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Newnham (St. Peter)

NEWNHAM (St. Peter), a market-town and parish, in the union and hundred of Westbury, W. division of the county of Gloucester, 11½ miles (W. S. W.) from Gloucester, and 116 (W. by N.) from London; containing, with the tything of Rudhall, 1105 inhabitants. This town appears to have originated in a ford over the Severn, formed by a ridge of rocks and a sandbank, the shifting of which latter, in 1802, rendered the river no longer fordable. Here was anciently a castle, which in the time of our Norman kings constituted one of the fortresses of the Welsh frontier, but there are no traces of it. Newnham had a considerable share in the military events of the seventeenth century, and several engagements took place here between the royalists and parliamentarians, of whose encampment there are still some remains. The town is situated on the western bank of the river, across which is a ferry to Arlingham. A harbour for vessels of 150 tons' burthen was constructed about a century since, and some coasting-trade is carried on, though the difficult navigation of the river near the town has contributed to lessen the traffic, much of which has been transferred to the port of Gatcombe, a few miles to the south. Ship-building affords employment to some of the inhabitants, and in the neighbourhood are extensive iron and coal mines, the carriage of the produce of which is facilitated by the Berkeley canal and the Bullo Pill railway, which latter passes by the marble-works on the Severn, southward of the town, into the Forest of Dean, through a tunnel 1060 yards in extent: some of the coal, which is of very superior quality, is exported. The market, now very inconsiderable, is on Friday; and fairs are held on June 11th and October 18th, chiefly for horses.

The government of the town was vested in a mayor and burgesses in the reign of Edward I., but there are now few relics of its former importance, except a sword of state, said to have been the gift of King John. The lord of the manor holds a court leet annually; and petty-sessions for the Forest of Dean take place here every fortnight. The powers of the county debt-court of Newnham, established in 1847, extend over part of the registration-district of Westbury. Newnham was returned as one of the five boroughs in Gloucestershire, on a mandate from the crown, in the reign of Edward I., and, with the others, is said to have formerly sent members to parliament. The parish comprises by measurement 1900 acres. The living is a perpetual curacy, with a net income of £140, and is in the patronage of the Corporation of Gloucester, the impropriators, whose tithes have been commuted for £201. The church, which stands on a cliff close to the river, contains some portions of Norman architecture, especially the arched entrance into the chancel, ornamented with zigzag mouldings, and supposed to have belonged to a more ancient edifice; a tower was lately added, at the expense of the parishioners. There are places of worship for Independents and Wesleyans. James Jocham, by will dated 1764, gave the interest of £1000 for benevolent purposes.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.