Historical Collection

The Newnham Historical Collection

This is our Newnham history book and is provided in loose leaf format to allow us to add chapters as we learn more about the history of our village.

We have a large collection of historical photographs and we include as many of these as are relevant to the text and also provide maps where these can be helpful.

Part 1 (published in 2013) consists of five chapters:

1  Introduction

2 A Brief Historical Survey – gives an overall view of Newnham’s history

3 The River Port – studies the rise and fall of the all-important river trade which brought so much prosperity to the town

4 Victorian Newnham – introduces the town’s emergence as an important administrative centre

5 1881The Visit of a Former Resident  – allows the creation of a fictional character to provide a  walk through the Newnham of the time

Snippet from Chapter 2

The river has always played a pivotal role in the fortunes of Newnham. As a minor port on the river trade route between Bristol and Birmingham, Newnham’s main trade through much of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was in timber and coal, brought down from the forest on pack horses or mules, and in bark and hides produced by a series of tanneries close at hand. These trades were augmented in the 1680s by the establishment of some glassworks. Fishing, of course, was also important to the economy of the town and a variety of time-honoured methods were used to net and snare fine catches from the plentiful fish stocks.

In the 1760s entrepreneurs saw potential in transhipping cargos from river craft to sea-going vessels and so new quays were constructed and warehouses built to accommodate the extra volumes anticipated. This change allowed Newnham to trade direct with London and Ireland without the need to involve Bristol in these transactions. Wines and spirits were among those goods reaching Newnham from London.

Shipbuilding was also expanded to the point where ships of 500 tons and more were being constructed at a series of riverside yards. The opening of the Sharpness Canal in 1827, allowing goods to travel very much more directly from Bristol to Gloucester, brought this relatively brief period of prosperity to an end.

In 1811 a tunnel, believed to be the first such construction in the world, was driven through Hay Hill to connect Soudley, together with the ironworks and the collieries beyond, with the river at Bullo and over the ensuing years Bullo was built up until it ranked second only to Lydney as an important river outlet for the industrial output of the Forest of Dean.

Part 2 (published in 2015) comprises a further six chapters:

6 The Civil War in Newnham – provides an explanation of the Civil War skirmish that brought Colonel Massie to the town

7 Coaches and Thoroughfares – takes a look at how transport was provided and examines changes in the names of roads within the community

8 The Glassworks – explains that the first glassworks to use coal as a fuel was based here

9 The Day the Church Burnt Down – gives a detailed report of a dramatic event in the history of the church

10 The Haie  – offers a brief look at the Kerr family and at their family home, The Haie

11 A Resident Remembers – 1897 – provides another opportunity to follow a fictional character through Newnham’s past

Snippet from Chapter 11

It is 1897 and the un-named visitor that we met in Chapter 5 is not now living in Highfield Villas, nor indeed in Hope Villa as he had hoped and expected when we last met him, but has bought a house in the High Street and successfully achieved a status that allows him to be listed as a Private Resident in Kelly’s Directory.  He has just retired from being Maurice Carter’s chief clerk but, as he gets older, memories of his childhood seem to become ever clearer while his ability to remember what he did last week is fast deserting him.  C’est la vie. Today he is remembering how things were when he was 10 or 11.

In his retirement he has taken to strolling to childhood haunts and, on this particular day, he has walked down to Ruddle Green to re-kindle memories of a time when he enjoyed the sight and sound of the gundogs that were kept at the Hay Hill kennels halfway up what was now the Haie drive. Of course in those days the drive, following its age old route, wasn’t so straight, and it was a public road, and so reaching the kennels was easy for a lad who had a lot of freedom to roam.

Parts 1 and 2 are combined in a single A5 binder to form Volume 1.

Part 3 (published in 2017) added a further seven chapters and many more illustrations:

12 The Pubs – follows the ups and downs of the hotels and inns that littered Newnham’s High Street

13 The Schools – untangles the complicated story of the schools provided by the C of E and the Non-conformists

14 The Tithe Map – takes a cursory look at the information provided by the Tithe Map of 1839 with its accompanying Apportionment document

15 The Shops – journeys backwards in 20-year leaps through a hundred years of change

16 The Houses – studies Newnham’s High Street houses from outside (and occasionally from inside) with lots of helpful illustrations.

17 The Sanctuary – provides a history of one of Newnham’s oldest houses

18 Newnham Pill Revisited – has another look at the difficulties encountered when crossing a tidal inlet.

Snippet from Chapter 16

Not quite in the High Street, but at the bottom of Dean Road is Hill Cottage perhaps the oldest and certainly one of the most interesting houses in Newnham; originally a 16th Century half-timbered hall house of one storey with a hole in the roof for the smoke from the central hearth. The original windows would have been unglazed , simply having shutters against the weather. A single door led in from the back. Wattle and daub would have filled the spaces between the framework of which a fragment remains. The roof was tiled in stone; those bring replaced over the years with the final section being removed in 1990. The roof is now of earthen-ware tiles. In the mid-17th Century an upper floor of two bedrooms was inserted and the cottage given a central chimney and a new front door. The windows were subsequently glazed but the interior still has the original roof trusses of queen post design. The exterior has subsequently been rendered and painted. The situation of the cottage high above the lane suggests that over many years the roadway was worn down (and perhaps lowered on purpose.) The slope up to Hill Cottage and the raised footpath beyond suggests the original height of the lane. The gap between the buildings where the Dean Road joins the High Street is quite broad, suggesting subsequent widening.

Part 4 (published in 2019) comprises four further chapters:

19 The Railway – a well-illustrated history of the railway, with details of routes and rolling stock

20 The Fisheries –  the most comprehensive short account of the Severn fisheries, looking at the history,  colourful  personalities, equipment and methods

21 Memories of Newnham-on-Severn – an account of life in early 20th-century Newnham by a well-known former resident

22 The Women’s Institute – a short history written in the year of the centenary of the WI

Snippet from Chapter 20

Disputes.  Previously there had been a major set-to involving a group of influential and wealthy Newnham landowners and businessmen, Robert Lawrence, Samuel Wallbank, Daniel Ellis, James Darke and Joseph Ailway. They claimed the fishery and demanded that Robert Pyrke, of Hill House (now Unlawater), should cease letting a lease on the long net fishing at Newnham.  

It seems that Pyrke, also a prominent businessman, was a sleeping partner in the fishing enterprise which had been operated by a colleague, Mr Trigge. Until his death Mr Trigge and his tenants had used it as a ‘put fishery’. However in the 1760s the tenant, then under a lease from Mr Pyrke, had dismantled the putchers and used it instead as a net fishery.  

Pyrke argued he was within his right to the net fishery. He owned Cliff Orchard and Clift Meadow which formed part of the riverbank between Newnham and Broadoak. Further, he said, the Severn ‘being an arm of the sea’ he was entitled to a common fishery opposite his own land. Were he to rebuild the putchers, he said, the fishery would be destroyed as there would be insufficient room to cast a net.  For good measure he added that when, as early as 1632, the fishery had changed hands there had been no description of its boundary. This, he claimed, had been artfully introduced at a later date.

To this day the draft is known as ‘Pyrke’s Wall’. However the boundary is hardly visible and remains confused.

Parts 3 and 4 are combined in a single A5 binder to form Volume 2.

Part 5 concludes the Collection and was published in 2019. The 14 chapters of Part 5 comprise:

23 Legal Newnham

24 Military Newnham

25 ‘Those Were the Days?’ Newnham Remembered

26 Water

27 More Houses

28 St Peter’s Church

29 Tunnels and Bridges

30 Employment

31 Newnham’s Banks

32 Development

33 Bullo

34 Street Furniture

35 Teams

36 The Telephone


Each volume is priced at £10.00


All volumes are available to buy from TheShop@TheShip and by mail order (with an additional charge for postage and packing) from Nigel Haig, 01594 516545 or nanddhaig@uwclub.net.

All volumes are available to read at Newnham Community Library. They cannot, however, be borrowed from the Library


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