Chepstow (St. Mary)

CHEPSTOW (St. Mary), a port, market-town, and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Caldicot, county of Monmouth, 16 miles (S. by E.) from Monmouth, and 131 (W.) from London; containing, with the hamlet of Hardwick, 3366 inhabitants. This place, called by the Britons Cas Gwent, and by most antiquaries supposed to have risen from the ruins of the ancient city Venta, about four miles to the west, derives its present name from the Saxon Chepe, a market, and Stowe, a town. It obtained also the name Striguil from the earls of Pembroke, to whom it belonged at the time of the Conquest, and who, from their residing in a neighbouring castle of that name, were called lords of Striguil, by which designation the manorial courts are still held. Soon after the Conquest, a strong castle was erected, probably by William Fitz-Osborn, Earl of Hereford, on the summit of a rocky precipice overhanging the river Wye: there are considerable remains, richly overspread with ivy, and forming a stately object from various points of view. About the same time the town was fortified with strong walls, portions of which, together with the bastions erected for their defence, are still remaining. In the reign of Stephen, a priory of Benedictine monks was founded here, and dedicated to St. Mary; the revenue, at the Dissolution, was £32. 4. During the parliamentary war, the inhabitants adhered firmly to the royal cause, and the castle was taken, retaken, and again taken; in which conflicts it sustained considerable damage. On the restoration of Charles II., Henry Marten, one of those who had sat in judgment on Charles I., was confined in the castle till his death.

The town is situated on the river Wye, near its confluence with the Severn, and is built on the slope of a hill, among the lofty cliffs that rise abruptly from the western bank of the river, over which a handsome iron bridge of five arches was erected in 1816, at the joint expense of the counties of Gloucester and Monmouth, of which the river forms the line of separation. It is much resorted to by visiters on account of the beautiful scenery wherewith it abounds; and consists of several spacious and well-paved streets, in which are many handsome houses: it is lighted with gas, and supplied with water conveyed from Chepstow Park, four miles distant, by iron pipes. The trade is principally in navy timber, oak-bark, iron, and coal: formerly ship-building was carried on to a considerable extent, but at present vessels are only refitted and repaired. A steam-packet plies to and from Bristol during the summer months. The market-days are Wednesday and Saturday: great markets are held on the last Monday in every month, for horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, and wool; and fairs on the last Monday in February, Friday in Whitsunweek, the Saturday before June 20th, August 1st, and the Friday before October 29th. There is a convenient market-house, with an elegant assembly-room over it, erected by the late Duke of Beaufort. The county magistrates hold petty-sessions for the division every alternate Thursday; and the town is a polling-place for the election of the county representatives: the powers of the county debt-court of Chepstow, established in 1847, extend over the greater part of the registration district of Chepstow. The line of the South Wales railway passes by the town: according to the original act, obtained in 1845, it commenced here; but in 1846 another act was procured for an extension into Gloucestershire from Chepstow, so that the railway now begins at Hagloe, the terminus of the Gloucester and Forest of Dean railway, 12 miles distant. The old passage over the Severn, within two miles of the town, has been improved by the erection of stone piers, and the establishment of a regular steam-packet by some gentlemen in the neighbourhood, assisted by the Duke of Beaufort, who is lord of the manor; it may now be crossed with safety at any time of the tide.

The parish comprises 1024a. 1r. 34p., of which 269 acres are arable, 605 meadow and pasture, 68 woodland, and 81 acres buildings and gardens. The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £6. 16. 8., and in the alternate patronage of Edward Bevan, Esq., and the family of Burr: the vicarial tithes have been commuted for £124. The church, formerly the church of the priory, and considered one of the finest relics of Norman architecture in the county, was thoroughly restored in 1841, chiefly by the efforts of the Bishop of Llandaff. The chancel and transepts, which were destroyed by the fall of the tower about 150 years since, have been rebuilt, the aisles removed, and the church, originally in the cathedral form, restored to its primitive dimensions. On the north side of the chancel is a handsome monument to Henry, second earl of Worcester, and his countess, and opposite is another to Mr. and Mrs. Shipman: the interior is entered by a richly decorated western doorway. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Irvingites, Wesleyans, and Roman Catholics. Sir William Montagu's hospital, for twelve aged persons, was founded in 1614, and endowed with a rent-charge of £32 per annum: Powis' almshouse, for six men and six women, was founded in 1716, by Thomas Powis, Esq., who bequeathed £1800 for its erection and endowment. J. Boucher, Esq., in 1822, bequeathed a sum of money which has been placed in the three per cent. consols., amounting to £3120, the interest to be applied in giving 4s. per week to ten bachelors of the age of sixty years and upwards, and, if so many are not found, then to poor men of the parish of the same age who have not received parochial relief: he also left £1000, the interest to be applied in lighting the town. In Bridge-street is a singular well, which ebbs and flows contrary to the ebbing and flowing of the tide of the river. The union of Chepstow comprises thirty-eight parishes or places, thirty of them are in the county of Monmouth, and eight in that of Gloucester; and contains a population of 16,776.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.