History

AYLBURTON AND ITS HISTORY

(AEpelbeorhtes-tun or Ethelberts farmstead)

 

Aylburton and the surrounding areashave a long and intensely interesting history. The Iron Age, Roman, AngloSaxon, Norman, Medieval, Georgian and Victorian periods have all left anenduring legacy in buildings and landmarks that can still be seen in thevillage and many of these are still in regular use.

 


IRON AGE AND ROMAN PERIODS

During the Roman period most of theslopes of the parish were originally covered in woodland and the bank of theRiver Severn was more than 1km closer to the main road, with around half of thecurrent "levels" being reclaimed before about 450 AD. The area wouldhave been dominated by the Roman villa and temple in the grounds behind what isnow the Lydney Park House. At this time the Forest (of Dean) was just insidethe territory known as Britannia Secunda (Secondary Britain), which coveredWales and whose eastern border was the River Severn.


THE ROMAN TEMPLE AT LYDNEY COURT PARK

In 1928 the decision was taken toexcavate and preserve the remains of the Temple under the direction of the eminentarchaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler. From his discoveries it was clear that thisis one of the most important archaeological sites of Britain. The earliestoccupation 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 nowvisible on the site date from the final phase of Roman occupation when awealthy religious complex was built in the late 4th century. FewRoman 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, atthat point all of Gloucestershire came within England.

Sir Mortimer Wheelers Reconstruction Of
The Roman Temple Site

NORMAN BRITAIN

The land on which Aylburton (originallyÆþelbeorhtes-tun or Ethelbert’s farmstead) stands became part of a single manorof Lydney in 1066 under the Earl ofHereford, William FitzOsbern the builderof Chepstow Castle which, only 9 milesaway, can be can be easily visited from Aylburton.

LlanthonyPriory became lord of both Aylburton and Alvington (but not Lydney) manors in1277. They took iron and coal from the land above the current village andcarried it down Darken Lane and Stockwell Lane to Aylburton Warth, where it wasput onto ships. This carried on a tradition probably started by the Romans.

By 1219 Aylburton had its own chapel situated onChapel Hill dedicated to St. John (it became St. Mary’s sometime before 1750). The Chapel was relocated (stone by stone) tinthe late 19th Century to the foot of the hill and is now adjacent toChurch Road. (see below).The church has several interesting features includinga medieval font, one of only 60 still existing in the country and a church belldated 1733 which was foundered at nearby Chepstow in the towns bell foundry.

Lire Abbey granted Lydney church to the dean andchapter of Hereford and following the dissolution of the monasteries underHenry VIII, William Wyntour purchased the manor from the Crown in 1599. Itremained 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’sMesne Lodge or Bream Lodge.) It was cleared of trees by Llanthony Priory in1306 and largely converted to agricultural land, and they allowed their tenantsrights of common there. Prior’s Pool was a fishpond dating from this time. Themarket cross was built in the 14th C. Llanthony Priory had a fulling mill onFerneyley Brook in 1535 (later called Tucker’s Mill or Wood Mill, later to beused as a grist mill until around 1900).


TUDOR BRITAIN

By 1600, Aylburton manor had a mill at Millend (nowMilling Green) on Park Brook. Housing was built around this time at StockwellLane and Millend. By 1608 there were 14 tradesmen in Aylburton, including anailer, 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 theSevern, 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 originalone, and was used mainly for raising deer. Parts of a small medieval hall arestill visible at No. 32 High Street.

32 High Street, Aylburton

STUART BRITAIN

The building which now houses the Cross Inn wasbuilt in the 17th C, although there are wall elements from the 11th C. OldCourt House was also a smallholding of similar age. Cross Farm incorporatedpart of an early house too.

The short row of cottages at the bottom of ChurchRoad are also probably 17th C. A hamlet called Overstreet once existed on themain road, roughly where Taurus Crafts now is. Sir Charles Wyntour built hisnew manor house there in 1692, the hamlet becoming tenancies and outbuildingsthereof. The poor and needy were not forgotten, in 1680, Christopher Willoughbyset up a trust so that £16 could be distributed annually among the poor ofAylburton, a practice which continues to this day.

By 1710, the north western part of the Parishboundary had been resolved into its current form. The boundary had followedwhat was called the Forest Ditch (probably Collier’s brook), but can now beseen to follow the huge walls just to the south of Aylburton Lodge, built to finalisethe, often bitter, boundary dispute that had existed between Aylburton andAlvington since Llanthony Priory lost ownership.

The Cross Inn

GEORGIAN BRITAIN

In 1717 there was an anvil works at the mill inMillend, but this had been replaced by a grist mill by 1759. Lodge Farm wasestablished before 1717 by the Lydney estate. Prior’s (Mesne) Lodge was builtaround the same time. In 1718, Wyntour’s manor included (in Aylburton) 16leasehold farms, ranging in size from 7-64 acres, which were almost entirelybased 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 debtsleft from repurchasing the estate, including the bulk of their tenant land inAylburton, which was sold to John Lawes. He didn’t last long as the Bathurstfamily bought the estate in 1723. They moved the road slightly to the SE awayfrom the then site of the main house.

In 1778, the lessee of the ironworks was given theright to work quarries at Aylburton Common. In 1784, Aylburton ratepayersresisted attempts by Lydney church to levy church rates on them, and this wasthe beginning of their becoming their own parish.

"The Hare and Hounds" inn opened in 1796at 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 intolarger farms. These included: Home Farm (later Park Farm), Cross Farm (atAylburton Cross), Redhill Farm. The New Grounds was still separate then, butwas 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 wasagain moved to its present route S of Park Farm, which was built around thesame time.


VICTORIAN BRITAIN

In the 1830s, the coney (rabbit) warren on Prior’sMesne estate was sold and houses (including the Warren) were built there. Atabout this time four almshouses were built alongside the Cross Inn. These werelater 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 Railwayuntil 1863 and then GWR) was built in 1851. By 1851 there were 60 tradesmen inAylburton (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 andreconstructed on its present site, the cost being borne by Charles Bathurst. Atthis time, several windows were replaced, and the present graveyard created.Aylburton Lodge (then Devonshire Villa, on the Alvington/Bream Road) was builtin 1858, demolishing a house built there in 1843.

An act of parliament in 1864 forced the enclosureof the common lands of Aylburton Common, Stockwell Green, the Bitterns, LydneyMead, 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 Mesnecommon land went to James Croome. A few more houses were built on Upper Commonafter 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’sRest (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 aschoolhouse 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 acapacity of 160.) "The George" and "The Cross" were bothopen as pubs by 1870. The Cottage Hospital was opened in Aylburton in 1882 byMary Bathurst.

In 1877, the current Lydney Park manor was built.The original was then demolished in 1883. During the 19th C, most farmland wasconsolidated into two or three large farms, the population becoming largelytradesmen and tinplate workers. At this time, the row of cottages from oppositeChurch Road to the Park Brook was built. Between 1890 and 1910, pairs of stonecottages were built further along the road by the Park estate.

In 1894 the parish council of Aylburton wascreated, the Playing Field coming into use in 1898. By 1903, the assistantcurate 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 theCottage Hospital was moved to the present site of Lydney Hospital. By 1910,Aylburton School had a separate infants department. Parts of Aylburton weresupplied with water from 1912 from a spring above the village, and this supplyremains working today for approximately 80 houses. In 1910, Wesleyan Methodistsheld 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.


MODERN BRITAIN

In1936-8, Lydney Rural District built council houses on Stockwell Lane and in1944, the almshouses were sold and demolished. In 1949, Aylburton School becamestate controlled and in 1950-1, Lydney Rural District Council built MillingCrescent. Mains water did not reach Aylburton until the 1950s. A reservoir wasbuilt 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 C. The coaltips and their railways were finally closed in 1960. In 1974, Lydney RuralDistrict became part of the new Forest of Dean District.

The nickname "Ducktown" is thought to beapplied to Aylburton by outside elements (Lydney Football Team or possiblyAmerican GI’s who were billeted nearby (?) due to the former streams which ranalongside High Street (before culverts were built) leading to there being ahighly visible duck population.


ST. MARY'S CHURCH

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.

St Mary's Church Bell

THE AYLBURTON MEDIEVAL CROSS

TheAylburton cross is located at grid reference ( SJ617617 (361723, 201789) in the centre of the village of Aylburton tothe west side of the A48 Chepstow to Lydney road. The Cross is central to alarge conservation area.

TheCross 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 afurther chamfered one. Above this, a further square stone is topped by afurther chamfered one bearing a repeat stone. In each side of the cross arelarge niches which are likely to have held full size sculpted figures. Theentire edifice is supported by five large steps, known as the “Calvary”, fromwhich sermons would be preached to the villagers and passers-by. The wholegives the appearance of a square shrine.

Thecross was repaired around 1841 and again in 1900 (for £4.1s..6d.) and was movedback a few yards from its original position in the 1960s as it had become atraffic hazard. It is understood that the Cross originally supported anotherstone from which rose a tall shaft topped by a Latin (floriated) cross as theone in the village of Clearwell.

Asfar as can be ascertained the Aylburton Cross, the Clearwell Cross and theLydney Cross are entirely unique in Britain in displaying large and impressiveniches on each side of the centre section and must have involved considerableskill in their execution. Foreign masons were probably brought in to undertakethis work under the sponsorship of Llanthony Secunda Priory in Gloucester.


THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE AYLBURTON CROSS

TheCross at Aylburton is an ancient preaching cross, a scheduled monument, and a GradeII listed historical monument. The cross was unlikely to have had a purelymarket purpose as in the type that featured a shelter and seen elsewhere inBritain and, because of its overt religious appearance, must have fulfilled asignificant role in the Church calendar and in the religious affairs of thevillage. It would have represented a pivotal role in disseminating religiousobservance.

Thecross is recognized by villagers and tourists alike as the centre point of thevillage. Villagers of all ages identifywith the cross and it serves as a focal point and goes a long way to fostersocial cohesion. It provides a backdrop for Remembrance Day celebrations and isa key meeting and rallying point for leisure pursuits such as the footballmatches that take place on the playing fields on the other side of the village,for the annual Aylburton carnival and the annual fruit and vegetablecompetitions held in the Methodist Church Hall opposite. Around the base of thecross elderly villagers are provided with benches to meet, contemplate andrest. Wedding photographs are often taken against the backdrop of the Aylburtoncross. Villagers congregate around the cross and photos are taken for competitionsand the regular “salmon supper” which has important local/historic roots.

A background history of English MedievalCrosses

THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION AND THE DESTRUCTION OF CROSSES AND OTHER RELIGIOUS IMAGES

The Reformation induced awave of iconoclasm, the destruction of religious imagery. All forms ofProtestantism showed a degree of hostility to religious images, consideredto be idolatry, especially sculpture and largepaintings. Book illustrations and prints were more acceptable, because theywere smaller and more private. Protestant leaders, such as John Calvin, activelyeliminated imagery from churches within the control of their followers, andregarded the great majority of religious images as idolatrous, even plaincrosses and certainly those with iconoclastic images such as the one inAylburton with its sculpted recesses and its Latin cross. Whatever sculptureswere originally in those recesses, most probably statues of saints, weredeliberately destroyed.

Perhaps over fivethousand crosses existed at one time in the public places of England, in theobscure village churchyard and the busy market, the lonely highway and thecrowded city thoroughfare. Precisely how many of these now remain, it would bedifficult to say but certainly only a small proportion exists in anything liketheir original state. Some have survived as mere shafts, beautiful still inmany cases, but shorn of almost all meaning by the loss of the one part of thestructure, the cross itself, that gave them their name. In other cases anunsightly stump, a useless flight of steps, a few worn stones, an ancientplace-name, keep alive the memory of the Cross which was desecrated ordestroyed.

It was the bigotry of thePuritan epoch which robbed Britain of the greater part of our public crosses,just as it was the narrow views imported into the Reformation movement fromforeign sources that were chiefly answerable for the disappearance of our roodscreens and other church crosses. The categorization of crosses cannot beentirely scientific. No doubt several of the market crosses, besides servingthe usual purposes of such structures, enshrined the memories of departedworthies; and unquestionably many village and roadside crosses were originallyerected as preaching places for the brothers of some neighbouring monastery, orfor itinerant friars or had some other ceremonial significance.

The Cross, however, wasnot used for sermons only. Being a place centrally situated and resorted to bylarge numbers of people it was considered a suitable one for the performance ofacts of public penance (6).

Rev.Tyack in 1896 refersto our Aylburton Cross; “In Gloucestershire, there is the lower portion of avery substantial column, said by competent authorities to form part of afourteenth century cross probably designed by some foreign artist”. ) He goeson to mention that “Gloucestershire has some good specimens, as at Hempsted andat Clearwell “….The Clearwell Cross, of the fourteenth century, has the usualfeatures of steps, square base or pedestal, and slender shaft, but the elegantcross at the head is of bolder proportions than is found in the majority ofcases.”

Various civic functionsalso took place around the high crosses of the towns, or those of a similarcharacter in the villages. For example the good folk of Folkestone weresummoned by the blast of a horn to assemble at the churchyard cross beforeproceeding to elect their mayor; and sometimes the court of the lord of the manorwould summon villagers for declarations and news.

The parish cross was, inbygone days, the centre of parochial life, and speaks most convincingly of theextent to which religion entered into the lives of the people. In times whenholidays were begun by attendance at the Eucharist, when trade guilds had theirspecial altars in the parish church and when every public function naturallyincluded an act of Christian worship, it was simply a part of communitylife. Village crosses dominated themarketplace, offered a welcoming sight to travellers along the highway andoften marked the boundary of the parish.



Anyone who wishes to find out more about the evolution of the village over theages 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 veryinformative. This publication isavailable online at the British History Online website.