west corner of the parish, where in the early 12th century Gloucester Abbey had a wood called Southridge outside the forest (fn. 10) and where a park was created in the later 18th century. (fn. 11) Orchards covered c.1/8 of the parish in 1933. (fn. 12)
Newnham is thought to have been settled because of the relative ease of crossing the river there. The commanding site, close to the water's edge but above the flood level, was clearly a contributory cause. The crossing at Newnham was presumably in use in the first century A.D., (fn. 13) and if the ancient line of the road through Arlingham reached the river opposite Hawkins Pill, at the north-east corner of Newnham parish, it was to exploit the ford that could be used there at low water. (fn. 14) A stone bench across most of the river bed was connected to the shore by a bed of sand affording a firm crossing. In 1802, however, the river's channel changed direction and washed away the bed of sand. (fn. 15) Whereas the ford was upstream from Newnham town, the ferry may originally have been downstream. The ferry belonged, by the early 14th century, not to the manor or borough of Newnham but to Ruddle manor. (fn. 16) At the southern end of the town a promontory called the Nab or Newnham's Ladder projects into the river, slightly reducing the width of the passage; the Nab evidently once extended further south, and has been eroded by the flowing tide of the river. (fn. 17) Tradition records a path running round under the Nab, (fn. 18) where in recent times the sheerness of the cliff makes such a path impossible, and the little way to the pill mentioned c. 1230 (fn. 19) may have been an undercliff path to Collow Pill, immediately south of the town. In 1618 there were steps down to the water both at Collow Pill and at the Nab. (fn. 20) A passage at Collow was mentioned in 1803. (fn. 21) There is also evidence of a western end of the ferry at Portlands Nab, ¾ mile downstream from the town: in 1600 there was a way to the passage at the lower end of Portfield, (fn. 22) perhaps the lane to Portlands Nab shown on a map of 1618, (fn. 23) and in 1637 it was said that the passage, which had evidently been moved, ought to be at Court Haie (fn. 24) on Portlands Nab. (fn. 25)
The first known reference to the ferry is of 1238, when the king granted the woman keeping the passage of Newnham an oak for building a boat. (fn. 26) In the later 13th century or early 14th Gloucester Abbey granted to Richard Head of Ruddle a moiety of its passage of Newnham, to hold as his ancestors had done, with a house and garden in Ruddle. (fn. 27) The ferry continued to belong to the lords of Ruddle manor after the Dissolution (fn. 28) until the early 19th century. In the later 18th century the ferry, which carried horses and carriages, was described as very safe, (fn. 29) but at a later period the absence of a long jetty on the Arlingham side meant that the passengers often had to be carried across the mud on men's backs. (fn. 30) After Newnham station opened in 1851 cattle from Arlingham were ferried to the railway until c. 1914. (fn. 31) By 1810 the rights in the ferry had been acquired by the Severn Tunnel Company, which proposed a tunnel under the river between Newnham and Arlingham, (fn. 32) secured an Act for the purpose, (fn. 33) and began tunnelling. (fn. 34) The abortive tunnel scheme was followed by schemes for a bridge in 1842, (fn. 35) 1877, 1880–2, (fn. 36) 1893–4, (fn. 37) and c. 1950. (fn. 38) The ferry, however, was not replaced and survived until after the Second World War, when it went gradually out of use. (fn. 39)
Newnham was given its name apparently with reference to the older settlement of Westbury, and remained a chapelry of Westbury in the 13th century. (fn. 40) Documentary evidence of the settlement of Newnham has not been found earlier (fn. 41) than 1086. There were then estates called Staure (later represented by the farmstead Stears), Newnham, and Ruddle, and there were two unnamed estates that appear to be identifiable with Newnham. (fn. 42) The Domesday estate called Newnham seems to have been not Newnham manor but the one later called the Hyde. The estate that was later the manor and borough of Newnham was evidently entered, unnamed, as part of the king's demesne of Westbury; (fn. 43) there is no indication that any urban characteristics had developed by then. Newnham castle, however, had presumably been built. Allegedly the first castle built beyond the Severn against the Welsh, (fn. 44) it was apparently not the 'old castle of Dean' (fn. 45) which is more plausibly identified with Littledean Camp. (fn. 46) Land in Newnham was described in the 12th century as by the ditch of the old castle, and there were similar descriptions c. 1240 and in 1418; (fn. 47) in the early 13th century land in Newnham was identified as being by the chapel of the old castle. (fn. 48) There is therefore no good reason for doubting that the three sided earthwork with ramparts and a ditch on the high ground at the south end of the town was, as it appears to be, a Norman castle (fn. 49) rather than part of the defences thrown up in 1643; it was presumably the hollow green recorded in 1594. (fn. 50) The defensive bank running north from the castle, however, may be no earlier than the 17th century. (fn. 51)
From 1187 Newnham was called a borough, (fn. 52) and for long it was the only Gloucestershire borough west of the Severn. (fn. 53) The inclusion of Newnham as a borough in the 'Nomina Villarum' (fn. 54) is apparently all that underlies the often repeated statement that it was once represented in parliament. (fn. 55) The characteristics and decline of the town's status as a borough are discussed below. (fn. 56) While there was a market in the town in the 12th century, (fn. 57) it was apparently as a port that Newnham achieved its relative degree of consequence. In 1171 the Earl of Pembroke met Henry II at Newnham, where the king was ready to embark with his army for Ireland. (fn. 58) Maritime activity in the following decades is suggested by some of the surnames occurring in Newnham: Adam the Fleming witnessed a deed c. 1220; (fn. 59) John Lombard of Newnham at about the same time (fn. 60) was one of a family (fn. 61) that included Adam Lombard, who made a voyage to Santiago in 1287, (fn. 62) and gave the name to Lumbars Farm, a house surviving into the 20th century; (fn. 63) John Brabant, in the 16th century, (fn. 64) may have come of a family long settled in Newnham, where the name survived into the 19th century in the forms Braban and Broben. (fn. 65) By the early 14th century Newnham had grown large enough for its older neighbour to the northeast to be identified as Westbury by Newnham. (fn. 66) Much of the town's trade may have been then, as later, with Bristol (fn. 67) and have consisted in timber, bark, and hides. (fn. 68) Customs on cloth to be collected in Newnham were mentioned in 1347, (fn. 69) and uncustomed wine was recorded there in 1414. (fn. 70)
In the late 12th or early 13th century the town suffered from a serious fire, (fn. 76) and c. 1466 another fire destroyed three houses which had not been rebuilt by 1511. (fn. 77) If it is possible to judge the fluctuating prosperity or size of the town from the number of houses paying stallgale, a customary payment of 4d. from each occupied burgage, (fn. 78) the town declined between 1404 when there were evidently 36 burgages (fn. 79) and 1434 when there were 23. (fn. 71) Later expansion is reflected by an increase to 41 burgages in 1512, (fn. 72) but the number had fallen again to 27 by 1542. (fn. 73) In 1637 there were 68 inhabitants owing the customary payment, (fn. 74) the number having apparently increased with the growth of trade in the preceding decades.
The town was described c. 1703 as one long entire street (fn. 75) and had evidently assumed by then the shape that has persisted since. The main road from Gloucester to Chepstow turns away from the river bank immediately before Newnham Pill — the mouth of Whetstones brook — and quickly turns back again across the brook to run parallel to the river and up the hill to the top of the bluff, where it passes between the castle and the church. The church had been moved to that site from one on the Nab in the 14th century. (fn. 80) High Street, mentioned as the great street c. 1230, (fn. 81) stretches between Whetstones brook and the church, a distance of 550 yds. in which it rises 75 ft. The lowest, northern third is relatively narrow, but the street then makes a slight bend and widens out so that the upper two thirds in the 20th century comprised two roadways with a strip of green between them. (fn. 82) Half way up its upper two thirds High Street forms a cross roads with the road west to Littledean and with Passage Lane, recorded in 1594, (fn. 83) leading east to the ferry at Passage Green which was recorded in 1457. (fn. 84) The High Cross of 1457 evidently stood at the crossroads. (fn. 85) The Shoprow of 1340 was a row of market stalls, (fn. 86) and may have been along the middle of High Street. (fn. 87) Water Lane and Hormon Lane, mentioned c. 1230, (fn. 88) were apparently lanes lying east of High Street towards the river, and one of them may have been Back Street, linking Newnham Pill with the east end of Passage Lane, and continued southwards and westwards to the church by Church Street; (fn. 89) by 1968 Back Street and Church Street were called Church Road, and Passage Lane was called Severn Street.
A statement that the town had once been much bigger is found c. 1703 (fn. 90) and is repeated with the argument, which is shown by the foregoing to be insubstantial, that whereas Newnham had once had several streets only one remained. (fn. 91) Although the town's commercial activity may have been waning c. 1703, the glass houses on the river bank south of Newnham Pill were still in production. The glassworks closed a few years later, (fn. 92) and maritime trade was dormant until the mid 18th century. (fn. 93)
Two Newnham ships, each of 20 tons burden, were at Bristol in 1571 and 1572. (fn. 94) In 1580 the Crown appointed Newnham as one of the creeks of the port of Gloucester. (fn. 95) Goods went from Newnham to Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries: in the 1680s the chief cargoes were cider and glass, (fn. 96) and in the three preceding decades Newnham was used for shipping Forest of Dean timber. (fn. 97) Until the mid 18th century most of Newnham's shipping was of oak-bark to Ireland, but c. 1755 a Newnham merchant, Robert Pyrke, built a new quay, with cranes and warehouses, which brought greater activity: Birmingham goods were brought down the river for consignment to London, and coal, brought to the quay by horse, and cider were shipped from Newnham. In the seventies Newnham was described as a flourishing little town, already much improved in its buildings. (fn. 98)
At Newnham Pill, beside which there was a house in the 12th century, (fn. 99) there was a small quay in 1775 (fn. 100) which belonged in 1839 to the Newnham Pill Co. (fn. 101) and probably went out of use when the pill was culverted in 1850. (fn. 102) Pyrke's quay may have been not at Newnham Pill but at Hawkins Pill, ½ mile upstream, for his partner in 1767 was Thomas Hawkins. (fn. 103) Coal was one of the main commodities shipped, and Hawkins had a coalyard. (fn. 104) The advantages of the new quay, however, were offset by the difficulty of navigation at Newnham, and by the early 19th century a large part of the trade had moved to Gatcombe, (fn. 105) which was better placed to take advantage, later, of the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal. There remained a regular traffic to London, (fn. 106) Bristol, (fn. 107) and Ireland; bark and timber were exported, and wine and iron ore, for smelting at Flaxley, were imported. (fn. 108) The quay at Hawkins Pill continued in use in 1868 (fn. 109) and survived into the early 20th century. (fn. 110) Its function as Newnham's principal quay, however, passed to Bullo Pill, at the south-eastern corner of the parish, where a harbour and quays, connected with the Forest of Dean coalfield by a mineral railway-line opened in 1809, were built between 1808 and 1818. (fn. 111) Coal, timber, bark, and slate were shipped from there in the later 19th century, and a small industrial centre developed there. (fn. 112) Coal continued to be loaded on barges at Bullo Pill until the Second World War. (fn. 113) The wharf at Collow Pill, recorded in 1839, (fn. 114) is likely to have been used mainly for shipping hides and bark, lying as it did close to Underhill tannery. (fn. 115)
In 1603 in Newnham there was a market-house or tolsey where tolls of the market were paid, and a town-house where the courts were held; (fn. 116) the courthouse and the market-house were recorded in 1715, (fn. 117) but in 1762 the court leet of the borough ordered that the lord of the manor should build a court-house, and in 1771 that he should remove the stone and rubble of the old market-house and pound. (fn. 118) The removal of the old buildings, possibly standing with stalls in the middle of High Street, was presumably part of the improvement noted c. 1775. (fn. 119) The new court-house may have been attached to the house on the east side of High Street called the Court House in the 20th century.
Many of the older houses in High Street were rebuilt or refronted in the 18th century, giving the street the predominantly Georgian appearance which it still retained in 1968. Timber-framing, mostly of the 16th or 17th century but some perhaps even older, is visible only at the backs of houses and in outbuildings, all the frontages having been covered with rough-cast or plaster. The Upper George Inn, on the corner of High Street and Severn Street, is of timber construction and retains a partly jettied front. (fn. 120) Britannia House, a little further down High Street, is a 17th-century timber-framed house which, though covered in rough-cast, still has a gabled street frontage and a newel stair in a projecting wing at the back. On the west side of the street the Gable House and Tower Cottage together form another timber-framed house with an altered gabled front; it was formerly the Lamb and Flag Inn. Wilcox House, further north, has a largely 18th-century street frontage but contains 17th-century panelling, decorative plaster ceilings, and the inscription 'S.W.I.H. 1669', the first two initials being for Stephen Wilcox. (fn. 121) On the east side of the street, Mansion House has internal features of the early 18th century, but the façade was altered and given a wrought-iron canopied porch about a hundred years later. Kingston House is a stone building with a moulded 17th-century ceiling on the ground floor and stone-mullioned first-floor windows; over the doorway is a hood of c. 1700 in the form of a shell, and the house was evidently given an extra story in the 18th century. Towards the south end of High Street on the same side a late-17th-century house called Bank House (as is also an 18th-century house further north in High Street) has a twin-gabled brick front, later rough-cast. In addition to those larger houses, High Street contains several roughcast cottages which are structurally timber-framed; a similar cottage stands west of the former Independent chapel in the Littledean road.
There are several large houses newly built in the 18th century. The Victoria Hotel, at the top of High Street, incorporates one of the grandest of them. It was built of stone early in the century, apparently for Thomas Crump. The long street frontage, painted white, has since 1948 lost several original features, including a balustraded parapet and a central pediment. (fn. 122) The wide portico with paired columns was probably added when the building became an inn and posting-house between 1836 and 1840. (fn. 123) Internal fittings include a fine early-18th-century staircase; a panel of painted glass, dated 1622, has evidently been reset in the staircase window. (fn. 124) North of the staircase a large saloon, rising through two stories, has an elaborate garden elevation with a high plinth, paired pilasters, and pedimented windows. Internally its coved ceiling and other features have been hidden by a mid-20th-century decorative scheme simulating a timber-framed barn. Near the lower end of High Street both the Red House, dating from the mid 18th century, and Bank House, built somewhat later, retain unaltered red-brick frontages. Castle House, facing down High Street from the southern end, Old House, and the Old Vicarage (fn. 125) are among the larger houses of the later 18th century. Overlooking the river is a slightly later house, formerly called Severn Bank and afterwards Mount Severn and Newnham House, which has a wrought-iron and wood verandah and is said to have been lived in by Mrs. Henry Wood and depicted in her novel East Lynne. (fn. 126) Hill House (also called Newnham House) is mentioned below. (fn. 127) In the early 19th century it was noted that although the houses were mostly ranged facing each other in one long street the 'perspective side' was on the reverse, (fn. 128) a statement which is partly true of the Victoria Inn and perhaps of the 18th-century Bank House. The walls of some buildings, particularly near the north end of the town where the glass-works were, incorporate blocks of glass slag.
With good buildings, a relatively elevated position, the wooded hills of the Forest of Dean on one side and the river on the other, Newnham was clearly an eligible place to live. In 1831 the group of 'capitalists, bankers, professional and other educated men' in Newnham numbered 29, over 10 per cent. of the total number of male adults. (fn. 129) The amenities of the town included the Round Green, the earthwork running north from the castle, which in the mid 18th century provided an 'agreeable terrace walk'. (fn. 130) It looks like the remains of an ancient town wall, but it fits the descriptions in 1644 of the royalists' defensive works at the upper end of the town; (fn. 131) the known indications that there may have been a town wall earlier are the occurrence of a William atte Wall in 1327 (fn. 132) and rents paid to the lord of the manor for parts of the town ditch in 1637. (fn. 133) The Round Green was later part of the manorial waste: the court leet ordered the lord of the manor to move the pound there in 1766, (fn. 134) and the pound was at the north end of the green by 1839; (fn. 135) after 1928 it was not used for stray animals, (fn. 136) and in 1968 it was used to store salt for the roads in winter. (fn. 137) By 1849 the green had been laid out as a promenade, (fn. 138) and in 1873 a new road was built along the east side of the green, linking the Littledean road with High Street opposite the churchyard. (fn. 139) In 1880 the lord of the manor sold to the town all his rights in the green, which had been long inclosed and devoted to public recreation, and over which all commoning rights had been extinguished. (fn. 140) John Hill (d. 1893) by his will gave money for seats on the green, and John Cholditch by his will proved 1911 gave £100 for the maintenance of the green. (fn. 141)
The sharp double bend at the lower end of High Street, immediately north of Newnham Pill, made the main road narrow and dangerous. The bridge at the bottom of the town was recorded in 1769, (fn. 142) and in 1850 the pill was culverted so that the bends could be made less sharp. (fn. 143) The road was again made wider and straighter in the 1930s (fn. 144) and, with the demolition of a large house on the corner, in 1968. At the slight bend one-third of the way up High Street a clock-tower was built in 1873 by subscription. (fn. 145) The lane leading north-west from that bend was called Curriers Lane in 1797 (fn. 146) but later became Station Road after the railway station, ¼ mile from High Street, had been opened in 1851. (fn. 147) The increase in population between 1851 and 1861 was attributed to the opening of the station, although the increase in the decades immediately before and after was greater. (fn. 148) There was little new building in the town between the mid 19th century and the mid 20th, though six pairs of houses were built spaced out along Station Road before 1901. (fn. 149) In the 1930s the Gloucester R.D.C. built houses near the railway station which, with later additions, numbered 50 in 1968. A further group of 20 houses was built by the council on the Littledean road in the fifties and sixties, and a group of 17 private houses near-by was completed in 1968.
Settlement outside the town for long consisted only of scattered farmsteads, except for the small group of houses beside the main road at Ruddle, ½ mile south-west of the town. Ruddle may have had a small hamlet in 1086, (fn. 150) and in 1231 the Crown allowed 5 oaks for the repair of houses at Ruddle which had lately been burnt. (fn. 151) The oldest of the surviving houses is Tanhouse Farm, a two-storied stone house with two gables and a projecting wing for a newel staircase; it was apparently built in the mid 17th century. The hamlet remained a small one, with two farm-houses and five cottages in 1618 (fn. 152) and 1839. (fn. 153) In the angle formed by the main road with a lane leading west to Blaize Bailey there was a small green, containing a pound. (fn. 154) Of the scattered farmsteads in Ruddle, Haieden Green existed by the 13th century to judge from the surnames of Ellis and Richard of Haydon. (fn. 155) In 1326 John Head or Holford inherited 2 houses and 60 a. in Ruddle from his kinsman Richard of Blaisdon; (fn. 156) his land was presumably the Head's farm of 1618, (fn. 157) which later centred on the house called Aram's Farm after a family resident in the parish from the mid 15th century (fn. 158) and in possession of Head's estate from the early 17th century (fn. 159) until the early 18th. (fn. 160) The house, a 17th-century gabled stone building covered with rough-cast, was occupied as two cottages in the 19th century (fn. 161) but became a single private house in the mid 20th. By 1618 Grove Farm and Bullo Farm, with associated cottages, and two small houses apparently connected with Ayleford Mill in the extreme south-west corner of the parish also existed, and other scattered cottages brought the total number of houses in the whole of Ruddle to c. 32. (fn. 162)
In the northern part of Newnham parish the farmsteads at Hyde and Stears had been established by the 11th century, Blythe Court or the Culver House by the 12th or 13th, the Cockshoot by the late 16th, and Lumbars by the early 17th. (fn. 163) Northwest of the Culver House, by Whetstones brook, the old farm-house recorded in 1839 (fn. 164) was apparently Brook House, which was in ruins by 1865, (fn. 165) and is likely to have been the house called Gorsthills in 1619; (fn. 166) it may indeed have been the house that Hugh Charke gave to Flaxley Abbey c. 1200. (fn. 167) By 1227 there were two mills on Whetstones brook. (fn. 168) Reference to the vill of Stears in 1221 (fn. 169) was apparently not to a compact township, but to the widespread houses in the northern part of the parish and outside the town. Little Hyde and Mutloes may have been settled as farmsteads much later: Mutloes is a 19th-century farm-house, of which earlier documentary evidence has not been found, and is named after the family of John Mutloe (d. 1774); (fn. 170) Little Hyde was recorded in 1812. (fn. 171) Along the Littledean road three small houses had been built by 1839, two at Clay Hill and one (fn. 172) which was replaced c. 1890 by the Grange, (fn. 173) a house that in 1959 became the centre of a community for the mentally handicapped run by the Camphill Village Trust. (fn. 174) Later houses on the road include Sunnybank Cottages, built in 1862. (fn. 175)
By 1839 small groups of houses had been built near the wharves along the Severn and the industrial sites on the Soudley brook. At Hawkins Pill there were six houses, near Collow Pill and Underhill Tannery there were four, at Bullo Pill there were nine including a terrace of five, at Ayleford the number in Newnham parish had grown to four, opposite Bradley Forge (in the Forest of Dean) there were five, and at the Soudley Iron Works, where there was also a chapel, there were three within the parish. (fn. 176) All those settlements were associated with industrial activities which, apart from the rubber factory at Bullo, had ceased by the mid 20th century; the houses were not augmented by any new building, and in 1968 each settlement, though occupied, was rather unkempt.
The population of the whole parish may have grown fairly fast in the later 16th century, for in 1603 there were 300 communicants compared with 170 in 1548. (fn. 177) The rural proportion of the popu lation was evidently fairly high. (fn. 178) In 1650 there were said to be 136 families, (fn. 179) and estimates of 400 or fewer inhabitants in the early 18th century (fn. 180) seem too low. There were said to be at least 1,000 c. 1775, (fn. 181) and the official figure rose from 821 in 1801 to 1,483 in 1871. It had fallen to 1,184 by 1901 and thereafter fluctuated between 1,000 and 1,250. (fn. 182)
As a means of communication the use of the Severn has already been indicated. The passage across the river linked the Roman road through Arlingham with the Roman road leading south-west towards Cardiff. (fn. 183) That road was recorded as the king's highway in Ruddle in 1276. (fn. 184) The road north-east from Newnham towards Gloucester has also been said to be of Roman origin, but the attribution is doubted. (fn. 185) A number of steep tracks, sometimes cut deep in the sandstone, run from the main road to the high ground on the west. They were once more numerous: in 1492 the way to Stears and the way to Blythe Court were distinct. (fn. 186) The lane from Ruddle hamlet to Ayleford was mentioned in 1457, (fn. 187) and that from Ruddle hamlet to Blaize Bailey was called the Ridgeway in 1283 and in the late 16th century. (fn. 188) The most important of the roads leading up the hill was that to Littledean; though the evidence that it was a Roman road is questionable (fn. 189) it seems not unlikely that the Romans would have continued the line of the road through Arlingham from Newnham Passage towards Ariconium. The Littledean road was mentioned in 1255 when, as the Newnham-Monmouth road, it was to be given a wide trench or clearing on each side to make it safer for travellers. (fn. 190)
The main road from Gloucester entered the parish across one of the two bridges on the boundary of Newnham and Elton that were out of repair in 1600; (fn. 191) the other presumably was in Lumbars Lane. Upstream from Newnham the main road was vulnerable to the river's tide, and in 1725 Quarter Sessions ordered the building of a 775-yd. causeway, to be protected by a 5-ft. wall at the foot of the river bank. (fn. 192) The main road was a turnpike from 1757 to 1871, (fn. 193) the road to Littledean from 1783 until, apparently, the trust lapsed in 1826. (fn. 194) The mineral railway line from Bullo Pill, which included the earliest railway tunnel, was opened in 1809 and from 1826 was called the Forest of Dean Railway. The South Wales Railway's line from Gloucester to Chepstow was opened in 1851; in 1850 the South Wales Railway had bought the Forest of Dean line, which soon afterwards was widened for use by locomotives and linked to the main line. There was a passenger service to Cinderford from 1907 until 1958; (fn. 195) the halt at Ruddle was closed by 1917 and that at Bullo Crossing in 1958, the goods station at Bullo Pill in 1963, and the main-line station at Newnham in 1964. (fn. 196)
The number of inns in Newnham reflects the existence of the river passage and the main roads. The inn in 1544, (fn. 197) and one of those kept by the two innkeepers of 1608, (fn. 198) was perhaps the 'Bear', at the junction of Passage Lane and Back Lane, (fn. 199) which was also called the passage house. (fn. 200) By 1759 the borough and manor court of Newnham was being held at the 'Bear', (fn. 201) and by 1856 petty sessions were held there. (fn. 202) In 1837, when it was offered for sale together with the ferry and a fishery, it was the only posting-house in the town. (fn. 203) It had gone out of business by 1879, (fn. 204) and the stone building, apparently of the early 18th century, was divided into several dwellings. The 'Bear' was one of five inns with signs recorded in 1637; (fn. 205) another, the 'Ship' in the High Street, (fn. 206) survived in 1968. In 1834 a room in the 'Ship' was said to be a detached part of St. Briavels hundred; (fn. 207) a comparable notion may underlie the tradition of a sanctuary room in the 'Upper George', (fn. 208) the original George Inn which was distinguished from the 'Lower George'. (fn. 209) There were nine inns in 1839, (fn. 210) 12 in 1903, (fn. 211) and five in 1968.
Friendly societies in Newnham were recorded in 1765, 1803, and 1815. (fn. 212) The earliest of those recorded, meeting at the 'Ship', was dissolved in 1832, when it had 76 members. (fn. 213) Later in the thirties another friendly society met at the 'Ship', and there were others at the 'Anchor' and the 'Bull and Butcher'. (fn. 214) A savings bank was founded by 1818 (fn. 215) and still flourished in 1856. (fn. 216) In 1829 there was a theatre in Newnham. (fn. 217) A reading society existed in 1849, (fn. 218) and in 1876 a reading room was opened in the town hall. (fn. 219) The town hall, which was being built in 1849, (fn. 220) housed the county court and the savings bank, and was presumably used for various social purposes also. It is built of brick faced with stucco and has a neo-classical front with a recessed Doric porch. After the First World War it was renamed Comrades Hall, and by 1939 had become the Newnham Club, (fn. 221) which it remained in 1968. A church hall, opened by 1879 in Station Road, was called the Church Institute by 1901, and became c. 1925 a masonic hall (fn. 222) which was enlarged in the thirties and remained in use in 1968. A temperance society was active between 1875 and 1880. (fn. 223) In the seventies the local Volunteers used the former Independent chapel in the Littledean road as a drill hall; later it became an armoury, and a building off Back Street was used as a drill hall. The armoury building, after use as an artist's studio and a Brethren's chapel, (fn. 224) became c. 1962 a parish hall called the Armoury Hall. (fn. 225) Several sports clubs existed in 1897, (fn. 226) as in 1968.
Newnham had a post office and a police station by 1856, and a gas-supply, from works in Station Road, by 1863. (fn. 227) A new police station was built in 1873. (fn. 228) In 1896 S. W. Woods provided piped water to some houses in the town from works built at his own expense, (fn. 229) supplementing the supply from the town well mentioned in 1759 and 1777. (fn. 230) There was still a shortage of main water in the 1940s, until the extension of the supply c. 1950. (fn. 231) Main electricity was made available in the 1930s. (fn. 232) A volunteer fire brigade passed under the control of the urban district council c. 1920. (fn. 233)
Newnham, in the earlier Middle Ages a Crown manor convenient for the hunting in the Forest of Dean, (fn. 234) received several royal visits. William II visited the town, (fn. 235) and Henry I was there more than once. (fn. 236) Henry II, who was at Newnham several times (fn. 237) apart from the occasion in 1171 on his way to Ireland, (fn. 238) maintained an anchoress there between 1159 and 1184. (fn. 239) Edward II was there in 1323 (fn. 240) and Edward III in 1329. (fn. 241) The town was anyway a minor administrative centre where inquisitions were held (fn. 242) and chief rents paid. (fn. 243) Compared with the Middle Ages, life in the 18th century seemed peaceful, when it was said of the death of two small boys by the collapse of a haystack that perhaps nothing so eventful had happened in the neighbourhood within living memory. (fn. 244) Among those born in Newnham was the surgeon, Sir Gilbert Barling (d. 1940). (fn. 245) Newnham's sword of state is discussed below. (fn. 246)