A history of the village
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Aylburton and the surrounding areas have a long and intensely interesting history. The Iron Age, Roman, Anglo Saxon, Norman, Medieval, Georgian and Victorian periods have all left an enduring legacy in buildings and landmarks that can still be seen in the village and many of these are still in regular use.
During the Roman period most of the slopes of the parish were originally covered in woodland and the bank of the River Severn was more than 1km closer to the main road, with around half of the current “levels” being reclaimed before about 450 AD. The area would have been dominated by the Roman villa and temple in the grounds behind what is now the Lydney Park House. At this time the Forest (of Dean) was just inside the territory known as Britannia Secunda (Secondary Britain), which covered Wales and whose eastern border was the River Severn.
In 1928 the decision was taken to excavate and preserve the remains of the Temple under the direction of the eminent archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler. From his discoveries it was clear that this is one of the most important archaeological sites of Britain. The earliest occupation began about 50 B.C. and performed the function of an Iron Age hillfort. The inhabitants were probably forced to leave after the Roman conquest. For 300 years the only activity around the site was iron–mining. The buildings now visible on the site date from the final phase of Roman occupation when a wealthy religious complex was built in the late 4th century. Few Roman temples have survived as well as that erected at Lydney. The Forest varied between Welsh andEnglish possession at least until King Offa (8th C) built his famous dyke, at that point all of Gloucestershire came within England.
The land on which Aylburton (originally Æþelbeorhtes-tun or Ethelbert’s farmstead) stands became part of a single manor of Lydney in 1066 under the Earl of Hereford, William Fitz Osbern the builder of Chepstow Castle which, only 9 miles away, can be can be easily visited from Aylburton.
Llanthony Priory became lord of both Aylburton and Alvington (but not Lydney) manors in1277. They took iron and coal from the land above the current village and carried it down Darken Lane and Stockwell Lane to Aylburton Warth, where it was put onto ships. This carried on a tradition probably started by the Romans.
By 1219 Aylburton had its own chapel situated on Chapel Hill dedicated to St. John (it became St. Mary’s sometime before 1750). The Chapel was relocated (stone by stone) in the late 19th Century to the foot of the hill and is now adjacent to Church Road. (see below).The church has several interesting features including a medieval font, one of only 60 still existing in the country and a church bell dated 1733 which was foundered at nearby Chepstow in the towns bell foundry.
Lire Abbey granted Lydney church to the dean and chapter of Hereford and following the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, William Wyntour purchased the manor from the Crown in 1599. It remained in Wyntour hands (apart from a period covering the “Commonwealth”) until purchased by the Bathurst family in 1723.
The Prior’s Mesne estate (including outlying landsat Newlands and St. Briavels) was based at Prior’s Lodge (also known as Prior’s Mesne Lodge or Bream Lodge.) It was cleared of trees by Llanthony Priory in1306 and largely converted to agricultural land, and they allowed their tenants rights of common there. Prior’s Pool was a fishpond dating from this time. The market cross was built in the 14th C. Llanthony Priory had a fulling mill on Ferneyley Brook in 1535 (later called Tucker’s Mill or Wood Mill, later to be used as a grist mill until around 1900).
By 1600, Aylburton manor had a mill at Millend (now Milling Green) on Park Brook. Housing was built around this time at Stockwell Lane and Millend. By 1608 there were 14 tradesmen in Aylburton, including a nailer, a parchment-maker, and a tucker (as in Tucker’s Mill.) Aylburton Pill (Warth) was still used for shipping in 1608. There was much fishing in the Severn, with the Wyntour estate being granted the right to catch royal fish in1640. By the mid 17th C, a new park had been formed to the SE of the original one, and was used mainly for raising deer. Parts of a small medieval hall are still visible at No. 32 High Street.
The building which now houses the Cross Inn was built in the 17th C, although there are wall elements from the 11th C. Old Court House was also a smallholding of similar age. Cross Farm incorporated part of an early house too.
The short row of cottages at the bottom of Church Road are also probably 17th C. A hamlet called Overstreet once existed on the main road, roughly where Taurus Crafts now is. Sir Charles Wyntour built his new manor house there in 1692, the hamlet becoming tenancies and outbuildings thereof. The poor and needy were not forgotten, in 1680, Christopher Willoughby set up a trust so that £16 could be distributed annually among the poor of Aylburton, a practice which continues to this day.
By 1710, the north western part of the Parish boundary had been resolved into its current form. The boundary had followed what was called the Forest Ditch (probably Collier’s brook), but can now be seen to follow the huge walls just to the south of Aylburton Lodge, built to finalise the, often bitter, boundary dispute that had existed between Aylburton and Alvington since Llanthony Priory lost ownership.
In 1717 there was an anvil works at the mill in Millend, but this had been replaced by a grist mill by 1759. Lodge Farm was established before 1717 by the Lydney estate. Prior’s (Mesne) Lodge was built around the same time. In 1718, Wyntour’s manor included (in Aylburton) 16 leasehold farms, ranging in size from 7-64 acres, which were almost entirely based on a number of smallholdings on the high street between Stockwell Laneand Millend, but then lands were sold off by the Wyntours to pay mounting debts left from repurchasing the estate, including the bulk of their tenant land in Aylburton, which was sold to John Lawes. He didn’t last long as the Bathurst family bought the estate in 1723. They moved the road slightly to the SE away from the then site of the main house.
In 1778, the lessee of the ironworks was given the right to work quarries at Aylburton Common. In 1784, Aylburton ratepayers resisted attempts by Lydney church to levy church rates on them, and this was the beginning of their becoming their own parish.
“The Hare and Hounds” inn opened in 1796 at the NE end of the village. Rockwood (at Heavens Gate) was built ca.1815during the Regency period. By 1818 many of the smallholdings had merged into larger farms. These included: Home Farm (later Park Farm), Cross Farm (at Aylburton Cross), Redhill Farm. The New Grounds was still separate then, but was later added to Dairy Farm (on Church Road, Lydney). At the same time a fewhouses had been built on the Common (now Upper Common.) In 1818 the A48 was again moved to its present route S of Park Farm, which was built around the same time.
In the 1830s, the coney (rabbit) warren on Prior’s Mesne estate was sold and houses (including the Warren) were built there. At about this time four almshouses were built alongside the Cross Inn. These were later regarded as church property, the occupants being chosen by the vestry. There was a church Sunday school in Aylburton chapel from 1847.
The railway line (owned by the South Wales Railway until 1863 and then GWR) was built in 1851. By 1851 there were 60 tradesmen in Aylburton (not including tinplate and iron-workers of whom there were many) including two solicitors and a doctor. Most employment was by now tinplate andiron-workers, as well as some miners and quarrymen.
In 1856, the medieval chapel was taken down and reconstructed on its present site, the cost being borne by Charles Bathurst. At this time, several windows were replaced, and the present graveyard created. Aylburton Lodge (then Devonshire Villa, on the Alvington/Bream Road) was built in 1858, demolishing a house built there in 1843.
An act of parliament in 1864 forced the enclosure of the common lands of Aylburton Common, Stockwell Green, the Bitterns, Lydney Mead, Aylburton Mead, Rodmore Mead, and Aylburton Warth (then Cow Pastures.) 278 acres were awarded to Rev. W.H. Bathurst, and 45 acres of Prior’s Mesne common land went to James Croome. A few more houses were built on Upper Common after the enclosure in 1864, and the New Road was created sometime thereafter. Other houses were built at the same time on Lower Common, including the Traveller’s Rest (or Besom, opened by 1880, closed late 1980s.) In 1866, there was a weirfor fishing, with 650 putchers, at Aylburton Warth.
Aylburton C. of E. School opened in 1870 in a schoolhouse built opposite Aylburton Church mainly at the expense of Rev. W.H. Bathurst. In 1885, it was a mixed school with on average 96 pupils (it had a capacity of 160.) “The George” and “The Cross” were both open as pubs by 1870. The Cottage Hospital was opened in Aylburton in 1882 by Mary Bathurst.
In 1877, the current Lydney Park manor was built. The original was then demolished in 1883. During the 19th C, most farmland was consolidated into two or three large farms, the population becoming largely tradesmen and tinplate workers. At this time, the row of cottages from opposite Church Road to the Park Brook was built. Between 1890 and 1910, pairs of stone cottages were built further along the road by the Park estate.
In 1894 the parish council of Aylburton was created, the Playing Field coming into use in 1898. By 1903, the assistant curate of Lydney church was based at Aylburton at the request of the villagersand Charles Bathurst. Sandford Terrace was built in 1907 and a year later the Cottage Hospital was moved to the present site of Lydney Hospital. By 1910, Aylburton School had a separate infants department. Parts of Aylburton were supplied with water from 1912 from a spring above the village, and this supply remains working today for approximately 80 houses. In 1910, Wesleyan Methodists held open-air meetings at the Cross. A temporary building was later used, until1915 when the Methodist chapel was built. In 1919 the “Butchers Arms” pub behind the Methodist Chapel was closed and used as a caretaker’s cottage. The Village Hall was built in 1920-1 as a memorial to the fallen of World WarI. Electricity was supplied to Lydney from 1925.
In1936-8, Lydney Rural District built council houses on Stockwell Lane and in1944, the almshouses were sold and demolished. In 1949, Aylburton School became state controlled and in 1950-1, Lydney Rural District Council built Milling Crescent. Mains water did not reach Aylburton until the 1950s. A reservoir was built near Lodge Farm, but was replaced by the one on Chapel Hill in 1956.”The Hare and Hounds” inn was demolished in the mid 20th century. The coal tips and their railways were finally closed in 1960. In 1974, Lydney Rural District became part of the new Forest of Dean District.
The nickname “Ducktown” is thought to be applied to Aylburton by outside elements (Lydney Football Team or possibly American GI’s who were billeted nearby (?) due to the former streams which ran alongside High Street (before culverts were built) leading to there being a highly visible duck population.
As mentioned elsewhere the original chapel was removed stone by stone to its current location on Church Road towards the end of the 19th Century and re-dedicated to St Mary.
There are several interesting features in the Church. The font and the pulpit are considered to be 15th Century and the former almost unique in this country.
The Church bell was cast by William Evans (1690/1-1770) in 1733 son of Evan Evans I who began making bells in nearby Chepstow in the 1680s. He seems to have taken over a pre-existing bell foundry in Welsh Street Chepstow, which was possibly derelict when Evan Evans I started up there. The existence of a Bell House there is known from a will of 1605. There is nothing of it remaining, but there is a heritage trail pavement slab at the location in Welsh Street with details of the foundry. The Evans’ memorial inscription slab can still be seen inside St Mary’s Priory Church at Chepstow.
The Aylburton cross is located at grid reference ( SJ617617 (361723, 201789) in the centre of the village of Aylburton to the west side of the A48 Chepstow to Lydney road. The Cross is central to a large conservation area.
The Cross is of mixed styles and built of Forest stone. The main structure is some9ft high, it is square in shape and topped by a flat stone on which is a further chamfered one. Above this, a further square stone is topped by a further chamfered one bearing a repeat stone. In each side of the cross are large niches which are likely to have held full size sculpted figures. The entire edifice is supported by five large steps, known as the “Calvary”, from which sermons would be preached to the villagers and passers-by. The whole gives the appearance of a square shrine.
The cross was repaired around 1841 and again in 1900 (for £4.1s..6d.) and was moved back a few yards from its original position in the 1960s as it had become a traffic hazard. It is understood that the Cross originally supported another stone from which rose a tall shaft topped by a Latin (floriated) cross as the one in the village of Clearwell.
As far as can be ascertained the Aylburton Cross, the Clearwell Cross and the Lydney Cross are entirely unique in Britain in displaying large and impressive niches on each side of the centre section and must have involved considerable skill in their execution. Foreign masons were probably brought in to undertake this work under the sponsorship of Llanthony Secunda Priory in Gloucester.
The Cross at Aylburton is an ancient preaching cross, a scheduled monument, and a Grade II listed historical monument. The cross was unlikely to have had a purely market purpose as in the type that featured a shelter and seen elsewhere in Britain and, because of its overt religious appearance, must have fulfilled a significant role in the Church calendar and in the religious affairs of the village. It would have represented a pivotal role in disseminating religious observance.
The cross is recognized by villagers and tourists alike as the centre point of the village. Villagers of all ages identify with the cross and it serves as a focal point and goes a long way to foster social cohesion. It provides a backdrop for Remembrance Day celebrations and is a key meeting and rallying point for leisure pursuits such as the football matches that take place on the playing fields on the other side of the village, for the annual Aylburton carnival and the annual fruit and vegetable competitions held in the Methodist Church Hall opposite. Around the base of the cross elderly villagers are provided with benches to meet, contemplate and rest. Wedding photographs are often taken against the backdrop of the Aylburton cross. Villagers congregate around the cross and photos are taken for competitions and the regular “salmon supper” which has important local/historic roots.
The Reformation induced a wave of iconoclasm, the destruction of religious imagery. All forms of Protestantism showed a degree of hostility to religious images, considered to be idolatry, especially sculpture and large paintings. Book illustrations and prints were more acceptable, because they were smaller and more private. Protestant leaders, such as John Calvin, actively eliminated imagery from churches within the control of their followers, and regarded the great majority of religious images as idolatrous, even plain crosses and certainly those with iconoclastic images such as the one in Aylburton with its sculpted recesses and its Latin cross. Whatever sculptures were originally in those recesses, most probably statues of saints, were deliberately destroyed.
Perhaps over five thousand crosses existed at one time in the public places of England, in the obscure village churchyard and the busy market, the lonely highway and the crowded city thoroughfare. Precisely how many of these now remain, it would be difficult to say but certainly only a small proportion exists in anything like their original state. Some have survived as mere shafts, beautiful still in many cases, but shorn of almost all meaning by the loss of the one part of the structure, the cross itself, that gave them their name. In other cases an unsightly stump, a useless flight of steps, a few worn stones, an ancient place-name, keep alive the memory of the Cross which was desecrated or destroyed.
It was the bigotry of the Puritan epoch which robbed Britain of the greater part of our public crosses, just as it was the narrow views imported into the Reformation movement from foreign sources that were chiefly answerable for the disappearance of our roodscreens and other church crosses. The categorization of crosses cannot be entirely scientific. No doubt several of the market crosses, besides serving the usual purposes of such structures, enshrined the memories of departed worthies; and unquestionably many village and roadside crosses were originally erected as preaching places for the brothers of some neighbouring monastery, or for itinerant friars or had some other ceremonial significance.
The Cross, however, was not used for sermons only. Being a place centrally situated and resorted to by large numbers of people it was considered a suitable one for the performance of acts of public penance (6).
Rev. Tyack in 1896 refers to our Aylburton Cross; “In Gloucestershire, there is the lower portion of a very substantial column, said by competent authorities to form part of a fourteenth century cross probably designed by some foreign artist”.) He goes on to mention that “Gloucestershire has some good specimens, as at Hempsted and at Clearwell “….The Clearwell Cross, of the fourteenth century, has the usual features of steps, square base or pedestal, and slender shaft, but the elegant cross at the head is of bolder proportions than is found in the majority of cases.”
Various civic functions also took place around the high crosses of the towns, or those of a similar character in the villages. For example the good folk of Folkestone were summoned by the blast of a horn to assemble at the churchyard cross before proceeding to elect their mayor; and sometimes the court of the lord of the manor would summon villagers for declarations and news.
The parish cross was, in bygone days, the centre of parochial life, and speaks most convincingly of the extent to which religion entered into the lives of the people. In times when holidays were begun by attendance at the Eucharist, when trade guilds had their special altars in the parish church and when every public function naturally included an act of Christian worship, it was simply a part of community life. Village crosses dominated the marketplace, offered a welcoming sight to travellers along the highway and often marked the boundary of the parish.
Anyone who wishes to find out more about the evolution of the village over the ages will find the publication ’Lydney’, A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 5: Bledisloe Hundred, St. Briavels Hundred, The Forest of Dean (1996), pp. 46-84 to be very informative. This publication is available online at the British History Online website.