Woolaston (ST593982) - This site can be split into two
areas both of which have strong implications for
maritime Dean. The first is the Chesters Roman villa
which is a large villa complex, possibly with military
links, situated some 750m north-east of Grange Pill,
close to a small silted pill that flows into the Severn
at Guscar Rocks.
that there were two phases of continuous occupation, the
first dating to the mid 2nd century, with the second
commencing after c.320 A.D. and lasting until the end of
the Roman period.
dereliction layer separated these and this may hint at
the villa having been attacked from the sea for there
was known Irish raiding in the estuary in the early 4th
Maritime links for
this villa are strongly suggested by a structure whose
function was interpreted as a lighthouse (probably built
to guide incoming craft along a safe channel between
Guscar Rocks) and also large quantities of bloomery slag
(a waste product of iron smelting) around the edge of
the pill, which appeared to have been used as hardcore
for a trackway to the villa and also for a hard for
second area at this site is that of Woolaston Quay. This
quay consists of two large and separate timber and stone
structures (essentially an upper and lower quay)
discovered in the intertidal zone of Grange Pill in
Archaeological investigation has revealed that the
upper quay was built in the mid 12th century and then
the lower quay added in the early 13th century. The
quays were probably built to serve the shipping needs of
the manor of Woolaston which at the time was owned by
Tintern Abbey (the remains of a monastic chapel are
present at nearby Woolaston Grange) and they formed a
substantial structure that remained in use until
sometime in the mid 17th century, when they were
apparently damaged beyond repair, most probably by a
One of the most
important aspects of this site for Dean is that despite
being in use for 500 years, the two quays were not
recorded in any documentary sources, which means that
other similar waterfront structures may exist elsewhere
in Dean but are at present unknown.
Riverine Dean - The Maritime & Waterfront Archaeology of
the Forest of Dean by John Putley
A hoard of
about 250 Roman coins dated 313-346 AD was discoverd
under a stone at High Woolaston in 1887. It was only
reported in 1895 when then in the possession of a family
living near Chepstow. They were presented for
identication at the National Museum of Wales in 1958 in
a box from Mr T R Till of Lodge Farm, Caerleon.
The Domesday Book
- compiled in 1085-6 - is one of the few historical
records whose name is familiar to most people in this
country. It is our earliest public record, the
foundation document of the national archives and a legal
document that is still valid as evidence of title to
land. Based on the Domesday survey of 1085-6, which was
drawn up on the orders of King William I, it describes
in remarkable detail, the landholdings and resources of
late 11th-century England, demonstrating the power of
the government machine in the first century of the new
Millennium, and its deep thirst for information.
Hundred: Wyvern County: Gloucestershire. Total
population: 5 households. Total tax assessed: 2 geld
units (quite small).
value 2 geld units. Taxed on 2.0. Payments of 0.25
fisheries. Value to lord in 1066 £1.
Value to lord in
1086 £1. Households: 5 villagers. Ploughland: 5 men's
plough teams. Other resources: 1 mill, value 0.16.
1 fishery. Lord in 1066: Brictric son of Algar.
Lord in 1086: William of Eu. Tenant-in-chief in 1086:
William of Eu.
The two nobles
recorded above both came to a sticky end..
son of Alga, Thane of Gloucester,was a Saxon
nobleman who held extensive estates in the West Country.
King Edward the Confessor sent Brictric on an assignment
to Flanders. It is recorded that while there Brictric
spurned the love and attentions of a young Flemish
Princess called Matilda, by refusing her proposal of
marriage. Matilda was never to forgive nor forget this
humiliation. In time Matilda went on to marry William,
the sixth Duke of Normandy, who became better known as
William the Conqueror. Matilda planned her revenge and
maliciously contrived his destruction. She ordered King
William to confiscate Brictric’s estates. Brictric was
arrested at his house at Hanley in Worcestershire, and
was taken to a dungeon at Winchester where he eventually
A thane was a
member of any of several aristocratic classes of men
ranking between earls and ordinary freemen, and granted
lands by the king or by lords for military service.
William of Eu,
Count of Eu (died January 1096) was a first
generation Anglo-Norman aristocrat and rebel. Along with
William of Aldrie, he conspired with Roger de Lacy and
Robert de Mowbray to murder William II and install the
king's cousin Stephen of Aumale. In 1095 the rebels
impounded four Norwegian trading ships and refused the
king's demand to return the merchandise. King William
conducted a lightning campaign, outflanking the rebels
at Newcastle upon Tyne and capturing their stronghold at
Morpeth. He then besieged the rebels at Bamburgh Castle
and built a castle facing the existing one. In January
1096 at Salisbury, William was formally accused and
challenged to trial by battle. He was defeated by
Geoffrey Baynard, former High Sheriff of Yorkshire.
Tradition condemned the loser to blinding and
castration. Count William died as a result of this
There are some earthworks at High
Woolaston Farm speculated as the
possible site of a Norman motte or a
medieval farm-house. On the far side of
a small valley facing the farm, F Harris
and C Scott-Garrett found walls still
standing to a height of 4ft, and the
remains of a square room or tower on the
crest of the hill. A system of Medieval
ridge and furrow immediately to the
south and east may be associated with
In this Forest, upon the river, stood
two Towns of good Antiquity, Tudenham.
and Wollaston. which Walter and Roger,
the brothers of Gislebert de Clare,
about the year 1160, took from the
Welsh: and hard by these, is Lydney,
where Sir William Winter, Vice-admiral
of England, a most worthy Knight, built
a fair house. (from Brittania by William
The church of Woolaston was recorded in
Tintern Abbey's original foundation
grant when the abbey was founded in 1131
by the Lord of Chepstow,Walter de Clare.
By the 13th century Woolaston, under the
Abbot of Tintern's management, was
showing signs of prosperity and now
included five granges, three mills, 1000
acres of arable land, and 1000 acres of
meadow & pasture.
Archaeologists have concluded that an
upper quay was built at Woolaston in the
mid twelfth century, and a lower quay
added in the early thirteenth century.
Much of Woolaston manor had been given
to Tintern Abbey by Walter de la Clare
in 1131, and with its mill, fish ponds,
and fertile agricultural land, was
probably the most productive of the
Richard Wyche, who studied at Oxford,
and had been more recently a monk at
Whalley Abbey in Lancashire, was Abbot
of Tintern Abbey from 1521 until its
dissolution in September 1536. It
passed into the hands of Henry Somerset,
Earl of Worcester, ancestor to the
Beaufort family. The former Abbot then
moved to Woolaston in the Forest of Dean
where he became perpetual curate and
'pryste in the parysshe of Wolleston'
with a pension of twenty-two pounds a
A.G Henderson's impression of Tintern in
the Medieval period.
devotional badge or amulet to St Dorothy
of Caesarea in the shape of a basket of
fruit was found at Grange Pill in 1999.
St Dorothy was one of several virgin
martyrs who were particularly revered in
the 14th and 15th centuries. She is said
to have been executed in the early 4th
century by the Roman emperor Diocletian.
After her martyrdom a basket of apples
was sent from Heaven to convert a lawyer
who had declared that Dorothy would not
During the Civil War there were several
skirmishes near the parish: particularly
in 1644 and 1645 with Sir William Waller
and Sir John Wintour battling for
control of the area. Between 1647 and
1660 the manor was in the hands of the
Protector Oliver Cromwell and his heirs,
and returned to the Somersets after the
Plusterwine appears to show traces of a
Roman camp and its proximity to the
Chesters Roman villa site would make
that a possibility. Most of the older
houses in the parish are situated in two
groups at Plusterwine and Brookend. They
are both in the area of the medieval
manor of Aluredston and Plusterwine Farm
was part of that manor. It is recorded
that there were ten families living at
Aluredston in 1086.
At Plusterwine House there was
a medieval building and a moat.
In 1703 there were 35 families
recorded in Plusterwine hamlet.
Mr. H. B. Greene, Editor for
the Chepstow Advertiser, wrote in an article in 1893
"I have found another unrecorded Roman camp at
Plusterwine, Wollaston. Near the modern mansion are the
remains of a Roman camp much older, in part of which
still exists a grand old fire-place. In the
Parliamentary Civil Wars Mr. James Woodroffe, gentleman
- who might write himself down as 'armiger', or entitled
to wear a distinguished coat of arms, - fought in the
battle of Beachley under the Royalist leader, his near
neighbor, Sir John Wintour, of Lydney.
Plusterwine was garrisoned
and well stored with arms. It was surrounded with a
moat, still visible. Tradition says it was besieged by
the Parliamentary soldiers, and that some earthworks to
the east of it were used at that time. That may be; but,
judging from hasty examination, I thought that this was
a camp of much greater descent.
The Woodroffes of
Plusterwine trace directly from John Woodrove (probably
son of Richard Woderouffe living 1378), who had lands at
Wolley, near Wakefield (1397). His great grand-son, Sir
Richard Woodroffe, twice High Sheriff of Yorkshire, died
in 1522. Richard, a member of this family, married Lady
Elizabeth Percy, daughter of the Seventh Earl of
Northumberland and of Ann, third daughter of the Second
Earl of Worcester (ancester of the Duke of Beaufort)
whose grand tomb is to be seen in Chepstow Church; she
was living in 1604. Another, Sir Nicholas Woodroffe, was
Lord Mayor of London in 1579. Another, Sir George, was
High Sheriff of Surrey in 1668 and Member of Parliament
for godalming, 1680-55. James Woodroffe of Wollaston,
the Royalist soldier, was fighting at Beachley in 1645,
and died about 1690."
"I revisited Plusterwine and
more carefully examined the disturbance of the surface
in the paddock, the adjoining orchard, the Hill Place,
and the Upper Chester Field. I remarked that that seemed
a significant name, for it closely resembles the Roman
word Castra, which means camp. While walking over the
ground I described to Mr. Woodroffe the DOUBLE WALLS
which I had noticed first, at Tuthill, and afterwards at
the Wyndcliff and near East Vaga House on Tideham Chase;
and ask if in his experience in agricultural matters he
had found such walls used for mere boundry purposes. He
replied that he had not. We went thru the fields which
he had mentioned, and I pointed out to him lines of a
mount which assured me that there was the site of a camp
many hundreds of years older than the siege of his house
by Cromwell's soldiers. He told me that besides the
Upper Chester, Ormerod had found various Roman articles;
and that he himself had in other fields often seen
fragments of pottery which he had passed without much
attention. We were returning to the house when at the
top of the Paddock, I suddenly came upon a long line of
double walls which I had just before described to him!!
This discovery was to me a revelation. I was now forced
to the conclusion that such walls were really the
ramparts not of British but of Roman construction, and
then came further conviction which I will state by and
by, and which no doubt cause some commotion among the
Treasure Trove of
Bronze Age Gold Bracelets Found at Woolaston
believed to be six Bronze Age gold
bracelets have been found by a metal
detecting enthusiast from Fife in
Scotland while on a weekend rally
organised by the Forest of Dean Metal
Detecting Club. They may have belonged
to a child who lived or visited the Forest of
Dean around 700 BC.
Around 140 people attended the November
2013 weekend metal detecting rally which
was sponsored by Lydney Rugby Club.
year old Steve Moodie from Newburgh,
spends much of his time metal detecting
around the beaches of Fife, discovered
six 3,000-year-old pure gold children’s
bracelets just inches below a farmer’s
stubble field at Woolaston. Mr Moodie
has been told the treasure trove could
be valued at “six figures” and the sum
would be split 50/50 with the
landowner. The treasure is now in the
hands of the British Museum for analysis
and cleaning which could
take up to two years. 'Big Steve' had
already made a significant discovery at
Falkland eight years ago when finding a
Bronze Age gold ring, now in the St
Andrews Museum, and believed to be the
first of its kind to be discovered in
Dave Warren of
the Forest of Dean Metal Detecting Club
said: “The rally went really well. The
finds were amazing overall and not just
the Bronze Age treasure find. “Over the
weekend people found a silver hammer
coin, a Bronze Age axe head and a Roman
broach and coins. The big
discovery, the Bronze Age bracelet, is a
very significant find for this area.”
Kurt Adams, a County finds liaison
officer, was there to verify any of the
Age settlements are at present not known
in the Forest of Dean, a large variety
of finds scattered around the area
suggests that there is much awaiting
discovery. Bronze Age field systems have
been identified at Welshbury Hill near
Littledean, and there is also
archaeological evidence of early trading
by sea, probably through Lydney.
|The remnants of a
Medieval Cross and the ruins of a Bible
Listed as a
Scheduled Ancient Monument, the remains of this medieval cross in the graveyard at St. Andrew's, has a
number of holes where, it is believed, money soaked in
vinegar was offered to prevent transmission of the
plague. Some scholars believe it may possibly be the
remains of St. Peter's Cross, first recorded in 1700,
and sketched at its original site by Sarah Omerod from
nearby Sedbury House in the mid-nineteenth century.
Perhaps it was moved from a nearby roadside area, now
the A48's Peter's Cross picnic site? That might account
for it not being bedded into the graveyard's top-soil.
Building of the first
Christian chapels in west Gloucestershire at Drybrook
and Woolaston Woodside started around 1836. The Drybrook
chapel opened on 5th of May 1837 but Woolaston had a few
reported in 1837 - "Another
chapel is in the course of erection in the parish of
Woolaston, a place where it was very much needed - for
we have nearly 20 members in this place but they are in
general very poor, and unless the missionary committee
render some assistance it cannot be completed. If the
committee will grant £20 I think we shall be able to
finish it by taking up £20 more. The whole will cost £65
or £70. It has been on the stand for several months for
want of money. The walls are raised and the roof nearly
At a district meeting in July
1840 it was reported
"Concerning Woolaston Chapel
we learn that about £30 would be sufficient to complete
it.We have applied to the lawyers, and other persons to
borrow this money, but have failed every effort. They
tell us that they do not like to lend money on chapels.
We appeal to the Conference to know what can be done,
for if something is not done soon the premises will get
into a dilapidated state and perhaps will have to be
The Forest of Dean preachers responsible were G Turley
and M L Greenslade. They must have made some progress as
missionary meetings were being held there in 1842.
From the Religious Census
of 1851 completed by Thomas James, a local grocer and the Chapel Steward,
who lived at Brookend, the numbers attending Divine
Service at Woolaston on March 30 1851 were 120 to afternoon service,
and 100 in the evening. There were 43 Sunday Scholars in
the morning, and 45 in the afternoon. The chapel had
free seating for 40, and 70 other sittings.
It remained well attended
until around 1939. Except for a fortnightly Sunday
School in the 1960s, it has not been used for regular
services since 1959.
Christians (or O'Bryanites) were founded in Cornwall in
1815, and recognised the Bible as the only valid
authority for doctrine.They were more widely known as
Bible Christians (sometimes Arminian Bible Christians).
Their name "Bryanites" is from their founder, William
O'Bryan; that of "Bible Christians" was due to the
persistent use of the Bible in private devotions and
public services. They merged with the United Methodist
Free Churches in 1907 and later joined with the Weslyan
and Primitive Methodists in 1932 to form the Methodist
Church as it is today.
preacher Samuel Ball who was born at Woolaston in 1841 and
died there at the age of seventy-seven in February 1919,
was a typical Bible Christian who possessed a fund of
stories concerning the history of his church at
Woolaston from the reports and anecdotes that had been
handed down from the time when the area in which he
lived was described as a "dark and desolate spot." It is
a great loss to all who are interested in the past when
the recollections and stories of the past told by
elderly people are not written down.
He was a soberly dressed man
who spoke in the language of the 1611 Bible, he used the
"thee's and thou's," and after the style of the old time
Quakers refered to people as "friends." His hair style
was short at the back and sides with hair combed forward
with a fringe just over the forehead. The style is seen
in prints and photographs of such persons as James
Thorne and Billy Bray. The whole idea was to be plain
and simple, without any ostentation, and the use of
titles was not appreciated by old fashioned Bible
Christian men and women.
local preacher, Samuel Ball used to travel to his Forest
of Dean Circuit appointments in a trap drawn by two
donkeys. Sometimes he rode on the donkey's back, but
later in life he travelled to his appointments on a
tricycle. Like all Bible Christians he was an
enthusiastic missionary supporter. A missionary doing
deputation work in the Forest, said: "The deputation was
served with toast and tea at Sammy's place but he always
put a sovereign in the collection plate."
George E Lawrence
stipend for a Bible Christian preacher at that time was
£14 a year when unmarried, and if married extra
allowances would take that to £30 and a house.
|A Norwegian ship's
captain's wife and son buried at Woolaston.
grave of Nathalie Cornelinsen (Corneliusen) and her son
Olaf is in Woolaston churchyard.
the 8th of April 1887, Captain Hans Cornelinsen in the
Norwegian sailing ship Prince Victor, was en
route from New York to the dock at Sharpness with a
cargo of 10,000 barrels of paraffin.
was negotiating the Severn Estuary, with the assistance
of two tugs and a pilot, when it was discovered too late
that there was insufficient water to clear the sands.
The ship struck a sandbank near Beachley and turned
broadside on the tide, falling over on her beam-ends.
She crushed the tug Victoria into the sands, and
it was never to be seen again.
ship's crew scrambled on to her port side which by now
was awash, where they were joined by men from the
Victoria who were being taken off by the other tug.
Captain Cornelinsen's wife and son were both lost, the
lady in the ship's saloon, the son in the galley, both
being drowned when the vessel rolled over. The Prince
Victor dragged across the sands for another half
mile, where it was secured by lines to a large oak tree
at the water's edge at Woolaston where she became dry at
Woolaston churchyard there is a grave to the two passengers
who died. The villagers were said to have been very kind
to the survivors, who camped on the bank near the wreck.
was later caulked, righted and towed to Sharpness where
she was condemned and then auctioned, selling for £250.
Her timber was later used for building sheds and
many years the figurehead of the Prince Victor
was in the garden of a cottage at Woolaston.
|Warren Silcocks, the
Woolaston blacksmith who died in 1843
Silcocks, the Woolaston blacksmith who lived at Luggs
Cross and died in 1843 aged 60, is
commemorated by these words on his memorial.
sledge and hammer lie reclin'd,
bellows too have lost their wind:
fire's extinct, my forge decay'd
in the dust my vice is laid.
coal is spent, my iron gone,
last nail's driven, my work is done.
See Woolaston's burials
Woolaston's first resident policeman was PC Henry Thomas
Eagles (1849-1920). Henry was born at Hardwicke in 1849
and was working as a farm labourer when he married Fanny
Shearman in 1869. He joined the Gloucestershire
Constabulary in 1876 and during the next few years was
posted to Redwick, Chipping Sodbury, and Cheltenham, and
then to the police station at Littledean prison where he
served for about 8 years. The family moved to Woolaston
around 1892. Their 10th child, Beatrice, was born there
in 1894. He retired in 1900 and later became a publican
when he moved to the Whitesmith's Arms in Southgate
Street, Gloucester. Henry died at Woolaston in 1920. His
successor was Dymock born PC Frederick Morgan. In the
1930s PC Beddis was resident and by the 1950s the
village bobby was Jim Ludlow who locals recall keeping
piglets in the station's cells. In spite of very strong
local opposition Woolaston police station was closed in
1974. Its last residing officer at that time was PC
PC Henry Eagles and the police station at Luggs Cross on
the A48 in the 1930s
|The First bus to run
through the village
In 1918 the first local motor bus to run through the
village was driven by Mrs Letheren whose family later
started Letheren's Coaches of Lydney. She used to drive
once a day, from Lydney to Woolaston and back, picking
up passengers en route. Locals recall that the bus also
brought people home from Lydney cinema on Saturday
nights and travelled to Gloucester once a week.
The bus driver's roots go back to the early 1900s when
Thomas Letheren, a wagon owner, came to Lydney from
Starcross in South Devon. He started the Lydney Posting
Company with a horse and wagon delivery contract mail
from Lydney Rail Station to Coleford and Monmouth. It
is believed he was the first to buy a motor bus in
Gloucestershire. By the end of World War I he was
operating 14 buses with the main route being from
Lydney to Gloucester. These bus services were later sold
to a newly formed company, Red & White Services (Watts)
together with their Victoria Street Garage.
A 1930s view by Roy Workman
|Cone Mill and the 1873
A mill conveyed to Thomas James by Edward Shere and
others in 1583 was probably the lower corn mill on the
Cone brook close to Cone Pill (bottom right hand corner
of 1880 map below).
Another, situated above the Swan public house (centre of
map), in 1774 was a paper-mill owned
by Richard Barrow and manufacturing writing paper.
Between 1820 and 1856 John Reece was in charge and the
1841 census records ten paper-makers and an engineer
living in the parish.
From 1869 it was owned by the Gloucester Paper Company
whose chairman was a Quaker, Mr Palmer, from Reading's
Huntley & Palmer biscuits family.
In 1871 a revolutionary new process using pine-wood
chips and a 32 ft long heavy-duty cylindrical boiler fed
by high pressure hot-water pipes, was introduced. It is
believed to have been the first mill in Britain to
manufacture paper from wood.
Unfortunately in June 1873 there was a massive
explosion. The boiler had blown from its seating and
through the roof, rocketed over the pond, uprooted two
large oak trees, demolished a stable, and after a 200
yards flight, deeply entombed itself into an embankment.
Debris from the building's iron roof was found more than
a quarter of a mile away.
The mill was rapidly besieged by anxious wives and
relatives fearing the worst and it was some time before
it was ascertained that no lives were lost or anyone
seriously injured. By a stroke of luck there were no
workers in the immediate area. If the explosion had
happened five minutes earlier - a dozen men could have
The damage was estimated at £6000 pounds (about £3
million in today's money) and Mr Palmer apparently did
not attempt to replace the wrecked boiler house.
In 1874 the mill was reopened with new owners. It was
now making newsprint and coloured paper using Spanish
esparto grass which was hauled in from Woolaston station
or the small wharf at Cone Pill.
A gasometer adjoining the mill was built around 1880 and
in 1882-3 and the owner at that time, John Macpherson,
constructed a reservoir to improve the water supply.
In 1885 Thomas Paterson Gillespie was manufacturing
printing, news, and writing paper.
When the forthcoming October auction of the mill was
advertised in the
in September 1894, it was as a going concern, 'a
well appointed Paper Mill for the production of fine
printing and writing papers, compact, equipped with
modern machinery of a high class, a plentiful water
supply and well situated for markets, and a capability
of producing 30 tons per week. 14 acres of freehold land
together with a leasehold board mill, situated on the
Cone brook in the parish of Woolaston, two and half
miles from Lydney and close to collieries. Sandstone
quarry on the property.'
appear to have been no takers. The company closed
down in 1895, and it was later reported that 300 people
were put out of work when the paper mill and a corn-mill
at Alvington went out of production.
The lower buildings and stables of Cone Mill were then
used as a steam laundry servicing local hotels and
hospitals,Beachley Camp and Gloucester prison. It was
operational until the early 1960s and at its peak
employed seven women and three men.
Lower Cone Corn Mill in 1911 (J
W Webb) and the ruined paper mill buildings in 1967
Photo by Roy Workman 1937
Rowley Mill, on Cone brook, was
situated just above its junction with Small brook. It
was first recorded on the manor estate in 1413 when it
then comprised of two grist mills under one roof in
In 1646 Robert Kyrle and John
Brayne, partners in a number of local ironworks, agreed
to build a forge there. In 1775 Rowley, Clanna, and
Barnage forges were leased for three lives to David
Tanner, and passed to the Pidcock family in 1790. In
1809 the paper maker Thomas Morris bought the lease, and
a paper mill was then worked by the Morris family until
1841. It employed seven people in 1851. In 1879 F. J.
Noble & Co. operated it as a board mill, and it later
continued under other manufacturers.
In 1920, a gas engine was
installed fuelled by anthracite on site. Ted Ball
recalled that the raw materials required then for making
cardboard were waste paper, rags, wood pulp with
additives and dye. They were hauled by a wagon and two
horses from Woolaston Station by a Mr Frowen who had one
good arm and a horrible looking steel hook that
replaced a limb lost in World War1. Rowley Mill
produced its last consignment of cardboard around 1931
and was demolished in 1949.
|Ship Building at Cone
the 1650s the master shipwright and timber purveyor Daniel Furzer
represented the Amiralty when
establishing a royal dockyard in the Forest of Dean. He
built the Forester (1657) and the Princess
Lydney and then was ordered to build another warship,
the St. David. He informed the Admiraltry in
October 1664 that the river at Lydney
was now too silted up and was not a fit place for
He recommended a move down to
Cone Pill as 'it was nearer the woods, had a good dry
beach, and a creek to launch her in'. Unfortunately,
there were problems.
Only two years before, the
whole country had suffered from a devastating storm.
Furzer estimated a loss in the
Forest of Dean of over 3000 trees in one night. That
windfall loss of so many trees had been a significant
blow to the Navy. Locals, who were also themselves
suffering as a result of the shortage, were cutting down
some of the trees selected for ship-building and marked
with the King's seal, for their own use.
Eventually however after
several delays, on 30th March 1667, the St. David, a 38 ton fourth
rate ship of the line, designed to carry 54 guns and 280
men, was launched. Our drawing from Wikipedia by
Willem van de Velde is believed to have been sketched
after that ship foundered at Portsmouth harbour in 1690
and during its recovery in 1691.
|The ruined church at
Lancaut and its Woolaston connections
Today the only significant
trace of the village of Lancaut above ground is the
church of St James, which is a Grade II listed building
within the site of a scheduled monument. Ecclesiastical
records in the Book of Llandaff refer to a religious
establishment of lann ceuid probably at this location,
which is likely to have been established by 625 AD. A
monastery was recorded here by 703. However, the
construction of the church dates from the 12th century,
the arch remaining across the chancel dating from this
period. The theory has been put forward that the
settlement was connected to the Cistercian monks who
founded their substantial Abbey up-river at Tintern in
A cast lead font in the church,
comparable to other local examples from the same mould,
can be dated precisely to between 1120 and 1140. This
font is now in the Lady Chapel of Gloucester cathedral.
Another suggestion is that it
may once have been the site of a leper colony, and an
unusual number of medicinal herbs including the
non-native elecampane - once used to treat respiratory
ailments - and green hellebore have been found in and
around the churchyard.
Until 1711 the church was an
independent ecclesiastical parish. After this date it
was merged with another local parish, the new living
being the rectory of Woolaston. Despite this, the church
appears to have been substantially restored and rebuilt
after this time. The double bell window still visible in
the West wall was supplemented by a small bell turret in
the roof above. In 1840 the antiquarian George Ormerod
made drawings that record the church as having box pews
and a pulpit fitted inside. By the 1860s though, the
parish congregation was reduced in number and services
were only being held here during the summer months.
In 1865, the Rector of
Woolaston ordered that the church be abandoned. The roof
and the interior fittings, together with the font, were
removed. Church and village both declined after this
time, and the church was deconsecrated.
In the 1980s the chancel arch
partially collapsed, prompting some restoration and
consolidation work, together with archaeological study.
shows Woolaston congregation attending their annual
summer open-air service at Lancaut which continued until
Repairs were undertaken to the
churchyard wall in 2010. In December 2013, the church
building was purchased for a nominal fee of £1 by the
Forest of Dean Buildings Preservation Trust. The Trust
intends to carry out a programme to stabilise the
Andy Dingley - wikipedia
The lead bowl of the Norman
font was removed from the church before 1890 by its
patron, Sir William Marling of Sedbury Park, and it
remained with his family until around 1940 when it was
donated to Gloucester Cathedral.
The single bell was also
removed from the church in the late 19th century for the
use of Woolaston school.
No parish registers are known
to survive, but entries for Lancaut are included in the
|A Murder on the River
On the morning of 3 November
1818, three men got into a boat at Woolaston and set off
for Bristol. One of the trio, hoping to find a berth on
a ship there, was William Burton, a 33 year old ex-sailor,
originally from Bristol, who was at that time living at
Woolaston in extreme poverty. His travelling companion,
24 year old William Syms,
also lived in Woolaston, and who was described as an industrious
man, had withdrawn some money from the Chepstow Bank,
and was hoping to purchase a small trading vessel. The
third member of the party was 35 year old William
Hurd, part owner of the boat.
33 year old
was a native of
Newcastle from a respectable family and apparently
received a decent education. At an early age he was
apprenticed to the captain of a coal ship trading
between Newcastle and various parts of the UK. He was
5ft 8ins with dark grey/blue eyes and had a scar on the
bridge of his nose. At some point in his career he had
joined the Royal Navy and served on a man of war,
during the Napoleonic Wars. The prison records at
Gloucester gaol reveal that he had several scars across his
shoulders, perhaps the results of a vicious flogging.
It was on
a visit to Bristol that he met and married Sarah
(believed to be Davis) from
Woolaston who had been living and working in a public
house there. They lived at Ratcliffe near Bristol. (A
man named William Davis from Woolaston identified
himself as Burton's brother-in-law while giving evidence
during the trial.)
A Sarah Davis, the daughter of John & Mary, was baptised
at Woolaston in January 1791.
Between 1812 and
1819 the couple had three children, possibly born at
Bristol. Their eldest, Sarah
Anne, was christened at Woolaston in November 1812.
William Henry and Elizabeth, their places of birth and dates are not
recorded, were both christened there in August 1819,
four months after their father's execution. They all
appear to have been living at Woolaston in 1818.
from the Navy in 1814 he soon found himself
penniless and appears to have existed with occasional
work on vessels trading between Bristol and Lydney. His
most recent employment was on the 72 ton sloop 'Bransby'
jointly owned by James Madley, a wood dealer from
Redbrook, and James Biss, a corn merchant of Monmouth,
who were based on the River Wye.
Several accounts give the impression he was a heavy
drinker. At his trial he was said to have consumed
eleven pints in one day while at Pill, and seven days
after the murder, he was on a three day visit to Bristol
where he was seen heavily intoxicated on at least two
On that boat trip
from Woolaston to Bristol during the morning of
November 3rd 1818,
who was employed to convey
goods between the Forest of Dean to the River Avon ports
at Rownham and Pill for the Bristol market, was on this
transporting a load of potatoes to unload at
then situated near the present day Clifton Suspension
an unemployed seaman,
wanted to go to Bristol and and is believed to have been hoping to secure a berth
on a ship there.
William Syms was in the market for a
boat and carrying around twenty pounds in cash, the
equivalent of about £600 in today's money, as he was expecting to do some business
They arrived at Pill, near the mouth of the Avon at
around 7pm and stayed the night there.
The following morning they took the boat upriver to
Rownham where William Syms left to go into the City.
Soon after, William Burton, who was penniless, started
pestering the boat owner,William Hurd, to lend him 3 or
4 shillings to replace his shoes which were in a
dilapidated condition. Hurd refused. Later the pair
unloaded the potatoes and Burton was then left in charge
of the boat while Hurd went off into Bristol to dispose
of the cargo.
When he returned William Syms was also back on board having
completed his business transactions.
They both then paid for the expenses incurred at
Rownham. Hurd then apparently left the area for a time, explaining
later that he had wanted to avoid Burton and his prolonged
pestering for money.
When he returned, Burton was still harping on the same
subject and announced his intention of going into
Bristol to raise money. ' I must box
Harry and raise the wind to buy me some shoes even if I
go to Hell after them! '
('Box Harry' is a an old
meaning to live in a poor manner, or on credit.)
The next morning, having a favourable tide, they
proceeded down river to Pill. On board, Burton was still
badgering Hurd about the shoes that that had finally
burst after the unloading of the potatoes. He indicated
that Hurd should pay him for his labour. The boat owner
pointed out that he had provided the sailor with meat
and drink and that should be sufficient.
They stayed that night in Pill. The next morning, around
7am, the trio sailed off intending to return to
Woolaston. Unfortunately the weather was so bad that
after about a mile they were forced to return to Pill
where they stopped for breakfast.
Hurd and Syms then decided to go into Bristol leaving
Burton in charge of the boat.
On arriving at a public house in Bristol William Symes
brought the first drinks. While paying he revealed that
he was carrying three five pound notes, two of which
were from the Chepstow Bank and fairly new, and three or
four one pound notes.
Because the rain was still heavy they stayed the night
At 5am the next morning, the 6th November, Hurd who
wanted to visit Tockington near Olveston where he had
relatives, asked Symes if he would return to Pill and
help Burton take the boat to the Old Passage, where they
would meet up later.
Unfortunately the boat owner was delayed and did not
turn up at the promised meeting point. He did not return
to Woolaston until the following day.
The town of Pill
in North Somerset was situated on the southern bank of
the Avon. Adjacent to the village of Easton-in-Gordano,
it was traditionally the residence of pilots, who would
guide boats up the Avon Gorge between the Bristol
Channel and the Port of Bristol. At that time it was home to 21
public houses and had a reputation as being a rough
Little is known about the movements of William Syms on
the 6th of November. He
and Burton were seen drinking together at the Swan on
the evening of November 6th. Burton was heard asking
Syms whether they were going home and was told that they
were. One of their fellow drinkers advised against that
and said that it was not the weather that night to go
out in an open boat, the wind and rain being very
On the following
morning around 7am, when the tide was low, the pair were
seen by several witnesses getting into the boat. William Syms was not seen
alive again. It is possible
that the murder may have been premeditated. One account
claims that a woman, who
wanted a passage, had approached Syms and Burton while they
were at the Swan. She was refused by Burton even though
Syms was willing to take her.
At around 2pm John
Wade from Woolaston saw William Burton alone in the boat
heading towards Chepstow. He queried the whereabouts of William Syms
and was told that he had been put ashore at Eastern
William Syms' body
was not discovered until the 28th of November. The
Severn Bore had carried it more than sixteen miles
upstream from Woolaston and it was found, by a boatman floating in the Severn near Epney, in the
parish of Moreton Valence. The
left-hand breeches pocket was turned inside out.
The corpse was
examined by the Frampton surgeon John Earle. Several head wounds were found. The back of
the head revealed the mortal wound where the skull had
been severely fractured. There was also a heavy blow
over the nose and to the upper frontal bone. It was
clear that his death had been caused by the wounds.
from Woolaston examined the body at Epney the next day
and confirmed it was Syms.
James Henry Ball,
(some sources suggest he may have been the parish
constable), a carpenter from Woolaston, had witnessed the departure of all three men on Tuesday the 3rd of
At that time Burton had tried to borrow two
shillings from him. On Sunday 8th November he asked him
what he had done with Syms. Burton replied that he had
put him ashore at Eastern Point and thought he had
either gone to America or Barbados. James Ball was
immediately suspicious and later caused Burton to be
apprehended and taken before the magistrate
Mr C B Bathurst
from Lydney Park. The boat was examined and blood stains
Witnesses to Burton's newly found prosperity soon came forward.
John Hill, a shoemaker from
Chepstow, testified that on the evening of Saturday the
7th of November Burton had bought a pair of shoes,
paying for them with a five pound Chepstow Bank bill. On
Monday 9th November he changed another five pound bill
when having a glass of rum at a Chepstow public house.
Other witnesses testified that Burton, from being very
poor, suddenly became rich, and paid all his debts.
|For a short period a
Woolaston man was in Gloucester prison at the
same time as William Burton. On January 4th
1819, 20 year old William Davis was charged on
the oath of Sarah Burton on suspicion of
'feloniously stolen out of a dwelling house the
property of William Burton, husband of Sarah, a
counterpane, a muslin handkerchief, and divers
other articles of wearing apparel, the property
of William Burton. The prisoner was later
released 'by proclamation'
On the morning of his murder, a handkerchief was
seen in the possession of William Symes. It was
marked with the initials 'W S'. Mrs
Chaffey, landlady of the Swan public house at
Pill, gave evidence that the handkerchief was
like one she saw the deceased drying at her fire
on the 7th of November.
After his return to
Woolaston, William Burton had lent it to a man
named William Davis who was later called as a
witness at the murder trial. When giving
evidence Davis testified to being Burton's
On being asked to
account for his increase in wealth Burton claimed to
have borrowed eight pounds from an old shipmate named
Jones while he was in Bristol. This was later proved to
be a lie. Priscilla, the wife of Jones, her husband, a
steward on the Concord, and being that time
at sea, testified that Jones himself was in a poor
financial state and could not possibly have given Burton
On 1st December
1818, William Syms
at Alvington. He was only twenty-four years old and left
a widow and two children.
After several examinations by Mr C B Bathurst,
was charged with the wilful murder of William Symes and
taken into custody and on
22nd November committed to Gloucester Gaol to await
During the seven hour trial
at the Lent Assizes on
6th April 1819, several witnesses were called and the
guilt of the prisoner was confirmed. He had called no
one in his defence, but his Counsel, Mr Twiss, went on
to cross-examine the twenty-three witnesses called by
the prosecution. Despite his defence's efforts, the jury took
only five minutes to find Burton guilty of murder.
Richardson summed up the evidence 'with great clearness
and perspicuity' and the jury after a five minute
consultation, found the prisoner guilty. The judge then
proceeded to pass the sentence of death and ordered the
execution for the following Thursday at one o'clock.
In the condemned
cell Burton still persisted in asserting his innocence.
On the eve of his
execution, after a visit to the condemned cell, the
prison chaplain wrote '
Visited W. Burton in the
morning and took down what he said respecting his Guilt
which he denied. I showed it to the Judge who is so
fully convinced of his crime that he must suffer
tomorrow. In the afternoon I again visited W.B and
informed him of the Judge's determination.'
On the morning of
his execution, the prison officers discovered that
Burton had barricaded himself in by blocking
the door with his bed and had to
break through the wall of the next door cell before
dragging him out to the scaffold.
William Burton was
hanged on Thursday, 8 April 1819. He left a widow and
The boat trip portion of the above account is derived from the
evidence of William Hurd at the Gloucester Assizes and
most of Burton's personal details from the Gloucester
prison admissions records.
What happened to William Hurd?
A curious postcript to this tragedy centres
around the third man, and part owner of the boat,
Nine months after Burton's execution 36 year old
William Hurd died. On 27th
January 1820 he was buried at Woolaston.
William left a widow Elizabeth,
and two daughters, Elizabeth and Caroline. No
cause of death is recorded on the parish burial
It would not have been unexpected for him to
have felt some guilt, and perhaps depression,
due to his involvement in the William Syms
tragedy. We notice from his evidence at the
Assizes that he returned to Bristol on November
13th to search for the missing man.
He would have known, and was probably constantly
reminded by his neighbours and the Syms family,
that had he stayed in charge of the boat, the
whole sorry incident would not have occurred.
One of his
descendants, carrying out family research, wrote
in 2005 on the Forest of Dean Family History
gggg-grandfather William Hurd, was born abt 1784
we believe in Tockington. He married Elizabeth
(last name unknown). Elizabeth was born about
1788 in Huckster/ Tockington. They moved to the
Woolaston area about 1815 and had 2 daughters
Elizabeth and Caroline who were both born in
Woolaston. Elizabeth Hurd is my ggg-grandmother
who married James Proctor Howell on May-15-1843
in Shire Newton, Wales. Elizabeth Hurd also gave
birth to an illegimate child, William Hurd born
abt 1838 in Woolaston. He is buried next to his
mother, Elizabeth Hurd Howell in St. Andrews
I am trying to find information on my
gggg-grandfather William Hurd's family including
his parents and siblings. According to
Woolaston history, William Hurd was murdered
about Jan-1820. He was making his living as
an innkeeper and fisherman. His wife Elizabeth
went on to remarry James Henry Ball in
Woolaston on Nov-13-1822 and eventually died on
Apr-15-1855 in Alvington. She is buried in St.
Andrews Churchyard, Woolaston.'
Further research has so far uncovered no
newspaper account of the death of William Hurd.
I am curious to find out whether there really was any
connection with his death and the William Syms
tragedy. His widow's marriage in November 1822
to James Ball, the main witness at Burton's trial, is also
interesting. That phrase 'according to Woolaston
history' by William Hurd's descendant causes me
to wonder whether there is more information out
there, though my instincts tell me that
'Woolaston History' may have simply confused
his death with that of William Syms. TB
The Chepstow Old Bank
was formed in 1790 by six local businessmen.
A great impetus to country banking came in 1797 when,
with England threatened by war, the Bank of England
suspended cash payments. A handful of Frenchmen landed
causing a panic. Shortly after this incident, Parliament
authorised the Bank
of England and
country bankers to issue notes of low denomination.This
bank is where many of the farmers, shopkeepers and mill
owners from around Woolaston in the early 19th century
would have deposited their money. The Chepstow Old
Bank went bust in 1869.
Six Chepstow Bank notes from
the 19th century recently sold for a total of £1,930
Riverine Dean - The
Maritime & Waterfront Archaeology of the Forest of Dean
by John Putley
The National Gazetteer of
Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Romano-Celtic Élites and Their Religion By
Geoffrey William Adams
Gloucester Journal 28th June 1873
Gloucester Journal April 12th 1819
Religious Census of 1851 (HO 129/576)
Bible Christians of the Forest of Dean by George e
'Woolaston Remembered' by Ted Ball.
The Times Archives
Edinburgh Annual Register
Gloucester Prison Chaplain's Journal 1819 - Gloucester
Gloucester Prison Admissions - Gloucester Archives
Do you have
any corrections, recollections, information or
photographs to add to this page? Did your family
come from this area? We would welcome any input.
Please contact Tom at