A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 12. Originally published by Boydell & Brewer for Victoria County History, Woodbridge, 2010.
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ORIGIN AND STATUS OF THE PARISH CHURCH
The early ecclesiastical status of the large parish is indicated by a cross shaft of the late 8th or early 9th century discovered, probably in situ, in Newent churchyard. A second carved stone, a small rectangular tablet possibly dating from the early 11th century, was also found on that site. (fn. 1) That the church originally served an even wider area is supported by the fact that the churches of three adjoining parishes were in the same ownership in the late 12th century. In 1181 Newent church with its tithes, together with the churches of Taynton and Dymock and the chapel of Pauntley, was confirmed to Cormeilles abbey by the earl of Leicester. In 1195 the bishop of Hereford licensed Cormeilles to appropriate the churches of Newent, Dymock, and Kingstone (Herefs.) and Pauntley chapel on the deaths of their then incumbents, (fn. 2) and in 1247 the bishop ordained a vicarage in Newent church. In the early 18th century the vicarage was endowed with the rectory tithes of the parish, but the incumbents continued to be called vicars until the 1870s when the style of rector was adopted. In 1872 a new ecclesiastical district of Gorsley with Clifford's Mesne was created from the western part of the parish with an adjoining part of Linton (Herefs.). (fn. 3) In 1985 that living was added to that of Newent to form a united benefice. (fn. 4)
ENDOWMENT AND PATRONAGE
On its creation in 1247 the vicarage was endowed with the small tithes of the parish, offerings made at the altar, a meadow, and a wagon of hay each year from the meadow of Robert of Stalling. Cormeilles abbey retained the grain and hay tithes, offerings at the feasts of the Purification and St Blaise, and all tithes from its demesne lands; those profits passed to its successors as lords of Newent manor. (fn. 5) The meadow awarded to the vicarage was presumably the acre beside Ell brook which was the vicar's only glebe in 1684. The vicar then received the load of hay from the Moat estate, which had absorbed Robert of Stalling's land, and took tithe of fruit or, if turned into cider and perry (as much was), a twelfth of the liquor, and tithe of coppice wood. The largest tract of woodland, Yartleton woods, was exempt as former demesne of Cormeilles abbey, (fn. 6) but the remaining coppices produced c.£40 in composition in the 1830s. (fn. 7) In 1607 the vicar claimed tithe from coal pits being worked in Boulsdon. (fn. 8) The total value of the profits assigned in 1247 was said to be 14 marks (fn. 9) (£9 6s. 8d.) but in 1291 the vicarage was valued at only £4. (fn. 10) In 1535 it was worth £23 (fn. 11) and in 1650 £50. (fn. 12)
In the late 1720s the vicarage was augmented by the gift of the rectory tithes under the will of the former lord of the manor Paul Foley, (fn. 13) and in 1762 it was said to be worth c.£250. (fn. 14) In 1804, however, it was valued at £1,069. In 1835 the vicar was receiving £1,240 in compositions, (fn. 15) and in 1838 he was awarded a corn rent charge of £1,542. (fn. 16) The value of the tithes rents, a share of which was assigned to the new benefice of Gorsley with Clifford's Mesne in 1872, (fn. 17) was later reduced and in 1906 the living was worth £600. (fn. 18) A tithe barn in the old priory precinct near the Court House passed to the vicarage when it was endowed with the rectory tithes; it remained part of the benefice until 1861 when the vicar exchanged it and the glebe meadow for land adjoining the vicarage house. (fn. 19)
The vicarage house, standing on the north-east side of New Street, was recorded from 1369. (fn. 20) It was rebuilt in 1729 by the vicar John Craister (fn. 21) as a substantial residence of brick with a five-bayed front of two storeys raised on cellars. In the mid 1860s it was much altered and enlarged by a new north range. (fn. 22) The house was sold in 1949 or 1950 to become the offices of Newent Rural District Council, (fn. 23) and a new residence for the incumbent was built in Culver Street. (fn. 24)
The advowson of the vicarage descended with the manor estate. In the 14th century, during the war with France, the Crown made the presentations, (fn. 25) and during the late 16th century and the 17th most presentations were made by assignees of the patrons: Anthony Bourchier presented in 1550, Alexander Dobyns in 1564, William Winter of Coleford, brother of the lord of the manor, in 1617, John Hanbury in 1627, and Thomas Foley, presumably the eldest son of the lord of the manor, in 1691. (fn. 26) In the 1870s the Onslow family conveyed the advowson to St Catherine's college, Cambridge, (fn. 27) which sold it in 1921 or 1922 to A.E. Lark. (fn. 28) Lark (fl. 1939) (fn. 29) devised it to C.J.K. Burrell, rector of Newent 1925–49. He devised it to Trinity college, Dublin, and the college conveyed it in 1962 to the bishop of Gloucester. (fn. 30)
RELIGIOUS LIFE IN THE MIDDLE AGES AND THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
The priory established by Cormeilles abbey at Newent by the early 13th century and dissolved c.1382 was apparently a very small community, mainly occupied with the administration of Newent manor and the abbey's other possessions in England. There is no record of a church or chapel among its buildings and probably the prior and monks worshipped in the parish church close to their quarters. (fn. 31) It was probably the abbey or priory which founded within the church a chantry of St Mary, recorded from the mid 13th century when a Newent tenant gave 2s. rent to support the chaplain and provide lights in the chapel; (fn. 32) the priory was later its patron. (fn. 33) The lady chapel, housing the chantry, was rebuilt wholly or partly in 1361, (fn. 34) probably by the efforts of lay parishioners rather than the priory, which then held the manor and its revenues as a farmer under the Crown. The nature of the chantry's endowments, which at its dissolution in 1548 comprised 13 houses dispersed throughout the town (fn. 35) and scattered lands in other parts of the parish, (fn. 36) suggests that most were acquired piecemeal from different parishioners; In 1510 a townsman devised the reversion of a house to it. (fn. 37)
In the late Middle Ages the donations of parishioners established and maintained a second chantry, dedicated to SS James and Anne and housed in a chapel standing in the churchyard. (fn. 38) It was stated, in the course of a 16th-century lawsuit, that it had been constituted by a deed of 1447 or 1448. (fn. 39) In 1484 it was said to have been founded for the benefit of the souls of John Marcle, Walter Marcle, and others, (fn. 40) and later John Hooke and another were credited as founders. (fn. 41) Evidently, as with St Mary's chantry, the endowments of the founders were supplemented by later gifts; at the time of its dissolution the chantry owned nine houses in the town and lands scattered through the parish, including small farms at Stardens and Hayes. (fn. 42) The chantry priest was presented by Llanthony priory, Gloucester, in 1484, (fn. 43) but in 1538 the right of patronage belonged to St Bartholomew's hospital in the same town. (fn. 44) At the dissolution of chantries its lands were valued at £10 6s. 8d. a year and those of St Mary's chantry at £9 7s. 3d. (fn. 45) Most of their lands were sold to various dealers between 1549 and 1554, (fn. 46) though the Crown retained some of them until 1570 or later. (fn. 47)
A chapel mentioned in 1181, and apparently attached to Boulsdon, (fn. 48) may have been that dedicated to St Helen which the vicar of Newent was licensed to use as an oratory in 1404. (fn. 49) By later accounts a chapel, dedicated to St Helen or St Hilary and demolished in Henry III's reign, stood in Kilcot and served both that tithing and Boulsdon. (fn. 50) Its site was perhaps on ground later called Chapel meadow by the parish boundary to the north-west of the Kilcot inn. (fn. 51) In the 1340s the lord of Boulsdon and a landowner at Okle were licensed to have private oratories in their houses. (fn. 52)
Medieval vicars of Newent included Hugh of Martley, named from a Worcestershire manor owned by Cormeilles abbey. (fn. 53) In 1311 he was licensed to travel to Rome on the business of his church. (fn. 54) Two or more men surnamed Hooke, presumably of the family that owned Crooke's farm in the part of Pauntley parish adjoining Newent, held the vicarage in the late Middle Ages. Robert Hooke was instituted in 1393 (fn. 55) and John Hooke, his successor in 1434, (fn. 56) was possibly the same who occurs as vicar in 1459 and 1482. (fn. 57) William Porter, who held the vicarage by 1515 and to his death in 1524, (fn. 58) had numerous other ecclesiastical preferments, including the precentorship of Hereford cathedral. A native of Newent, (fn. 59) he was apparently the brother of the local landowner Roger Porter. (fn. 60)
Edward Horne was burned for heresy at Newent during the Marian persecution but how strong a body of Protestant feeling in the parish he represented is unknown. Although not recorded in Foxe's martyrology, (fn. 61) local traditions about his death survived for many years. By one account, a cave on May hill known as Crocket's Hole was used as a hiding place by Horne and a man called Crocket, (fn. 62) possibly a memory of John Crocket of Highnam who was condemned for heresy in 1556. (fn. 63)
Service of the cure in the mid and later 16th century was erratic and often inadequate. In 1544 two men claimed to hold the profits of the benefice under lease from the vicar, Richard Ward, or a previous incumbent and another man occupied the vicarage house, claiming it under a separate lease. (fn. 64) In 1548 Ward was non-resident and, though he or a lessee had provided a curate, there had been no sermons preached for a year and the giving of alms to the poor had been omitted. (fn. 65) In 1551 Ward's successor John Cutler was unable to repeat the Commandments; he could repeat the Articles but not prove them from scripture. (fn. 66) Later in the 1550s two other clerics in succession laid claim to the vicarage, (fn. 67) but Cutler remained vicar until 1564 when the former curate Henry Donne was instituted. (fn. 68) In 1570 Donne was cited for expressing contempt of the authority of the diocesan bishop and being absent without dispensation. (fn. 69) In 1576 he was described as a reasonably good divine, (fn. 70) but during his absence prayers had been read and communion administered by an unordained minister. (fn. 71) Donne remained vicar until his death in 1605 and was succeeded by Nathaniel Dodd, a professor of theology. (fn. 72)
RELIGIOUS LIFE IN THE SEVENTEENTH AND EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES
During the Civil War and Commonwealth period the vicar of Newent was John Wilse. Instituted in 1643, he was described as a preaching minister in 1650. He subscribed in 1662 (fn. 73) but died soon afterwards, apparently in prison. (fn. 74)
On 18 January 1674 the nave roof of the parish church collapsed under the weight of snow lying on it, making necessary the rebuilding of the nave and adjoining south aisle. That work (fn. 75) was carried out between 1675 and 1679 and provided scope for much debate within the parish. (fn. 76) Among those most active in the project were the resident landowners Richard and William Rogers of Okle Clifford and Christopher Woodward of the Moat and the vicar Thomas Jackman, a conscientious incumbent who served the living from 1663 to his death in 1690. (fn. 77) Eventually it was decided to rebuild the church 18 ft shorter than the old one, a plan said to have been urged on Jackman by his wife who thought it would be easier for him to preach in. Work began but the plan with a central row of columns related to pilasters around the walls was abandoned as too restrictive of space and the parishioners decided on a single-span roof proposed by Newent carpenter Edward Taylor. He had recently worked under Wren at St Bride's church in Fleet Street (London) and his design for the roof is said to have adopted structural principles employed at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford. (fn. 78) The oak timber for the rafters was given by Charles II from his Forest of Dean, (fn. 79) and a number of Gloucestershire gentry subscribed to the cost, as did Paul Foley, the lord of the manor, (fn. 80) though apparently not closely involved with the rebuilding. Large pews in the new building were allocated to six of the main ratepayers, Foley, Christopher Woodward, William Rogers, Poole Pauncefoot of Carswalls, Sir Edmund Bray, owner of Walden Court and other lands, and Stephen Skinner, holder of former demesne land adjoining the town. Other leading ratepayers, Mary and Walter Nourse, owners of Boulsdon manor, and Walter's uncle Timothy Nourse of Southends, later claimed to have been unfairly treated and made attempts to alter the seating so as to exclude Skinner. The pews were aligned to face the north wall, against which was installed a pulpit given by Elizabeth Rogers of Okle Clifford, (fn. 81) and galleries ran around the other walls, including one that partially blocked the entrances to the chancel and lady chapel. (fn. 82)
The form of the new building (fn. 83) was regarded as innovative for the parish church of a small provincial town and became an object of considerable interest and local pride. (fn. 84) A thanksgiving for the escape without loss of life was instituted by Jackman on the anniversary of the fall of the old church, which had occurred on a Sunday night a few hours after the departure of a large congregation, and a parishioner, Eleanor Green, later left a bequest for a sermon on that day. (fn. 85)
John Craister, a Cambridge divine who was instituted vicar in 1728, was the first incumbent to benefit from the augmentation of the living. He rebuilt the vicarage house and housed there his library of over 1,000 volumes, which at his death in 1737 he left for the use of later vicars. (fn. 86) For at least part of the incumbency of the next vicar, James Griffith, curates served the parish and lived in the vicarage house. Griffith died in 1762 and for the next 100 years the living was held by relatives of the patrons. Robert Foley, instituted in 1762 on the presentation of his brother Thomas, later Lord Foley, was also rector of Kingham (Oxon.) and became dean of Worcester. (fn. 87) He gave Newent church two sets of plate, one for use in administering communion to parishioners in their homes. (fn. 88) John Foley (d. 1803), Robert's successor in 1783, (fn. 89) was a leading magistrate, (fn. 90) residing at Newent where he played an active role in the organization of poor relief and regularized the administration of the parish charities. (fn. 91)
For a parish containing a small town and several outlying hamlets and having a church with little seating for its numerous poor, there was surprisingly little challenge to the established church from nonconformity in the 17th and 18th centuries. No nonconformists were returned for Newent in 1676, (fn. 92) and in 1735 only six Presbyterians and a Quaker were recorded, and in 1750 only two Presbyterians and a Baptist. (fn. 93) The first registration of a nonconformist meeting place found was in 1779, (fn. 94) by an unidentified group, possibly Methodists.
RELIGIOUS LIFE IN THE NINETEENTH AND TWENTIETH CENTURIES
In 1803 Richard Francis Onslow was instituted vicar of Newent on the presentation of his father-in-law Andrew Foley. Onslow, who was vicar of Kidderminster and in 1815 became archdeacon of Worcester, lived in the Court House at Newent for most of his incumbency. (fn. 95) His longest serving curate, William Beale (d. 1827), who married into the Morse family, became vicar of Dymock. (fn. 96) Onslow died in 1849 and was succeeded as vicar by his son Arthur Andrew Onslow (d. 1864). In 1846 one of Richard Onslow's curates, John Skally, (fn. 97) issued a pastoral address which earned accusations of 'Puseyism' from a dissenting minister, (fn. 98) but High Church views and liturgy seem otherwise to have made little impact on church life at the period. Clergy and congregation showed no urgency in altering their late 17th-century church interior to conform to modern ideas of worship. The gallery across the east end of the nave, obscuring the view of chancel and altar, was not removed until 1865; it was not until 1884, under Peter Wood (rector 1878–97), that the nave was reseated with pews facing east; and the lady chapel remained in use as a vestry until refitted for worship in 1912. (fn. 99)
Nonconformity gained a permanent presence in the parish only at the start of the 19th century with the building of a Wesleyan Methodist chapel. The group faced some violent opposition, the motivation for which is not clear but seems unlikely to have stemmed from rival sectarian convictions. (fn. 100) The Wesleyans remained the only dissenting group firmly established in the town (fn. 101) until the 1840s when the Congregationalists built a chapel. Neither congregation was ever very numerous or financially well-based. Some of the outlying hamlets had missions from dissenting groups from the 1820s onwards, but the only group that became firmly rooted were the Baptists in Gorsley and Kilcot, whose base was outside the parish at a chapel in the Linton part of Gorsley.
The provision by the established church for the outlying hamlets began in 1863 with the building of a chapel at Clifford's Mesne. Another was built at Gorsley in 1872 when the two hamlets were formed into a separate ecclesiastical district. (fn. 102) A wooden chapel-of-ease to the parish church had opened at Kilcot by 1870 (fn. 103) but is not recorded later, perhaps discontinued when the new arrangements of 1872 were put in place. In 1885 the owner of Walden Court, J.H. Frowde, was holding services for the inhabitants of Pool Hill in his main hall, licensed for that purpose. (fn. 104) In 1899 a mission room was opened at Almshouse Green, in Malswick, supported by Andrew Knowles of Newent Court, (fn. 105) but it was demolished c.1909 to make way for road improvements. (fn. 106)
During 1968 and 1969 when the parish church was closed during examination and partial removal of its spire, services were held in the town's Congregational and Methodist chapels, the former providing the venue for the institution of a new rector in 1969. (fn. 107) That spirit of cooperation encouraged the establishment of a local ecumenical partnership between the Anglicans and Methodists in 1970. From that date the two congregations held joint services in the parish church and shared pastoral work. (fn. 108) In 1998 those arrangements were extended to include the Baptists in the parish, (fn. 109) and in 2007 the united benefice was served by a team ministry comprising an Anglican priest-in-charge, a Methodist minister, and a part-time Baptist minister. (fn. 110)
Gorsley and Clifford's Mesne Churches
In 1872 a separate ecclesiastical district of Gorsley with Clifford's Mesne was created from part of the west side of Newent parish and an adjoining part of Linton. The living, styled a perpetual curacy and later a vicarage, was endowed with tithe rent charges to the value of £120 a year and £49 a year, given up respectively by the vicars of Newent and Linton, and with £38 a year granted by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The right of patronage was shared between the incumbents of the parent parishes, the vicar of Newent taking two turns and the vicar of Linton the third. (fn. 111) In 1879 the living was worth £207 a year. A vicarage house was built at Gorsley, on the north side of the Newent–Ross road opposite Brassfields Farm, in 1876. (fn. 112) In 1882 the church at Clifford's Mesne was declared the official parish church of the ecclesiastical district, (fn. 113) but the location of the vicarage house and the larger size of a new Gorsley church opened in 1893 resulted in Gorsley coming to be regarded as its centre. In 1985 the benefice was united with Newent and ceased to have a resident incumbent. (fn. 114)
At Clifford's Mesne a building to serve as both as chapel-of-ease to Newent and as a National school was built in 1863 at what became the centre of the growing hamlet. The site was bought for that purpose by Morris Burland, (fn. 115) curate of Newent parish and later the first incumbent of Gorsley with Clifford's Mesne. (fn. 116) In 1882 a new church, dedicated to St Peter, was built 150 m further to the north-east on the Boulsdon road. The cost, £1,021, was raised by voluntary subscriptions and grants. (fn. 117) The old building remained a school until 1935 (fn. 118) and later was used as a village hall. In 2007 Clifford's Mesne church, as one of the three churches of the united benefice but with its own churchwardens and parochial church council, held services each Sunday. (fn. 119)
At Gorsley a building for use as a chapel and school was built in 1872 within the Newent part of the new ecclesiastical district and was enlarged by the addition of a chancel in 1877. (fn. 120) The site, beside the Newent–Ross road, was an isolated one but reasonably central to the scattered cottages and smallholdings it was intended to serve. A new church begun on an adjoining site to the east in 1892 was consecrated as Christ Church the following year. The site was given by the Onslow estate and the cost, £1,030, was met by grants and voluntary contributions including £404 from the vicar S.R. Cambie. The old building continued in use as a school until 1926 and became the church hall in 1954. In 1992 it was sold and became a house, and in 1997 a room for meetings was added to the west end of Christ Church. (fn. 121) In 2007 the church, managed under the united benefice by a local 'ministry team' of five lay members, was used for services every Sunday. (fn. 122)
A group which registered a house in Culver Street for dissenting worship in 1792 was probably Wesleyan Methodist. In 1805 Wesleyans opened a small chapel owned by and adjoining the house of a builder, Thomas Warne, in Culver Street. (fn. 123) Hostility and intimidation from mobs of townspeople continued for several months in the summer of that year and led to the temporary closure of the chapel. (fn. 124) There was further trouble in 1820. (fn. 125) In its first years the meeting was led by local preachers, who in 1805 were under the general direction of J.M. Byron; (fn. 126) a minister based in Gloucester, (fn. 127) and later the chapel was attached to the Ledbury circuit. (fn. 128) The congregation, which presumably used some of the houses in the town that were registered during that period, (fn. 129) aided the establishment of meetings in several nearby parishes. (fn. 130) A chapel opened in 1815 at Pool Hill, within Pauntley parish, attracted some of its congregation from adjoining parts of Newent parish; (fn. 131) a house at Brand Green that was registered for worship by a minister of the Ledbury circuit in 1820 was perhaps connected with it. (fn. 132)
On the Sunday of the ecclesiastical census of 1851 the Culver Street chapel had a morning congregation of 46 (including 27 Sunday school children) and an evening congregation of 56. (fn. 133) It was replaced by a new chapel, begun in 1855 and opened the following year. The building of the chapel and the work of its ministry were aided by a gift of £1,000 from a Mr Wellin, (fn. 134) perhaps the Newent woolstapler and fellmonger William Wellin. (fn. 135) The new chapel continued in use for worship until c.1970 when it closed following the agreement between the Wesleyans and Anglicans to share worship in the parish church. (fn. 136)
Congregationalists under the auspices of the Gloucester Southgate church held services and a Sunday school in the town from 1844. (fn. 137) In 1845 they built a chapel (opened the following year) on the south-west side of Broad Street (the former Lewall Street). (fn. 138) In 1851 there was a church membership of 18 but the adult congregations at three services held on the Sunday of the ecclesiastical census that year were estimated at 37, 56, and 73. (fn. 139) A manse for the minister was built in Culver Street in 1869. (fn. 140) The congregation established several cottage meetings in outlying hamlets in the mid 19th century: in the late 1840s they were held at Kent's Green and Brand Green (fn. 141) and in 1858 at Brand Green, Clifford's Mesne, and Stoney bridge, on the Ross road north of the Conigree. In 1900 the Broad Street chapel had a membership of 43. (fn. 142) Its strength remained at around that figure in the early 20th century, though in 1906 under a popular minister membership rose to 56 and the average congregation to 120, with over 40 pupils attending the Sunday school. The finances of the church were never secure, though the congregation added a vestry to the chapel and, in 1940, replaced the dilapidated manse with a new house in Bradford's Lane (fn. 143) From 1937 the church was served as a joint pastorate with the Ledbury Congregational church, but from 1960 it ceased to have a settled minister. (fn. 144) In 2007 (as the Newent United Reformed church) it had a membership of 25 and services were conducted by lay preachers or retired ministers living locally. (fn. 145)
From the early 19th century Baptists obtained a strong following in Gorsley and Kilcot, and after 1821 many cottagers attended a chapel and schoolroom (Goff's school) opened at Blindman's Gate on the Ross road within the Linton part of Gorsley. In 1819 the minister of Ryeford chapel, in Weston-under Penyard (Herefs.), from which the Gorsley chapel and school were founded, (fn. 146) registered two houses in Newent for worship. (fn. 147) Those meetings apparently soon lapsed, as did another mission started in the town in 1831 by John Hall, a long-serving minister at Gorsley chapel. (fn. 148) By the 1930s a building in Kilcot, beside the Aston Ingham road just south of Kilcot Cross, was used as a Sunday school in connexion with Gorsley chapel, and in 1934 a small chapel was built alongside it. That chapel remained in use until the early 1990s, (fn. 149) when it was remodelled as a dwelling. (fn. 150)
From 1930 an independent evangelical group based at Cinderford, known as the Brethren or Christian Brethren, held meetings at Clifford's Mesne in a tent or in the open air. Later they met at Ravenshill Farm, to the north of Clifford's Mesne, and from 1932 in a small building of timber and corrugated iron in the hamlet. From the early 1940s the Christian Brethren held meetings in Newent town, and from 1948 they used a building known as the Gospel Hall on the Ledbury road. In 1950 the group, led by Alfred Cracknell and Arthur Goulding, began to raise money for building a chapel in the town. That was achieved in 1962 with the opening of a small chapel in Glebe Close, (fn. 151) among the new housing estates on the north-west side of Watery Lane. The Brethren continued to worship there in 2007, led by elders and deacons among whom the Cracknell and Goulding families remained prominent. The chapel then had a membership of 80 and was usually attended by congregations of c.130 drawn from Newent and surrounding parishes. (fn. 152) From 1974 the group also ran a Christian bookshop in the town. That moved in 1980 to a house opposite the junction of the main street and Watery Lane and remained open as the 'Good News Centre', combining the bookshop with a cafe, in 2007. (fn. 153)
Other Protestant Dissenting Groups
During 1835 and 1836 the missionary Thomas Kington registered houses in many hamlets near Newent, including Brand Green, Botloe's Green, and Kilcot. Presumably, like Kington's chapel at Broom's Green in Dymock, they remained in use for only a short time. (fn. 154) From 1935 Plymouth Brethren met in part of the old tannery buildings in Culver Street. (fn. 155) In the late 20th century they occupied successively a small chapel in Church Street and another in Glebe Close; the latter closed in 1999. From 1981 the Newent Community Centre (the former grammar school building at the entrance to the Ross road) was used for services by the Newent Christian Fellowship, a group allied to the pentecostalist sect the Assemblies of God. (fn. 156)
In 1939 the Salesian Fathers, who ran a school at Blaisdon Hall, opened a Roman Catholic mass centre at a house at the Scarr in the north of Newent parish. In 1943, a time when the congregation was enlarged by Italian and German prisoners-of-war housed in a camp outside the town, the services were transferred to Newent market house. In 1952 the congregation, under Fr. William Boyd, acquired a site on the Ross road and began raising money for a church. The church, dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, was begun in 1957 and opened at the end of 1959, much of the building work being done by volunteers. (fn. 157) In 2007 it was the centre of a parish covering a large area of north-west Gloucestershire and having another mass centre at Blaisdon. (fn. 158) The usual attendance at mass at the Newent church, often including people from the adjoining part of Herefordshire extending to Ledbury and Ross-onWye, was c.120. (fn. 159)
The Parish Church
Newent parish church, which by the early 15th century bore the dedication to St Mary the Virgin, (fn. 160) is likely to have been an Anglo-Saxon foundation. In 1907 a cross shaft (kept in the porch in 2007) was found in a prominent position on the south side of the churchyard next to the road. Carved with figurative scenes which depict Adam and Eve after their expulsion from Eden, the angel restraining Abraham from the sacrifice of Isaac, and the victory of David over Goliath, it probably dates from the late 8th century or the early 9th, being related both in style and iconography to sculpture from high-status Mercian sites of that period. (fn. 161) A carved tablet possibly of the early 11th century and displaying on one face a crudely-exectued representation of the Crucifixion (fn. 162) was also unearthed in the early 20th century. (fn. 163)
Of the medieval church, represented by its chancel, south lady chapel, and south-west tower and spire, nothing earlier than the late 13th century survives, and no details of its nave and south aisle are recorded. After the collapse of the nave roof in 1674, reconstruction of the body of the church was completed in 1679 in the form of an undivided auditorium. (fn. 164) The character of the new work of that period is still evident, particularly inside, but the whole church displays the zeal of 19th-century restorers who altered both medieval and 17thcentury work. (fn. 165)
The medieval fabric is of squared coursed sandstone. The earliest parts, dating apparently from a rebuilding in the late 13th century or early 14th, seem to be the chancel and the arcade with a simple round column dividing it on the south from the lady chapel. The chapel, possibly already in existence in the mid 13th century, (fn. 166) was (according to a statement of 1383) rebuilt by a group of parishioners in 1361, (fn. 167) but as a result of later restoration and renewal it is difficult to relate much of the fabric to that period. Both chancel and chapel have arch-braced collar rafter roofs, the chapel's with a moulded longitudinal rib, and the chapel has a priest's door and an aumbry with ball-flower decoration. The three-stage tower with diagonal buttresses was built in the mid 14th century and has rich mouldings, including ribbed arrises on the recessed octagonal spire. The tower's lowest stage is open as the south porch: it has a fan vault with bell hole, and its northern buttresses project into the body of the church, the north-eastern one incorporating a spiral staircase.
The principal medieval survival within the church is a late 14th-century tomb with effigies of a knight and lady which stood originally against the south wall of the lady chapel. (fn. 168) It had been badly damaged by the start of the 19th century when it was repaired, (fn. 169) and in 1912, after further restoration, it was moved to a site under the arcade between chapel and chancel. (fn. 170) The effigies were identified in the early 18th century as members of the Grandison family, though no inscription was then visible (fn. 171) and the heraldry now surviving is fragmentary. An image of the Virgin stood at the east end of the chapel in 1523 when Roger Porter asked to be buried before it; (fn. 172) his brass, originally set in the floor, has been re-set in the east wall. (fn. 173) Externally, a timber-framed porch was added to shelter the chapel's south door, probably early in the 17th century, and by the late 18th the chapel had acquired a tall eastern bellcot, (fn. 174) which was removed at a later restoration.
In the rebuilding of the 1670s James Hill of Cheltenham and Francis Jones of Hasfield were the chief masons and the local carpenter Edward Taylor was designer and overseer of the work on the roof. (fn. 175) Externally the nave is ashlar-faced with large segment-headed mullioned and transomed windows with arched lights and classical mouldings; the battlemented parapet has urns. The internal walls, originally plastered, are articulated by the unfluted Ionic pilasters of ashlar. Their tall bases were designed to accommodate box pews, parts of which were re-used in new pews at the late 19th-century restoration. The pilasters, applied to the walls to correspond to the central row of stone columns originally intended to support the roof, survived the change in plan to an undivided space with galleries along all but the north wall, where the pulpit was placed. (fn. 176) The ceiling is almost flat and was originally plastered. The wide span was made possible by the roof structure said to have been based on principles developed by Wren: it is of eight bays with singlespan king-post trusses, four pairs of purlins, no ridge piece, scissor bracing between king posts, and windbraces between trusses in the lower part of the slope. (fn. 177) The medieval east wall was retained but modified, with the openings into the chancel and lady chapel given square heads and flanking pilasters. The stone font, a classically decorated bowl on a stem, is of the late 17th century, as is the stone reredos, which has been moved to the west end together with a reversed wrought-iron overthrow.
During the 18th century some high-quality wall monuments were placed in chancel and nave for leading families of the parish, including one designed by John Flaxman for Barbara Bourchier (d. 1784), daughter of James Richardson of Newent. In the churchyard many of the town's tradesmen of the period are commemorated by ornate and deeplycarved headstones in the local sandstone. By the 1770s the church had a ring of six bells, (fn. 178) including two cast by John Pennington in 1638 and 1644 and another by Abraham Rudhall of Gloucester in 1724; most were recast later, (fn. 179) and the ring was augmented to eight in 1983. (fn. 180) In 1737 an organ, built by local carpenter Thomas Warne, was installed in the church; (fn. 181) it was moved from the south gallery to the west gallery c.1839, re-sited on the south of the chancel in 1870, (fn. 182) and moved to the north of the chancel in 1912. (fn. 183)
In 1827 and 1828, at the cost of a group of leading townsmen, the west gallery was rebuilt on cast-iron columns by Richard Jones of Ledbury. (fn. 184) The gallery across the entrances to the chancel and lady chapel was removed in 1865. (fn. 185) The major 19th-century restoration was carried out under John Middleton of Cheltenham between 1879 and 1884, starting with the chancel (partly using plans by Gilbert Scott), and continuing with the reorganization of the nave to face east, the removal of the pulpit (reduced in height) to the north-east corner, the scraping of the walls, and the creation of the present panelled and boarded ceiling. The work on the chancel included the reconstruction of the large east window, (fn. 186) which had remained blocked since most of the tracery had collapsed in 1651. (fn. 187) Waller & Son continued the restoration between 1909 and 1912, their work including the addition of a north vestry to the chancel as a memorial to Andrew Knowles of Newent Court, the restoration of the lady chapel (until then used as the vestry), and, in the nave, alterations to the ceiling and removal of the south gallery. (fn. 188)
In 1968 the top section of the church spire, which was built of limestone rather than the local sandstone of the lower stages, was declared dangerous and was removed; the discrepancy in materials evidently resulted from the loss of part of the spire in a gale in 1662 (fn. 189) and rebuilding and repair carried out in 1771, (fn. 190) 1829, (fn. 191) and probably at other times. The church was closed for almost two years, and the missing section of the spire was replaced during 1971 and 1972. (fn. 192) In 1979 the north vestry was extended to form a church room and office. The space below the west gallery was converted to a children's room in 1985. (fn. 193)
Other Anglican Churches
The late 19th-century churches at Clifford's Mesne and Gorsley are both simple Gothic buildings, mainly of the local sandstone and with aisleless naves and chancels. St Peter, Clifford's Mesne, built in 1882 to designs of E. Swinfen Harris, is the more attractive building, influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement and distinguished by a prominent roof with central bellcot and a well-preserved interior with scissor-braced roof and original furnishings. (fn. 194) Christ Church, Gorsley, built during 1892 and 1893 to a more stolid design by S. Rollinson & Son, has short transepts and an eastern apse and a timber-framed porch as elaborations of the basic plan; the bellcot is on the west gable. The furnishings, of several dates, have been imported. (fn. 195)
Nonconformist and Roman Catholic Buildings
Of Newent's nonconformist chapels the Congregational (later United Reformed) chapel opened in Broad Street in 1846 was designed by William Rees of Gloucester as a simple box but was given an old-fashioned Gothic façade of Painswick stone with an embattled gable. It also included a schoolroom for a British school. (fn. 196) A vestry was added to the building in 1926. (fn. 197) The Wesleyan chapel completed in Culver Street in 1856 (fn. 198) was built in a Gothic manner with a steeply-gabled street front of polychromatic brickwork. In 2007 it was used as an auction room.
The Roman Catholic church on Ross Road opened in 1959 was enlarged and given a glass front in a programme of modernization completed in 2007. (fn. 199)